Over the last few years I’ve written quite a bit about minimising disruptions at work, which for assistants is a particularly tricky activity. In our offices we are the fountain of knowledge and the centre of all things so it is a constant battle to get tasks completed without someone interrupting us. There are loads of techniques to try and I have listed a few here. Over the last year I have been testing a few more techniques to help improve my productivity that I want to share with you today!
1. Set deadlines for completing each task
Sometimes I can mull over a task for ages. I will go back and forth to it; check my emails, answer a phone call, make a coffee or just generally procrastinate. Before I know it the task has taken me all day because I have been ‘multi-tasking’. Recently I have tried to set a time limit on tasks. This has really helped improve my productivity and it has also improved the quality of my work because I am concentrating solely on the task at hand. I assumed there would be tasks that I just didn’t finish in the time I allocated myself. However, I’ve found that I do really know how long things should take and I have managed to meet nearly all of my self imposed deadlines.
2. Take a break
I sometimes find that I can fly through the day, getting every task completed and feeling very smug as I ticks things off my to do list. But then I also have those days when I find myself staring into space and procrastinating because I just can’t find the motivation to get things done. When I get to this point I have now decided to take a ‘power break’. My new ‘power breaks’ involve me getting away from my desk for 10 or 15 minutes to get some fresh air, or make a coffee or I just do something that means I’m not staring blankly at my computer screen. These little breaks make a huge difference to my overall productivity particular on those annoying days when I’m lacking energy.
3. Get the horrible tasks out of the way as quickly as possible
We all have them. It really is worth getting the tasks that you absolutely hate completed as quickly as possible. I used to work for a company that didn’t have an online system for expenses (loads of companies have yet to invest in this) so I would put off doing expenses because it involved spreadsheets, photocopying receipts then photocopying the spreadsheet and lots and lots of stapling…. urgh. I hated it. But I quickly realised that the more I put that task off the more work I eventually had to do. So every Friday morning I would insist my boss gave me all the receipts he had and I would spend Friday afternoon processing the expenses.
4. Figure out when you are most productive
This is a common technique used to improve productivity. For me I am pretty much on fire around 11am through to 3pm when I usually need a nap! Obviously I can’t go for a nap so instead I schedule my day so that by 3pm, the horrible tasks and the tasks that require brain cells have been completed and I can do things that don’t require too much thought. For assistants it is also really important to know when our Executives are most productive so that we can maximise their efficiency too. For example, schedule the really important meetings when they are at their peak.
5. Keep a notebook on hand at all time or have a system for remembering ad-hoc requests
I’ve said this many times before and I will say it again – assistants should always carry a notebook with them! For me, making this a habit has made a huge difference. I have so much to think about during the day that I can’t remember everything and so I write as much down as I can. I don’t have to spend time remembering what someone has asked me. I also don’t get things wrong because I have literally noted down exactly what was asked of me. This means it is very rare that I have to re-do work because I made a mistake or forgot to add something.
6. To do lists
This leads me beautifully into to-do lists. God I LOVE to-do lists! They are without doubt the number one tool for productivity. Recently I have been trialling new methods of prioritising my to-do lists so that I make sure the most important tasks are completed first. Here is a link to the method I’ve been using recently.
7. Automate as much as possible
I actually think this is a blog post in its own right but I think it is worth mentioning now. Assistants should try to automate as many tasks as possible, particularly administrative tasks, so that they can free up time for other – more interesting – things. For example there are plenty of online tools and apps to help automate minute taking. I’ve written a blog post about that recently. There are also loads of Outlook tools that automate email filing and diary management.
8. Learn to say no
I’ve been practising this a lot more recently because I am super busy and I am really having to say no to things. As an Executive Assistant this does not come easily and it certainly doesn’t sit well with me – I want to be helpful! But saying no has meant that my productivity and my time management has improved. I can also spend quality time on tasks that really do require me to concentrate. With practice I am able to say no to tasks I know I shouldn’t be doing and yes to tasks that I really want to do!
9. Take on some more exciting tasks
It is amazing how much your productivity can soar when you are working on tasks that are challenging, exciting and fun!
10. Work from home occasionally
When I first started as an assistant the prospect of working from home was pretty much zero. Nowadays it is much more common for assistants to work from home occasionally. I would highly recommend it because the main cause of low levels of productivity for assistants is removed – interruptions! If your boss is hesitant do ask for a trial work from home day. The next day in the office show your Executive how much work you actually managed to do while still being totally available to them by email or phone. They will probably be quite shocked!