What is the number one thing your clients love about you?
No, really think about it, because people will always say, “this is the number one thing” or “this is the most important thing you can do”.
But as a VA, I really believe that this is the secret. This is the number one thing that you can do to continually offer value to your clients.
Are you ready for the secret? Here. it. is.
Learn how to facilitate effective brain dumps.
If you’re not already creating brain dumps with your client, you’re missing out!
What is a “brain dump”?
Let’s break it down:
Why do we create lists?
Because keeping track can be hard.
We need a place to organize and sort through the information, so that we can prioritize and track the data! Whew. That was an elaborate way to explain our little to-do lists!
I have a million things going on each day that I am managing, thinking about, processing.. in business, my personal life, my family… We all do. The list is never-ending.
Think about what that feels like. Now think about if someone was supporting you, and you were able to keep them in the loop on all the moving pieces. How would it feel to have someone that knows the details and can lend a hand? In your personal life, it may look like your mother or grandmother coming to the house and just starting to pick up right away or help out with the kids, and when your husband picks up the exact items from the grocery store that you mentioned you needed. It’s practical, personal, and so, so helpful. They know what you need because they’ve been involved, they’ve been listening.
The capacity to facilitate brain dumps happens all of the time in our personal and professional lives.
When working professionally, it may be as simple as requesting a reminder: “I need to get this done tomorrow, can you remind me?”
It may be more of an afterthought that skims across the top of your head: “Oh, hey, by the way, I was thinking about_____ and that we might need to ____ six months from now, in order to prepare for ____. All that said, can you make a note of that?”
It’s Meryl Streep, Devil Wears Prada style. Rapid fire!
Your goal on the front end is not to understand necessarily, but to capture all the information so that when the time comes, you have the context you need to help get the job(s) done.
If you have ever been an assistant to anyone, you know that this happens. In that moment of “brain dumping”, they’re looking for you to be on their page. In their role, or as a business owner, they have to let things fall through the cracks as the list grows, but they hired you, an assistant, to make sure there are no cracks. They want someone that is stepping in fully, and is aware of everything that they need. Will we always be able to ensure nothing falls through the cracks? No, probably not. BUT, we are talking about brain dumps because they help seal up the cracks! Effective brain dumps are a correct system and operational tactic that keep projects fluid.
In addition to the high-level efficiency that you want to offer, when you are working with someone one-on-one, you want to maintain a personal connection. Rapid fire work habits can be unhealthy if the environment in which they are facilitated is lacking appreciation or respect. It’s crucial that we continue supporting each other in healthy habits, including compassionate gestures. It doesn’t have to be anything crazy or outside of your comfort zone, but it’s meaningful (and kind) to check in on those in your circles. This can take time. It does require more from you, and more from them. I think it’s safe to say, that depending upon the relationship, some relationships may earn more of this attention than others. The willingness to “check in” and really find out how someone is doing, depends upon trust. There are (and should be) varying levels of comfortability and compassionate attention given in each relationship. There is not a one size fits all, but the bottom line is that cultivating true human connection among working relationships is good. It’s not only good, but it will enable us to better serve one another. We have the ability to better serve these relationships, both personally and professionally, and as a result, we are better served. Regardless of who is the assistant and who is the assisted, both parties benefit from the relationship. The mutual benefits should continually increase as the relationship grows in value over time.
Building relationship is one of the most rewarding aspects of working with others.
On a practical note, we have aspects of the working relationship that just take time. Communication and delegation require time, as well as any reasonable, but inevitable follow up, along with updates and any other moving pieces. Then, there is the time required to give feedback, and to request feedback. Open communication lines require more time. However, while many see this required or “added” time as a disadvantage, it’s in fact the opposite. This time should be calculated ahead of time as an investment, and not the investment you dread, but the investment you view in high regard. By investing time into these areas for open communication and positive working relationships, you are adding value, taking preventative measures against negative conflict, providing positive leadership and business integrity, and ensuring longevity among your team and people assets. There’s so much that goes into relationships, managing teams, monitoring co-working, ongoing development, etc. (We haven’t even hit the iceberg on things like personalities, strengths, languages, cultures, etc.).
The point here is this: Do not forsake the power of relationship-based working. Brain dumps can turn ineffective by causing burnout, confusion/frustration and stagnant working with loss of motivation. Brain dumps are only effective if both parties can leverage them with clearly defined expectations.
Alright, now how do we leverage brain dumps effectively?
Practical Tip #1 – Listen and Be Proactive
When you’re on a call with a client, be aware and really pay attention to what they’re saying. The client may be addressing quite a few specific items on the call, but as they discuss these items, there may meaning behind the words they’re saying. They might be feeling pressured or stressed. They might be looking for a solution, they may be deliberating a change of plans. There are all kinds of indicators about how you can support your clients. Your role is not to be a coach, of course. However, you work with them frequently. By maintaining open communication lines, you may be able to offer suggestions from time to time that they would appreciate hearing. Your opinion matters to them, and increasingly matters to them as you gain traction in working well together. Read between the lines when they speak. Listen to the heart of what they are communicating. Think to yourself, “These are all the things I’m hearing. What could I do to be helpful in each of these areas?” Take action based on what you know is necessary, or request their feedback in learning how you could best take action.
Another aspect of listening while assisting is to be proactive. Take the initiative to reach out and say, “Hey, I thought you might need a reminder about this”, even if they didn’t ask for a reminder. If someone says, “hey remind me to _____”, it’s likely that you’ll remind them. However, if they say, “I’m afraid I’ll forget to ____, I’m so busy with ___, ____, and _____.” In both scenarios, doesn’t it appear that a reminder is in order? Listening enables you to be proactive.
When I have an early morning meeting, my husband will often cook me breakfast since I’ve been running around to tidy the house, get myself ready, or prepare for the call. He will bring breakfast to me at my desk, while I’m on my call. Lucky woman, huh? He’s just paying attention! He’s taking care of a need that I have, because he’s been watching, and he knows I didn’t stop to eat! All relationships benefit from proactive support, because it implies that you are paying attention, and that you care!
Practical Tip #2 – Take Notes
Taking notes is very important. This is an extension of listening, it is active listening. Primarily, it helps you to remember and prioritize what is needed, or how to help. For example, when the client says in passing, “I’ve been trying to work on this ____ project, but I’m getting really road blocked, it’s stressing me out. So anyways, back to _____”, draw a huge asterisk in red ink on your notes page and make mention of the stressful project. It may not be that you have time to discuss in that moment, or even in the near future, but it’s important to shelf for a discussion. We need to revisit this thing that they mentioned in passing, that’s stressing them out, slowing them down, and that’s taking them too long to complete. We need to revisit this and figure out, what could they be delegating? What about it is intimidating or confusing? Can we bring clarity to what this is that needs to be done? These type of questions can be asked to actually improve the process. Often, what’s intimidating is simply not understood, or in the wrong hands for completion. When we bring clarity to confusion or delegate to the correct individual, projects move at their proper pace.
A handy way to collect the handwritten notes is to speak them into an email draft and send them to yourself, or speak them into a project management tool. Of course, you can record meetings, transcribe them, etc. I benefit from using a few techniques in handwritten note taking, like highlighting, labeling, or circling. Often I will place a sticky note on top (or in line with) the main notes and include my action items separately there. An action item requires that someone needs to follow up and complete the task. My most frequent technique for note taking is reviewing the notes after the meeting, circling my action items, transcribing for digital reference in the future, and transferring the circled action items into a project management tool.
In many cases, your notes may contain projects that could go outstanding for some time. If it’s not immediately an action item, create a process to revisit these notes, or transfer “shelved action items” to resurface in your project management tool at a later date. When I keep handwritten notes in a file, I tend to revisit after a period of time, to circle/highlight the things that are still relevant or that could be reassessed from a different approach. It’s encouraging to do this on occasion, since you can often see how many things have been completed or improved. From the beginning of conceptualizing a new course program, to the sales of 50K courses, and now in stages of re-packaging…it’s great to see how things come to life.
If you are not currently leveraging a project management system or online calendar, do not underestimate the value! These programs can trigger reminders at any level of frequency that you need! Instead of items being created as a one-time to-do or reminder, you can create a recurring task/reminder. Regardless of whether or not it is time to give that item priority, it has not fallen through the cracks. It’s still on the list. It’s still in mind, and there are still intentions of working through this item. Whatever the process you create, be sure that you allow yourself to revisit notes. Viewing these notes as a roadmap or blueprint to future growth, in a repetitive, always-relevant approach will prove incredibly valuable to your and your clients. History repeats itself, and our best ideas could be hiding in previous collaborations.
Practical Tip #3 – Create Brain Dump Processes
Your job as an assistant becomes really effective when you can think like an accountability partner. All we need in life is someone who’s on our page, who can help navigate through the noise.
Creating a system is the best way to make sure the brain dumps are productive. First, brain dump may happen naturally in regular meetings, or in between regular tasks/projects. However, there are a lot of moving pieces in those calls, and those 30-minute or 1-hour calls can just fly by really quick. As much as you’re trying to capture all of what takes place in those calls, it is important that you create time for true brain dump and collaboration.
Schedule time to strategize specific projects or schedule meetings that can be left open-ended, functioning to creatively collaborate any department, or any fresh concepts. Brain dumps may look different from one business to the next, or one person to the next. Perhaps create a space for the client, or assistant, to throw their ideas or thoughts when they arise. If not in an email, perhaps a Slack channel, a voice messaging app, or a task list online. I’ve created one (or several!) of these for myself!
The goal is to take these ideas and these thoughts as they come in, and to funnel them into a place where they’re safe. This system will be most effective when established by both parties. It may be primarily the assistant’s responsibility to maintain, but it also only purposed for the benefit of the assisted. This means that follow-up, timely/appropriate action, and revisiting of these items is all necessary to maintain effectiveness in brain dump strategies. What this means is that no item is left open. All items are resolved either through the evolution of their existence or through completion/removal. Brain dumps may exist to facilitate long to-do lists, creative ideas or areas in need of troubleshooting. Whatever the purpose, brain dumps will improve working relationships by empowering the belief that “the sky is the limit” and “nothing is impossible”.
Long story short: paying attention to the natural tendencies of a brain dump can be extremely helpful in working relationships. Creating organized and efficient processes to facilitate these brain dumps will ensure that they work to your advantage.
Keep those sticky notes handy and happy brain dumping!