You know when you’ve just got an absolute load of stuff on your plate and you have no idea where to begin? Yeah, I can see you nodding – hello, isn’t every day like that?! I’ve been feeling like that a lot lately, so what tends to happen is that nothing gets done and I end up thinking, where the heck did the day go? This my friends, is what happens when you (and by you, I mean I) don’t prioritise your tasks. Now, I know that there are a lot of brilliant, fantastic methods out there that really help with prioritising tasks and for my own time management / task management needs as much as you lovely readers, I thought today would be a good day to share some of the best prioritising tips for PAs that I know about. I’ve done a lot of research in this area, because I am the world’s worst procrastinator, so it is a constant battle for me to stay focused and get through all my tasks. I NEED these structures to get stuff done. Here are my five prioritising tips for PAs:
#1 Have a to do list
I think, if you’ve been reading this blog for a while you will know I am a huge fan of the to do list. I don’t know how people survive without lists. But, most of you will be thinking. Yes, I have a to do list, it doesn’t mean anything gets ticked off the list… I hear ya! Well, here are some tips on just sorting out your to do list:
- Categorise your to do list: This means having categories for each area of your role and then adding maybe 5 or 6 tasks to each area that you can work through. So for me, I know I have blog posts to write, I have social media updates to do, I have website maintenance and I have tasks relating to the PPPA events. So I have different to do lists for each area and then I try to work through each to do list on a different day. Monday’s I do content, Tuesday’s I do social media etc. etc. This gives my to do list structure and actually my working week too.
- Have a rough idea of how long things take: If you don’t know, time yourself. This might explain why the day seems so short, because you spent 4 hours doing expenses!
- Break up your tasks: I find this really, really useful. I have lots of meaty tasks that I know will take a long time to finish and it sucks when that one task is on my to do list, looking at me and not getting ticked off. So instead, I write down all the different elements of that one task and then I feel really good about myself when I can see that I am making my way through it, even if I haven’t actually finished it entirely.
#2 Urgent vs. Important
This is the Eisenhower Decision Matrix, a productivity technique that gives you the framework to prioritise urgent and important tasks over non urgent and non important. There are loads of great articles on this method that you can read online, here are my top three:
What I would say for Assistants is that every time you get a request, very quickly decide is it urgent and important, in which case it needs to be done straight away. Is it important but not urgent, in which case assign the task to a specific day and give your self space and time to dedicate to the task (maybe some time away from your desk is required to complete it). Is it urgent but not important, in which case can you delegate it or pass it back to the person who asked you in the first place? Lastly, is it non urgent and non important? This is the stuff you say no to.
#3 Stop figuring out what the task actually is
So when I was an Assistant I was really guilty of this. I would have a task on my to do list that someone had asked me to do and I would kind of stare at it for a bit, wonder how I start and then push it aside until I had more time to think about it again. What I should have done, and realised too late, was to go back to the person who gave me the task and find out exactly what they wanted me to do. So My third point is, don’t accept vague tasks without the necessary detail on what exactly is needed to complete the work. If you are not sure, ask! Get the answers you need to prioritise the task and then work through it. Vague tasks that have no deadlines, not objectives and no deliverables are a complete waste of time.
#4 Get in the flow
Okay, I know this sounds a bit yoga / zen-like but again this is something that really helped me. I have my to do lists, I know what I’m doing, I know what is urgent and not important etc. But how do I get going with stuff. For me, this means getting in the flow, so I have my to do list for the day in front of me. I can see it and visualise what I need to be focusing on. I have music on, I have my emails and all email notifications turned off and I work solidly for half an hour. I stop, have a break. Then work solidly for half an hour (I’ve slightly adapted the Pomodoro technique here). After each break, hopefully I can tick off something on my to do list and then keep going until lunchtime. Basically what I’m saying is that I need to get into the flow of my routine before I really start to get things done. If you struggle to prioritise what you are doing, think about the best atmosphere and mind set that helps you get things done. Is it being quiet, is it being in a busy environment, does music help? I know this is tricky in an office but you can certainly arrange your desk and your environment to help. So work out your flow and go from there.
#5 Find the time to plan your priorities
And this is my biggest tip and one I really try hard to do myself. Once a week, for me this is on a Friday afternoon, find some time to review your week’s work. What got ticked off the to do list, what got bumped to next week and why? Look at what you have coming up next week and plan the time that you need to get the work done. Always, always think that you will get through everything, but also allow yourself some contingency time in case something really urgent crops up.