Understanding where you’re spending your time can improve your overall productivity on the job says Julie Perrine
Time is a precious commodity for administrative professionals. Sometimes it seems like every second needs to be accounted for; other times, you don’t have enough of those seconds to begin with.
But what if you could save minutes – or even hours – each day? How much more effective could you be if you could “create” more time? It’s possible – if you’re willing to change some of your habits. To help you do that, here are four big time-drains, and how you can put a stop to them.
- Inefficient Email Communication
Email. It’s the bane of many an Assistant’s existence – but it’s also a necessary evil. The “ding” of an incoming message has an almost Pavlovian effect, conditioning us to react immediately.
Are you wasting too much time on email? Here are some workaround solutions:
- Stop and think. Do I really need to send this email? Would a phone call resolve the issue faster? Could I visit the intended recipient at their desk and save us both a few minutes? If you need an email trail to document the conversation, send a quick one summarizing what you decided upon when you met face-to-face. It eliminates the email volley that wastes time and fills your inbox needlessly.
- Be succinct. If an email really is the best way to reach your recipient, get to the point. There’s no need to waste time on pleasantries – a simple “Hi, Rebecca, here’s what I need from you” will suffice.
- Think it through. What do you need to say, and how can you best say it? A multi-email thread wastes everyone’s time, and can cause colleagues to stop paying attention, missing valuable information in the process. Make sure to cover all your bases and say everything you needed to say in the initial email, or you risk losing your recipients’ attention. Use good email formatting practices such as bulleted lists and bolded text to make it easy to read and draw attention to the important details.
- Have a daily catch-up. Is your executive the recipient of most of your emails? Why not carve some time out of the day to talk face-to-face? It will save him or her from a constant barrage of emails and text messages, and give you a chance to get your info in real-time and likely with more context than an email or text alone will provide.
- Distractions and Time-Wasters
If you’re really pressed for time, there’s no reason to spend those precious minutes or hours on tasks that don’t matter right now. All too often, we distract ourselves from the real “meat and potatoes” of our job with things that could wait.
Some of these things include:
- Handling personal requests. “Can you do X for me really quick?” “I’d be a lot more comfortable submitting Y if you looked at it first.” While it’s great to help your colleagues when you have the time, too many requests take too much time out of your day.
- Looking for perfection. Sure, you want to get the job done well, but continuously over-formatting or over-stylizing documents that were just fine to begin with only wastes your own time. The quest for “perfection” is futile.
- Organizing the supply cabinet. Organization is fantastic – but a looming deadline for a big project or your key priorities should always take precedence over making sure the pens and pencils are separated. Pay attention to the procrastination strategies you use to delay working on something. “Organizing” something is one many of us like to use.
- Creating “themes” for meetings. A themed meeting can break through the monotony of a Monday, but if your inbox is overflowing or your filing system is faulty, you have more important things to do.
- Have daily catch-ups (again). Are you ready to prioritize your workload? Are you certain that your priorities align with your executive’s? This is a great conversation to have with your executive! A daily meeting will help align his or her priorities with your own, and you’ll be in a better position to handle your day.
- Getting Chatty
Most people love a good catch-up after the weekend. “What did you do? How was it? Did you have a nice time?” These are the passwords of office life.
While some chatting is fine in most offices, it’s important to know when it’s affecting your productivity. If you find yourself long on conversations and short on time, consider:
- Taking a different route to the coffee pot. If your best office buddies are between you and your daily cup of java, it’s time to take a different route. It’s all too tempting to settle in for a chat that can completely derail your entire day.
- Giving a signal when you can’t engage. No one loves to cut someone off mid-sentence. However, if you absolutely have to get back to work, there’s nothing wrong with establishing a signal (a thumbs down, a shake of the head, etc.) to indicate to your co-worker that now isn’t the best time to talk.
- Close the door. If you’re lucky enough to have an office, your door can be your new best friend. Feel free to close it and hang a big “Work in progress, do not disturb” sign from the doorknob so you can focus on your tasks.
Networking is incredibly important, and the relationships you build within your own office can be a springboard to bigger and better things. But how much of what you’re talking about can really be considered “networking?” If you get up from your desk multiple times a day and spend just 10 minutes chatting each time, you end up wasting a lot of time!
- Your “Personal” Technology
It’s no secret that LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook have a place in the office, and most admins would be lost without their trusty smartphone or tablet. But if you’re constantly tied to your electronic devices, how much work are you getting done?
Be aware of how much time you’re spending on:
- Social media. Yes, it’s a great way to build your personal brand, keep in touch with far-flung executives and colleagues, and even look at a meme or two. It’s also a great way to waste time, which is the last thing you want to do when your to-do list is half a mile long.
- Did your college roommate just get back in touch after a decades-long hiatus? Is your off-the-clock colleague asking for the recipe for the casserole you brought to last month’s potluck? That’s all well and good – but is it work-related? If not, save it for later.
- Personal phone calls. Your mom wants to know if you’re coming to dinner on Sunday. Your doctor calls to confirm your appointment for next Thursday. Your spouse calls on his lunch break “just to say Hi.” Unless it’s an emergency, try to set boundaries with your family and friends so you’re not constantly barraged with personal phone calls. This one can erode not only your effectiveness but also your colleagues’ perceptions when they hear you on personal calls consistently throughout the day.
- Rings, dings, and notifications. Your phone has a ton of sounds, all of which alert you to something different. Breaking news updates, Facebook friend requests, email notifications, incoming text messages – the list goes on and on, and every sound is distracting. If possible, silence the non-work related notifications on your phone before work each morning. I promise, it will save you plenty of time!
There will always be distractions at work. It’s the way you choose to manage those distractions that makes all the difference. If you’re constantly saying, “there’s not enough time in the day,” then you may need to track your time and look at where it’s going. Understanding where you’re spending those precious seconds, minutes, and hours can help you make better decisions in the future, and improve your overall productivity on the job.