Editor’s Note: We're searching for the best and brightest admin professionals and workplace operators in the US. Know an outstanding Ninja? Nominations for the 2020 All-Star Awards are now open!
Today’s OfficeNinjas All-Star Award is presented by Token. Simplify corporate gift giving with a professional gifting assistant.
Name: Ryann Farris
Title & Company: Executive Office Assistant, Tacos 4 Life
Location: Conway, Arkansas
# Years as an Office Ninja: 2
Recommends: Project management tool Basecamp and The CEO’s Secret Weapon by Jan Jones
Fun Fact: Only two known weaknesses—Nutella milkshakes and lit candles
By all accounts, Ryann was made for her role. Sure, she has Office Ninja skills in spades (we’ll get to those in a minute), but her commitment to serving others perfectly aligns with Tacos 4 Life’s social mission: to end world hunger.
“My favorite part of being an Office Ninja is serving others,” Ryann explains. “Not just serving out of habit, but out of my love and respect for the other people that I work alongside in the office. It’s a great day when I have been able to meet people’s needs and nothing has slipped through the cracks.”
Cracks? What cracks? According to her adoring co-workers (she received 14 All-Star nominations in an office of 25 people!), calendaring complications, unruly inboxes, and travel snafus don’t stand a chance against Ryann’s superb organizational skills.
If Ryann didn’t work here, we would all be lost. She knows everyone’s calendar, where they are, how they got there, when they’ll be back, what they ate for lunch, and what they did over the weekend. She knows when you’re sad or stressed out and puts everything aside to make sure you get through it OK.
And while most Ninjas are accustomed to bringing order to chaos, Ryann does so with a much-appreciated sense of warmth and compassion. Multiple members of her team described Ryann as “selfless,” and many shared anecdotes that demonstrated her willingness to help others, even when it requires working beyond the parameters of her role.
To say our Office Ninja puts others before herself would be an understatement. Not only does she arrive super early to make coffee for everyone, do dishes, and make the trash runs (all not her job), she has gone out of her way to stay late to make sure I get where I need to be when traveling … She isn’t my assistant, but then again, I really don’t need one with her around! She literally goes above and beyond for every team member at the office while still executing her own responsibilities with excellence.
Ryann isn’t much for parameters, anyway. Whether it’s through attending conferences, listening to podcasts, or reading books, she’s always finding new ways to educate herself, strengthen her skills, and grow her role as an Office Ninja.
Ryann is constantly learning and growing. She shares her new knowledge with us so we can improve our productivity. She is committed to teaching everyone the software we need to stay organized and efficient. She gets so pumped up, it makes me want to scream, “Heck yes, I’ll use that program (I hate) just because you want me to!”
All this praise warms our hearts … but it’s time to hear from the All-Star herself! Enjoy our Q&A with Ryann!
ON: What’s the one thing that’s always on your desk?
RF: Sticky notes. When someone approaches my desk, that’s the first thing I reach for. Sticky notes and a pen.
I keep a print out of all of my to-dos that I have assigned to myself on Basecamp. In order to not start another list of to-dos on another piece of paper, I grab small sticky notes to write requests and tasks on and then I add them to my to-do list. I also color code them by order of importance: Pink is urgent; Orange is medium urgency; and blue is for non-urgent. This helps to stay organized. Once the task is complete, I peel off the sticky note and throw it away.
ON: Where does your drive come from?
RF: Knowing that I’m a reflection of Austin [the co-founder of Tacos 4 Life] and this business is a huge motivation. What I do every day impacts a lot of people. There are things behind the scenes others don’t see, and when they run smoothly, it’s great motivation. That motivation keeps me going, especially remembering those wins during the hectic days. I like to keep the mindset that I’m Austin when he’s away. I greet people the way I feel he would want them to be greeted or how he himself would greet them.
ON: How does your company help you succeed?
RF: We are highly encouraged to read books, listen to podcasts, or attend events that help us excel in our role. It’s invaluable to be encouraged at work to grow and is one of my favorite reasons for working at Tacos 4 Life.
Austin is very growth-minded. He wants everyone to have every tool they need in order to succeed. If we succeed then the stores succeed, and that ultimately feeds more kiddos. I remember when I first started, I had found a conference for Executive Assistants online and showed Austin. Without hesitation, he encouraged me to go. Austin shares books and podcasts with us. It’s great to see that he is continuously growing and that encourages others to do so as well.
ON: What tricks do you have for when you’re stressed or upset at work?
RF: When it’s warm, I love to go outside. We are located in the Historic Downtown Conway area. Our building has exposed brick on the inside and was built in 1911. It still has most of the original tin ceiling tiles. It’s gorgeous and totally fits the Tacos 4 Life brand. There’s a breezeway that’s completely open in between our building and the one next to us. I love to sit out there and listen to a podcast or some music while I work. It’s such a blessing to be able to get away out there.
ON: Tell us about the craziest day you’ve ever experienced as an Office Ninja.
RF: This is super embarrassing. When I first started, I would quickly clean off my boss’s desk at the end of the day. One afternoon, there was a candle lit on his desk. Instead of walking around his desk, I just leaned over it in an attempt to save time (I obviously wasn’t thinking). My hair was super long at the time, and I leaned right over that candle and … my hair caught fire! SO embarrassing! I screamed (and maybe cried). The whole place smelled like burnt hair and a co-worker even came in to check on me because I had screamed so loud. Austin returned and said, “Oh my gosh, what is that awful smell?” I said, “I just caught my hair on fire!” He followed up with, “Classic Ryann!” because I am famously clumsy and accident prone. But besides a few burnt hairs, no one was the worse for wear.
ON: What’s your greatest professional achievement?
RF: Being an OfficeNinjas All-Star, of course! I came to Tacos 4 Life from Retail Management and was under the impression that I had a lot to offer them in certain areas—little did I know that Tacos 4 Life would be a bigger blessing to me than I ever could have imagined. As I was transitioning to a very new role, there was a lot of research that went down. Every night I would try to find things that would help me do my job better and have a better understanding of what my role would entail. Among the things I researched was the OfficeNinjas website. It quickly became my favorite. So, in true stalker fashion I went and found OfficeNinjas everywhere! I follow the Admingling events, Admin Bashes (I will go to one of these soon!), and LOVE the merchandise in the shop.
Tacos 4 Life also won the title of Arkansas Business of the Year this year, and to be able to be a part in that is such a great achievement. We come to work and talk about ending hunger every day, but for others in the community to recognize that we are making a difference is HUGE!
ON: How do you see the admin profession evolving? How do you stay ahead of the curve?
RF: I think admins are needed in different ways now than they have been in the past. It’s more than just managing someone’s emails or calendar. It’s about doing what’s necessary for them to be successful and walking alongside them with the same vision and mission. It’s about being a partner. There has to be more trust in that type of relationship.
ON: What are you most proud of outside of work?
RF: My family for sure. Also, my painting. I love being able to sit and focus on a piece of artwork and only think about that one thing. I always feel there are a thousand things on my mind except when I’m painting. My dad was an artist. My sister and I would hover over him and watch him in awe. A few years ago, I decided to try painting with acrylics and on canvas, wood, coolers, shoes—anything I could get my hands on, honestly. When our Little Rock restaurant was being built, they had lined up someone to paint the mural on the outside of the building. That fell through, and I remember the day they were talking about needing someone. Austin said, “Get Ryann to do it. I trust her.” That meant so much to me. So, that lead to me painting both murals outside of the Little Rock restaurant and then both murals outside of the Benton restaurant when we opened it. From there, I got a job painting a mural inside of a church, and then a mural inside and outside for Preston Palmer Music Company here in town. This job has blessed me in more ways than I EVER could have imagined.
ON: What are the top three traits of an OfficeNinjas All-Star?
1. Organization: This is key to it all. You have to be an organized person to be able to keep someone else organized. And if I know something is out of order, it almost makes me feel like there’s chaos inside my head. When things are organized, it puts me more at ease. Sometimes if I feel stressed or chaotic, I like to take a step back and evaluate my surroundings. It may help if I just organize my desk. Duane, our Controller, makes fun of me because of how many times I re-organize my things.
2. Anticipating Needs: This may be a mom thing but I check on people and try to bring them things they need. There are times I will be sitting at my desk working and going through Austin’s day in my head just to decide what the ideal time would be to bring him coffee. I listen to conversations around me to see how I can be of help to others. It may not be now—it may be a week from now—but to know that I am helping in ALL ways that I am capable makes me feel good about the work I do.
3. Integrity: OK, so maybe this is the key to it all … no really, they all are! Integrity, just in the definition itself, says it’s the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. The QUALITY of being honest. The state of being whole and undivided. That’s intense. I think that’s something we all should strive for. Like it says, there is quality in being honest and having integrity. I feel this is important because it’s so hard to find these days.
ON: What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
RF: Pay attention to all of the little details. This is one of our core values. We call it “Every Taco, Every Time.” Every Detail, Every Time. It’s important to get all of the details and get them the first time. Do things with excellence the first time and you won’t have to go back and ask more questions.
Write EVERYTHING down! I read this in an EA interview from somewhere. It’s SO true. People will unload everything on you and expect you to remember. Write it down!!!
Also, no one is perfect, so don’t beat yourself up about the little things that don’t go right. I am my worst critic so I have to tell this one to myself every day. The mess-ups are just opportunities for learning.
ON: Office Ninjas often have tips and tricks of the trade. Any you care to share?
RF: To-do lists and Basecamp (bless you, creator of Basecamp). I always have a to-do list next to me. When I’m approached about something, I always write it down. When I’m sorting emails, I have Basecamp opened and ready to add to-dos or reminders from my email. Then I drop all of my to-dos into Basecamp, assign them to the person necessary for completing them (usually me), and then I add a due date. It’s super handy. When someone is hired on at Support Center, I like to make it a point to ensure they know all of the benefits of using Basecamp. I’d like to say I’m pretty passionate about it.
Also, be aware of your surroundings. You can help in so many ways. I hear a lot of conversations. If it sounds important, I’ll write it down (even if I am not technically responsible for that person). I’ll usually follow up a few days after. If someone mentions an important date, I’ll add it to their calendar.
Our Chief Operating Officer and one of our Corporate Trainers were having a conversation while I was on my way to another room for a meeting. In their conversation, I overheard them talking about a meeting in regards to training. When I got out of my meeting, I approached the trainer and said, “Hey, I overheard you talking about a meeting. What is the urgency, how long does it need to be, and who needs to be there?” For a minute he looked at me like he didn’t understand. He then thanked me and gave me what we needed to make it happen. When I do this, I always receive a look of “how did you know that?”
ON: Speaking of calendering, your co-workers and leadership team marvel at your calendaring abilities. How do you keep track of so much information for multiple executives?
RF: Multitasking! I think that’s so important. A huge piece to the puzzle is making sure I’m organized and knowing how to manage and prioritize my time before I try and do it for someone else. That is the first step. You can’t be a mess and keep someone else organized. I intentionally add time in my calendar to review others’ calendars and emails as well as the organization of those calendars and emails. It’s necessary to close all other tabs out to reduce distractions so that you can be true to the time you have carved out for those things.
ON: One word that was mentioned over and over in your nominations was “selflessness.” Where does that come from?
RF: That’s so awesome! I’ve always been a servant at heart. Working at Tacos 4 Life brings that out in me more. I truly enjoy what I am doing and what my work stands for. I have a different relationship with every person here. I make it a point to know important dates for people. That can be birthdays, personal or work anniversaries, and sometimes it may be the date of losing a loved one. People relate to things like that. I just love making people feel good. I add these dates to my google calendar and set reminders for them so that I don’t forget. Some, I just remember. Like, our Executive Chef, her birthday is the day before my daughter’s and her wedding anniversary is the same as mine.
I care about and love each one of my colleagues in a different way. Serving them comes from that. They are my family too.
ON: How has your passion to end world hunger impacted your daily work and career?
RF: There are days that I let the whirlwind of what I do get the best of me, unfortunately. Those are the days that it’s important to remember we are here to end hunger.
I went to Honduras last year for the first time. Honduras is one of the areas where the food that we donate from our restaurants gets sent. Someone in Honduras gave me great advice. She said, “When you go home and you feel like you are having a bad day, try and think of what you were doing at the same time while you were here or think of these kiddos walking hours to get to the place where they are eating their only meal for the day.” I will NEVER forget that.
Even though I was nervous for the trip, it turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life—it wrecked me but in a good way. It was a way that I needed to be wrecked to be able to come back and understand that what I am doing truly matters. I saw kids and moms in need, and kids that just wanted someone to smile at them and care for them. I saw kids that were hurting and malnourished. But I also saw hope and joy. I met people that, although they had nothing, were so giving. We got to show them that we loved them and that, more importantly, God loves them.
All that to say, the days that feel like the hard days are just that—hard days.
ON: Tacos 4 Life grew from three to eight stores in one year. How did that impact your role?
RF: When things are changing, there’s a lot of juggling that has to happen. It’s important to know what’s going on and to make sure you are getting ahead of the changes. As we grow, that means more meetings and phone calls, which means more moving pieces. I find it important to look a few weeks out to make sure there are no surprises. I find myself planning more and being more conditioned and disciplined to stick to what I have planned and finding ways to protect my time.
With Ryann at the helm, we know the future of Tacos 4 Life is in good hands!
As part of her prize package, Ryann will receive $1,000 in credit from Token!
View the complete album from our photo shoot at Tacos 4 Life with Ryann.
Today’s All-Star Is Brought to You by Token:
Token gets the OfficeNinjas stamp of approval. We couldn’t continue to celebrate and spotlight the admin profession without them. So the next time you’re shopping for corporate gifts, show them some love!
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