organization productivity Jul 18, 2019

When most people think of improving their time management their primary concern is regarding their own personal productivity (as it relates to themselves). As assistants, we don’t have this luxury. How we manage our time affects not only us but our executives, teams, and companies as well. We are literally managing our time such that it allows someone else to utilize their time more effectively.

This dynamic causes some time management challenges which are unique to us as assistants:

Challenge 1: Working off of someone else’s priorities

Most people would probably say that pinpointing their own priorities is challenging. Try pinpointing someone else’s! I have written a couple of different blog posts where I address the importance of adopting your exec’s priorities as well as a few tips for how to do so (such as this post, or this one). It takes time, dedication, and a fine-tuned 6th sense to grasp someone else’s priorities. Not to mention patience with your exec and yourself in the midst of their shifting priorities.

As assistants, not only do we need to adopt our exec’s priorities, we also need to effectively execute their requests in a timely manner, all the while fielding requests from other colleagues and key stakeholders. I’m so proud of us! Being an assistant is not for the faint of heart or the weak. This one challenge alone would cause most people to run the other way. 

Challenge 2: Our time is literally not our own

Assisting someone else means that, at least for 40+ hours a week, you are putting someone else’s needs and desires first. It’s not about you, it’s about the assistance you provide your executive/manager/team. This isn’t to say that what you want or need doesn’t count, it absolutely does! However, in order to effectively do our jobs, we have to manage our time in a way that is all about someone or something else.

While this can be challenging at times, it’s far from negative. In excellent working relationships between assistants and their executives exists a mutual respect that will likely not be experienced in any other working relationship. This is a unique gift to us as assistants. If you have yet to experience this dynamic, take heart and make it something you aspire to. It really is one of the things that make our careers as assistants worth it!

Challenge 3: We deal with constant interruptions

I think it’s safe to say that without a doubt administrative professionals and assistants deal with considerably more interruptions than our non-admin counterparts. Why? Simple. We have our hands in everything and know what’s going on. We know what’s going on in the lives of our executives and coworkers. We know where that report is at and that Mike in accounting has a food allergy. We know how long it will take the copier repairman or those documents to arrive. It only makes sense that we are constantly interrupted by people who would like to know too!

In terms of time management, this challenge is a huge frustration for many. Fortunately, there are now courses (created by assistants!!!) you can take to help minimize interruptions. Namely, this course by Jeremy Burrows of GoBurrows.com. Or my own course Ultimate Time Management for Assistants (UTMA), where I dedicate an entire module to dealing with distractions and interruptions. 

Challenge 4: It’s harder to set boundaries 

When your work-life involves making someone else’s life easier it can be challenging to set boundaries. Here’s the reason; essentially, setting boundaries is saying, “I’m willing to be helpful and accommodating but only within these parameters or only up to a certain point.” Yikes! That’s not fun for anyone and it flies in the face of what most assistants aspire to be, accommodating and helpful. Yet, without boundaries, we run the risk of feeling walked over and no longer valued for the contributions we are eager to make.

For the sake of this article, I consider healthy boundaries a time management challenge because our work lives can easily encroach on our personal lives if we are not healthy in this area.

I would encourage all of us to look at boundaries as an expression of comfort level or preference. For me, whenever I get a non-urgent request sent via text in the evenings or weekends, I remind the other party they can email me anytime but I prefer to reserve texted requests after hours for emergencies only. The boundary was clear but not rude or confrontational, which sure beats doing the requested item from a place of resentment or feeling undervalued. No need to get huffy or offended. Perhaps this other party is a go-to texter.

Fellow assistants, have you run into any other time management challenges that are unique to us and the work we do? Please leave a comment or drop me a note at annie@wholeassistant.com to let me know.

Check out the video:

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Check out the transcription:

Hey there. I'm Annie of wholeassistant.com and this month we are talking all about how to get things done, strategies, tactics, methods for making sure that everything gets done on our to-do lists, especially those high level, high priority items. So today we're going to be talking about four challenges that are unique to us as assistants. And I would venture a guess that probably 90% of the workforce doesn't come up against these challenges. These are specific to assistants and they are challenging. And so the first challenge that we as assistants face on a daily basis is that we work off of someone else's priorities. Now, most people would say that it's hard enough to pinpoint their own priorities, let alone pinpointing somebody else's priorities and adopting them as our own. But that's exactly what we do as assistants or exactly what we aspire to do as assistants.

So just know that that is a challenge that is really unique to us. And we also need to with that, we need to learn what our exec's priorities are and really just take them on as our own and set our own priorities or what we had hoped to get done for the day aside for the bigger picture, for the broader picture in order to adopt our exec's priorities. So that is one challenge that we face as assistants every single day. The second challenge is that our time is literally not our own. Assisting someone else means that for at least 40 hours a week, at least 40 hours a week, we are putting someone else's needs and desires first. Now I understand that in a job we all have objectives and we all have things that we aspire to do and be and that need to get accomplished.

But what makes it unique for us as assistants is that we don't necessarily get to dictate how we spend our time because our time is taken and dictated for us. For example, say you've got a list of things that you want to get accomplished in a day and your exec comes in with something that's really urgent that needs to get done immediately. You have to set what you'd hope to get done that day aside for what the need is at that moment. Now that's not to say that we do that with everybody. That's not to say we don't hold specific boundaries with our colleagues and whatnot based on our exec's priorities there again, we're working off of our exec's priorities or our manager's priorities. But what it does mean is that we do set aside less, lower priority items in order to get those urgent tasks done for our executive.

So that is the second challenge. So the first one was working off of someone else's priorities. The second one is that our time is not our own. The third one is that we deal with constant interruptions. We are the face of our executive. We're the face of our executive to our organizations. We're the face of our executive to the outward world, to everybody else. And so by default that just means that we're filling a lot. We've got a lot on our plate and we deal with constant interruptions. Now that's not to say that there aren't strategies and tactics to deal with interruptions. I actually talk about this in my upcoming course. Ultimate time management for assistants. So if you're interested in that, stay tuned for that. I know Jeremy Burrows of goburrows.com also has a course on dealing specifically with interruptions. So there are some great resources in order to learn which interruptions we should pay attention to and which interruptions we shouldn't. But the challenge still remains that assistants face frequent and constant interruption.

Okay. And the fourth challenge as an assistant is that it can be harder to set healthy boundaries for ourselves. And the reason for this is because as an assistant you want to be helpful, you want to be accommodating. That's what we do as assistants is, makes the lives of our exec or manager easier. And then we also make things in the office more streamlined. And be accommodating is one of the key components of an excellent assistant. Someone who can pivot on a dime and handle multiple different priorities and manage multiple different priorities simultaneously. That is what we do. And so it makes it really hard because essentially what you're saying when you set a boundary is, "I'm willing to be helpful and accommodating, but only within these parameters and only to a certain extent."

And that flies in the face of who we are as at our core as assistants, most of us. And so that's why it's such a challenge to set healthy boundaries. Now that's not to say that we shouldn't set healthy boundaries. Healthy boundaries are really important. In fact, last night I was on my phone and I know I shouldn't have been checking work email and I saw this email and I really wanted to respond to it, but I'm like, "I'm not going to do that." Because that sets a precedent. If I respond now, then this person is going to think that I'm available to respond all the time. And that's not the case. In the evenings that's my family time and so I'm very clear with those boundaries. In fact, I shouldn't even have been checking my email, to begin with. So these are the things that we need to watch out for in ourselves and make sure that we are setting good solid, healthy boundaries.

Okay, so to review, in terms of time management, so the challenges are that we work off of someone else's priorities, that our time is not our own. We deal with constant interruptions and we can tend to have a difficult time setting healthy boundaries. So my first course is launching the end of this month. I'm really excited. So stay tuned for more details on that. It'll be all about time management. The course is called Ultimate Time Management for Assistants. So if you really want to up your game and become a powerhouse with regards to time management and really rocket and know exactly the next steps to take and know how to prioritize everything and know how to deal with the interruptions and know how to manage your email and know how to align yourself with your exec's priorities.

I created this course specifically for assistants because of these unique challenges that we face, I just have found that regular time management tactics need to be modified or adjusted for us as assistants because, and some of them simply won't work for us because of the nature of our jobs. So stay tuned for all of that. I'm also doing free Trello webinars, so on how to set up your ultimate master to-do list utilizing Trello. I love Trello is excellent. You can centralize everything into Trello, which is really great. So stay tuned for that as well. And, yeah, I hope you guys have a great rest of your week and I will be back next week where I will be discussing one mindset shift that we all need to make in order to really increase our productivity and to really move past the ceiling that we're at right now in terms of time management and being effective and managing our time and being productive. So stay tuned for that too, guys. I will see you next week.


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