As an experienced Executive Assistant for over 20 years, I’ve come across quite a few techniques for staying on top of everything. Through trial and error, I’ve determined what strategies work for me. I’d like to share my favourite tips for time management and how to improve your working environment.
- Email Management
Checking your email regularly during the day can be an effective way to keep your inbox at a manageable level. However, the constant interruption and distraction that comes from multitasking in this way can dramatically lower your productivity, and disrupt your ability to enter a state of flow when working on high value projects.
One strategy you can use is to check email only at set points during the day. For instance, you may decide that you’ll only check your email first thing in the morning, before lunch, and at the end of the day.
Many of us also get lots of internal notifications. These are those “FYI” emails from the corporate office or from team members who want to keep us “in the loop.” If you see your name in the “cc” field instead of the “To” field, chances are it’s an FYI email. Consider filing it in a “To Read” folder and tackle it when you have time. Another useful tip is to look at creating rules for those non-essential emails.
- The jobs you hate!
Don’t put off the jobs you hate until tomorrow as it will never happen. Do the jobs you hate first and the relief you will feel when completing these jobs will be more gratifying. Its best that these jobs are completed in the morning when your mind is fresh and more productive.
Bribe yourself! There is nothing wrong with deciding that you’re going to treat yourself to a special reward for completing a task that you’re dreading. Decide that when it’s done, you’ll go out to eat, or to see a movie, or even something as simple as reading that book or shopping online. Just make sure that your reward is a motivation enough to see you through the job.
If you’re really struggling with a task that you don’t want to deal with, feel free to outsource the work so you can concentrate on the work you do enjoy. Learn More
- Attending & Scheduling Meetings
Be fussy with your meetings! Meetings can take up so much time so it’s best to book them for a one-hour slot and stick to it. Also ensure you have an agenda ready, so you don’t go off track or continue unnecessarily. While you’re booking meetings in for other people schedule a meeting for yourself. This will create a distraction-free zone where you can go to focus when necessary. Block time off on your calendar where you won’t be disturbed, turn off your email and message notifications (or better yet, disconnect from the internet entirely), and focus on a single important task for an hour or two.
- Proof Reading
For any material that is being released for the public domain I will encourage sourcing a proof-reader to check your document as a simple grammar mistake could be detrimental to your company.
Like any important email or letter that is sent, we often stress over getting it done right. Especially if in receipt of this correspondence is an important client, manager or customer.
In this age of virtual employees, emails are sometimes the only interaction we have and the document you are sending can often reflect ourselves and way we work.
Spending hours on a document in front of the computer can be hard work, in my experience stepping away for a break and coming back with a fresh pair of eyes with a clear train of thought can be invaluable.
We all know how paralysing it can be to start a big project or tackle a crazy to-do list. So don’t overwhelm yourself with a massive task list! Give yourself 3 to 5 important items that you need to accomplish in one day, and focus on those. If you get them done early, you can always add a few more things to your list but keep it manageable and it will keep you productive — Busy doesn’t necessarily mean productive!
Try not to leave tasks unfinished where possible when you start a job, ensure you have the time to complete it while your head is already in the job in hand. This will ensure maximum productivity with your time.
- Clear desk, clear mind.
We’ve all heard the saying clear desk, clear mind but does a clear desk result in productivity? Well I believe so from my experience and so does a study conducted by the Princeton Neuroscience Institute. “Having multiple visual stimuli present within range of one’s view, will result in those stimuli competing for neural representation”. (by Erin Doland)
In layman’s terms, the more clutter you can see, the more easily you’ll find yourself distracted. Your brain is literally being presented with more than one sandwich to bite into and it becomes unsure of which to taste first.
- Admin Routine
Try to ritualise an admin working time to ensure you stay on top of your workload. The best time normally would be 8-10am to concentrate on email and work tasks or find a time that works for you. This is another way to help you become more productive with your time. Routine tasks need routine procedures if you want to stay organised and keep things running smoothly. Set up routines for handling paperwork and office systems.
Every piece of paper that comes into your office should be handled once, acted upon, and filed—not haphazardly piled on a desk. Similarly, digital communications such as emails should be prioritized and acted upon immediately, if possible, or flagged for future action.
- Coffee breaks
Scheduled regular coffee breaks are important. Stepping away from that document you are working on or that computer screen will allow you to come back to your work with a fresh mindset.
Coffee breaks offer time to de-stress and relax. No matter how much you love your job there is no denying that work can be stressful. High workloads, complicated tasks and tight deadlines can all aid feelings of stress.
Your productivity diminishes the longer you go without a break, Kobel told Business News Daily. Kobel explained that this is why it’s recommended that people don’t work more than 8 to 10 hours per day — at a certain point, your body and mind simply cannot produce anymore, she said.
- Neck, back and seating posture
If you sit at a desk and work on the computer for most of the day, good posture prevents back and neck pains which can also have a negative impact on your mood and work ethic. Below are some simple steps to follow to help prevent uncomfortable posture.
- Support your back
- Adjust your chair
- Rest your feet flat on the floor
- Place your screen at eye level
- Have the keyboard straight in front of you
- Keep your mouse close
- Avoid screen reflection
- Make objectives easy to reach
- Avoid phone strain
- Take regular breaks
- Set Milestones!
Most people associate Milestones with set projects. But milestones are anything that has a beginning and an end. Within your Milestone you need to be able to measure its progress to evaluate if you’re on track and what still needs to be accomplished to get to the end. If you haven’t set any Milestones in your working life how will you know what path you are taking?
My company is called Milestones as I’m a strong believer in setting markers for what you are trying to achieve. As a VA I help assist other businesses reach those dreams and accomplish their end goals by dealing with administrative work so they can focus on their Milestones!