A few years ago an interim manager praised me on how much work I could churn out within a short amount of time (I was getting in to the office at 7am so the short amount of time wasn’t actually that short!) but he wanted me to improve the quality of my work. I had to agree with him. I could get through so much administrative work, most of which was fine but not as detailed as I would have like. More complex tasks also rushed through and not much thought given to them. I was also turning down more interesting tasks because I knew they would take too long to complete or I didn’t have the time to dedicate my attention to them. Annoyingly these were the projects that would help with promotions, rewards and getting noticed by senior members of staff. But, they were also the projects that required more attention to detail. I would have probably needed to spend a little more time learning how to do new things, which was certainly not something I had time for. There were of course spelling and grammar errors in my work, because as someone who is not the greatest speller I didn’t have the time to proof read or double-check everything.
I think most assistants can relate – with so much work to juggle sometimes the weaker skills or the more complex tasks do not get as much attention as they should. In our role as assistants, unfortunately, attention to detail is vital and so here are a few tips I have picked up over the years – in my case they were really helpful!
Ask a trusted colleague to help proof read your work and obviously offer to do the same for them. Bear in mind that they have work to do as well so only ask them to proof read important documents after you have checked the work a few times over yourself. Ask them to not just proof read the spelling and grammar but also the content and the overall gist of the document. Ask them – Do my words make sense and have I communicated the right message?
The quality of your work is important too
We want to make sure our manager’s work is error free and we will spend time proof reading, editing and making sure it looks good. We should spend the same amount of time on our own work after all we reflect their standards and so really our reputation is as important as theirs!
Create the time to dedicate to detail
Assistants are famous for our multitasking skills and most of us can get through an amazing amount of work in a day but this approach probably doesn’t enable us to spend as much time focusing on each task and ensuring accuracy and quality. I would suggest multitasking on simple tasks or those that require action rather than concentration. When it comes to more complex tasks we should put time aside to concentrate and focus specifically on that piece of work. As we all know, for assistants this can be quite tricky so here are a few more tips on dedicating time to detail.
Structure and organisation
Having structure, managing our tasks and organising our work through to-do lists will help keep us focused. Structuring our tasks in a way that ensures we do not panic when deadlines approach will certainly help us maintain attention to detail. As I said earlier, simple tasks can be dealt with effectively and quickly but we have to structure our working day so that tasks requiring attention to detail are given enough time.
I was always lucky as an assistant because I was quite often allowed to work from home, especially if I had some important projects to work on. I could schedule a few days at home and sure enough my work would get done and I could focus on making sure the quality was perfect. Now I know this luxury is not afforded to all assistants! Many have to juggle tasks while continually being distracted by colleagues, phone calls, random questions etc etc. There are. however, a few alternative to working from home. For example can you book out a meeting space for a few hours or leave the office to sit in a local coffee shop? I’ve done both these things (only telling my manager where I am) and have happily completed complex tasks in less time than it would have taken sitting at my desk. If you can’t leave your desk, how about putting a sign up when you need to concentrate, or putting some earphones in (people are much less likely to interrupt if you look unapproachable and earphones can help create that aura!)
I am very much guilty of staring at my screen or nipping on to Facebook or Twitter when I should be concentrating on something. If I added up all the minutes I spent procrastinating I would have a hell of a lot of time on my hands! But as much as you should get your head down and concentrate on the task at hand sometimes procrastinating is a sign that you probably should take a break, get up and do something else for 5 -10 minutes. Taking regular breaks really does help the mind to focus. Just make sure you come back to your desk!
Stick to a certain level of quality
You should have a clear definition in your mind as to what level of quality your work must reach. Different tasks will require different levels of quality but overall you should spend more time on the tasks that are going to have an effect on your reputation. When completing a task think to yourself – am I happy with people associating me with this piece of work? If the answer is no – you need to find more time to increase the quality.