I think it’s safe to say that we all have a lot on our plates as administrative professionals. From the demands of our bosses, to “fire drills” in the office, to our personal lives we are all trying to make the most out of life and manage our time effectively.
Today, in addition to sharing 6 practical tips for better time management, I’m going to share with you a mindset shift we can all adapt to that has personally helped me to feel more empowered through my day. Are you ready?
This shift is really subtle but I continue to feel the benefits of it every day. As assistants, we can easily fall into a victim mindset of being “pushed around”. Our bosses are demanding, our coworkers need things from us, and we are constantly interrupted by clients and stakeholders. As administrative professionals, we can easily mistake demands on our time as something that is done to us as though we have no say in the matter. If we are not careful we will unknowingly adopt the idea that our time is not our own. What you must remember, especially if you are a career administrative professional, is this is the path you chose. Choose it every day and show up fully empowered to take your time into your own hands.
You’ll find this mindset shift will lead to greater empowerment and creativity. It will bring to light choices we were previously unaware of and help us recalibrate our expectations to fully align with our job descriptions. After all, the demands I previously mentioned are a part of the job that we can’t control. What we can control is how we choose to approach and think about them.
One way we can take better control of our time is to set good boundaries with our boss, our coworkers, and ourselves. Whether we realize it or not, we are constantly training others how we are to be treated. We do this by setting good boundaries. Please see last week’s vlog post where I go into more detail regarding this subject. I found by setting good boundaries at the office, I was able to manage myself and my time more effectively and more efficiently.
Now let’s get down to the brass tacks, the practical things we can all do to manage our time more effectively.
One surefire way to make sure you are utilizing your time effectively is to adopt your boss’s priorities. Your coworkers and other stakeholders will likely have a different opinion about how you should spend your time. Adopting your boss’s priorities will shelter you from any conflicting opinions and negative feedback.
Communications is key here. Letting your boss know what is on your plate and how you intend to approach and check off tasks is key, as is letting your coworkers know your boss’s priorities for your time especially if how you are managing your time is called into question. If you support more than one person developing a system for letting each of them know what you’ve been tasked with is even more crucial. This is especially true in the case of competing priorities where they will need to have a discussion and get on the same page in order to determine the best use of your time.
Helpful tip: When a task is given to you take a step back and assess the situation. What other information do you need in order to complete the task? Getting as much information as possible upfront will go a long way with regards to better time management. I think we all know what a time-suck tracking down needed information can be.
As assistants, we are amazing and keeping all the balls in the air. Unfortunately, there are only so many “balls” we can keep track of in our heads. A system (more on systems in a bit) for managing tasks and task flow is crucial for long term success. I use Trello to house all of my “to-dos” and it has seriously been a game-changer for me. This app/website has become my ‘second brain’ allowing me to spend less time, energy, and brainpower tracking what needs to be done and more time doing what needs to be done. Trello is free to use but also has an upgraded version for $12.50/month which allows you to add as many “power-ups”, or additional features like google drive integration or Card Repeater for automating recurring tasks (amazeballs, right?). Want the automation but don’t want to pay for an upgrade? No problem! Trello allows for one power upper board for free accounts. I’ve written a blog post on how I’ve set up my own Trello board here.
Do what works for you. If Trello doesn’t feel right then I strongly urge you to find something that does. Creating a system and externalizing our to-do lists seems so simple but it will go a long way in terms of better time management.
We all have those tasks that we hate doing. For me, it’s mindless data entry. When data entry is on my list I try to get to it first thing. My reason for this is simple, I don’t want it hanging over my head for the rest of the day. Having “that one task” on my plate for longer than it has to be has a tendency to drag me down and causes me to procrastinate which is the exact opposite of good time management.
Through the course of any day, we deal with frequent interruptions. Coworkers coming to our desks, frequent phone calls, and immediate requests from our bosses are the norm. Dealing with these things in the nature of our jobs. I’m a huge advocate for developing focus in the workplace and one of the questions that frequently comes up is, “How can I develop focus when I’m constantly interrupted.” I typically respond by asking two questions:
What are the things you can do to minimize the necessary distractions?
Are you able to put your work phone on silent for an hour in order to complete that presentation or expense report? Can you let your coworkers know you are unavailable for the next 45 minutes while you work to meet a deadline? I’ll never forget a former coworker who put up a funny sign outside her office requesting to be left alone.
I believe our biggest fear around asking for what we need in terms of focus is that we will come off as immalleable and unhelpful. I would like to challenge this fear. How you spend your time is as much an asset to your boss and organization as your “team player” attitude. It’s a balance, and one I have every confidence we can all find.
What are the distractions we have 100% control over?
Are you frequently surfing LinkedIn and Facebook at the office? Are you on your phone checking Instagram? Social media is designed to capture and hold our attention, having the potential to suck time and productivity from our day. 5 minutes here and there adds up and using social media as a “break” from our work isn’t as effective as stepping away from our screens for 5-10 minutes.
I’m such a nerd but I don’t care… I love systems! You know that feeling when you first start a job and you haven’t quite hit your stride? Everything takes longer and seems harder. This is because you are still learning the organizational systems. For example, every organization handles expense reports and credit card reconciliations differently. For me, once I know the parameters and learn the systems, it becomes second nature and takes no time at all… especially compared to the 2 days it took me the first time.
I like to build systems for everything! I have a system for planning board meetings, for booking my boss’s travel, and for managing his multiple homes. It’s glorious (cue the angelic music) because building systems creates habit and tasks done out of habit take a lot less brainpower and effort.
Would you like to know the real reason I love building systems? It’s because I’m kinda lazy. I don’t particularly care to spend more time and effort completing tasks than absolutely necessary. This right here is why I’ll have an abiding love affair with systems until the end of time. I invite you to think about tasks that you deal with regularly and ask yourself if there’s any way you can systematize them.
I know I said at the beginning of this article that I would offer 6 concrete tips and one mindset shift. Well, this particular mindset shift is so important I thought it warranted its own number. If you’ve read any of my former blog posts you will know just how much I detest what I refer to as a “multitasking mindset”. The underlying belief of every faithful multitasker is that multitasking will help them manage their time better. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Our brains are not designed to do more than one task at a time. Sure, you can absolutely check your email while on a conference call or reply to a text while in a meeting but in order to produce high-quality work we need focus. And in order to focus on the task at hand, we will need to set aside other tasks on our list. I can feel the collective anxiety of administrative professionals everywhere as I say this but stick with me here for a second.
Research shows that we are most productive during the first 45 minutes of working on a task or project. After that, the brain needs a rest. If we’ve prioritized our tasks correctly (in line with our boss’s priorities, see #1) we should be able to focus on the task at hand until it’s completed, or for 45 minutes whichever comes first.
Will we be interrupted from time to time? Undoubtedly. Will we need to roll with the punches, pivot and adjust? Absolutely! I’ve noticed a resistance to multitasking because administrative professionals equate multitasking with flexibility. Please don’t confuse the two! We can absolutely maintain our flexibility and cultivate focus in order to do our jobs well all while operating at peak performance.
The key is to entirely give ourselves over to the task at hand. Oftentimes we unknowingly self-sabotage by following whatever idea pops into our heads. We all struggle with this. Even as I write this blog post I’ve considered checking my email and my phone! It’s only human, especially in this day and age with so many digital distractions. Experiment with focus and see what tempts you, then ask yourself if it can’t wait for a half-hour to 45 minutes. If you’re anything like me, more often than not it can!
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