Although the role of an assistant can be incredibly varied, there are certain aspects that all of us will face at some point in our career. We all have similar experiences in the workplace… Yes, I do know where the photocopier is… No, I can’t fix the paper jam… And then there are the competencies that we all need to get the job done. Today we will be looking at how we deal with conflicting priorities. Let’s face it, most of us will on a weekly basis (if not a daily basis) have to work through several tasks within a specific timeframe. Some are the usual routine tasks, some are part of an ongoing project and some are urgent and require immediate attention. How do you keep your workflow moving so that you meet the requirements of the role and nail every deadline that comes your way? Here are my tips on how assistants can deal with conflicting priorities.

What are you supposed to be doing today?

It is much easier handling multiple priorities if you have a clear idea of what you are supposed to be doing that day. For me this is achieved by reviewing my to-do list at the start of each day and working out how much time each task should take me. I look at my deadlines and priorities accordingly. Having a best case scenario means that I can at least start the day focused on what I want to achieve. If something urgent crops up I can put my work on hold, deal with the urgent matter and then easily return to my original plan without too much disruption.

What are your priorities?

For assistants priorities are a very fluid thing. Your priorities are really your Executive’s priorities therefore you have to really understand the bigger picture. This is where business acumen and proactivity comes into play. If you are fully aware of what is happening in your business, you can make much more informed decisions about what actually needs to do be done and when it needs to be achieved. Being proactive can also ensure that you are working on the right things and completing tasks that are increasing your Executive’s productivity.

Rescheduling tasks and creating space in your day

Annoyingly the routine work doesn’t go away. If you have to stop what you are doing and work on something urgently you will still have to complete all of the other stuff you need to do that day. How do you do this? Well, I will often add a little white space to my day. If something urgent crops up I will use my ‘white space’ time to get this done and then I can go back to what I was doing previously. If I have a perfect day I use my white space to do some personal development, plan my workload for the following week or go out and get some fresh air. This is obviously very rare and usually the ‘white space’ does get used for work, but I at least plan it into my day.

Communication is and always will be key

I know, I know, I say this all the time. But it is true. You need to be very,very vocal as an assistant otherwise your Executive and colleagues will just assume you are able to handle every little task that is thrown at you. Speak to your manager every day, find out what is coming up, what the priorities are and what you can do to meet deadlines. Tell them what your task list looks like, what you are working on and what you have coming up.

Say no more often… It will do you good!

Last but not least if you have absolutely loads of conflicting priorities and you are struggling to get everything done, you must must must say no to things. Question your colleagues that always use the urgent card. Is this really urgent? Or have you just left it to the last minute? Make everyone aware that you are busy and can’t take 5 minutes to quickly do that thing they are asking you to do (it never takes 5 minutes!) Being a little more assertive will certainly help you manage priorities.

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