Mastering Administrative Skills: Strategies to Manage a Chaotic Workload

» Articles » Administrative Assistants Articles » Article

August 15, 2018
Author: Tamala Huntley
Organization: Tamala Huntley International

Time Mastery

If you look at many of the blogs, magazines or books available today, you’ll see a common thread among administrative professionals. There is an OVERWHELMING trend in their “conversations”! One thing that many of you consistently struggle with is time management.  Jim Rohn, a very well know personal development speaker and teacher, says that 20% of what we do provides 80% of the results we desire. So we should focus on the 20% and do that 20% as efficiently as possible.

So here are some things to add to your 20%... STOP Multi-Tasking & Implement a “Power Hour” Workflow

Why this is important:. Research has even proven that multi-tasking is not effective. Now I don’t mean that you can’t work on more than one project at a time… just don’t try to complete them at the same time.

Continue reading below

FREE Administrative Assistants Training from Lorman

Lorman has over 37 years of professional training experience.
Join us for a special white paper and level up your Administrative Assistants knowledge!

10 Proofreading Tips for Error-Free Writing

Learn More

Here’s how to master the approach:

  1. Institute a “Power Hour” and work in 1 hour time blocks (or 90 mins or even 30 mins… depends on your attention spans)
  2. Use a separate project folder or binder to organize everything related to each major project you are working on and only work from one folder/binder at a time. This way you aren’t constantly looking at all of the tasks from each project and getting overwhelmed.
  3. Take a break only after you’ve finished your “Power Hour”… and make it a short break. You can use a kitchen timer or an online timer like

When multi-tasking, you think you’re getting a lot done, but really you’re not. It’s all an illusion. What multi-tasking actually does is make you less productive. That’s right… less.

Here’s why => You’re doing a bunch of stuff but you’re not doing any of it well.

Think about it… you’re talking on the phone and trying to respond to an email or write a letter. How many errors do you find later? How many times do you ask the person on the other end to repeat what they said?

Research has shown that there are limits to how much the brain can actually do at one time. And tests have shown that when you multi-task, although your mouth may be moving, your brain is somewhere else.

So although you may feel like Wonder Woman (or Superman), you really are shooting yourself in the foot.

Here’s another simple example… have you ever driven to the mall while talking on the phone, gone in (still on the phone) and when you come out of the mall, you have no earthly idea where you parked???

Often, our sub-conscious works to do routine tasks without us even paying attention to how we do them.

So what does this mean for you at work?

It means you’ll get more done AND do it better by staying single focused.

Here’s that illusion again… you are very busy, running here and there and you’re doing a lot. However, the million dollar question is… have you done things right? Do you have to go back and make corrections? Do you have no idea what your boss or manager asked you to do because you were doing something else when he told you what he wanted? Can you find the piece of paper that you wrote the important message on while you were proofreading that article? See my point?

Additional tips:

  1. Plan your time and only do what you’ve allotted in a specific time period
  2. If you are in the middle of something, ask co-workers to come back and schedule a time for them to do so
  3. My favorite ==> Turn the ringer on the phone off and disable email notifications for a specific time period.
  4. Only check email when you are absolutely ready to respond. If you get one that takes research, add the research time to your schedule and respond during your next email time block.
  5. Same goes for voicemail as stated in #4 for email.

Systematize, Automate, Delegate

Why this is important: I’m huge stickler for this one. Systems, automation and delegation take a huge load off of you and make your daily routine flow more seamlessly.

Here’s how to master the approach:

  1. Systematize routine tasks. Whether you do them daily, weekly or monthly. Have a documented process for how you complete them.
  2. This allows you to automate and delegate. Whether you are automating email replies or delegating mail sorting, it frees up your time to focus on other tasks. This is the foundation to proper organization and time management. Period.

Repeatable Systems Make Your Performance Predictable and Give Your Boss/Manager Peace of Mind that Is Priceless

There is comfort in predictability. A wife is at ease when her husband keeps a predictable schedule. A child feels safe when his parents’ behavior is predictable. It is the same with your boss. Your predictability gives him/her comfort. They can be comfortable with your ability to handle certain situations and projects alone because you have developed the systems that cause your results to be predictable. So, for example, instead of coming up with a new plan every time you start an new project, use a checklist that covers every detail related to that type of project (give or take a few differences based on the type of project it is).

Don’t try to rely on my memory and don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Use the systems that you’ve already created. Now your boss’ mind is at peace and she can move on to the next thing on her agenda because the system is what guarantees the results. Of course you have to do the work to get the project or assignment completed, but the system makes it easy.

KILL Perfectionism

Why this is important: You can do this without sacrificing excellence and quality. Many times we stay stuck and waste so much time because we beat a dead horse. With this particular issue, there is such a thing as too much.

Here’s how to master the approach:

  1. Have a standard for what constitutes completion. When you get to this point, whether it’s “perfect” or not, move on.
  2. If you don’t think it’s “just right”, let ONE colleague or mentor read it, see it, or whatever… incorporate any changes and move on.
  3. If you tend to be extremely picky and you’re afraid it’s just not good enough… get over it (sorry to be so blunt). What’s worse… agonizing over something for days trying to make it perfect, or staying on schedule and getting it done, then making minor corrections later. Catch this point… I said minor corrections. Never just throw something together. There is a difference in crappy work and work that just isn’t “perfect”. We have deadlines for a reason… they help us keep moving and progressing. Otherwise, we’d forever be stuck. Use deadlines to get you past perfectionism.

Understand that I’m not advocating double work. I’m just saying, you have to keep moving. You can’t stay stuck dotting I’s and crossing T’s. Eventually you have to move! And it’s better to do it sooner than later.

Stop Working from Your Entire “To Do” List

Why this is important: Constantly looking at all of the tasks from your projects at the same time will overwhelm you. **Sometimes I call “To Do” Lists “Achievement” Lists as well. It just makes me feel better to have achievements or actions rather than just a big list of things “to do”. Psychological I know.

Here’s how to master the approach:

  1. Create your master “action” list and just write out every task that you need to do.
  2. Now organize and prioritize your list.
  3. Now take your refined list and identify the top 3 tasks that need to be completed first.
  4. Now jump in!

It’s that simple. Now you won’t be distracted by all of those low priority things. And you won’t be tempted to jump around the list and avoid the most important things that need to be done. Here’s a secret: Time Management is also about knowing when to do tasks, as much as it’s about what tasks you actually do.

Rearrange Your Email - Use Your Inbox as a “Sorting Station”

Why this is important: For similar reasons that I stated regarding your task list above, you don’t want to leave every message you receive sitting in your Inbox. It’s distracting. Think about it, how many times a day do you scroll through the messages in your Inbox. I used to do it several times. Once I started using my Inbox as “sorting station”… kind of like reading your mail over the trash can, I stopped wasting precious minutes scrolling through messages thinking I’d missed something.

Here’s how to master the approach:

  1. Setup meaningful folders within your email that are related to the types of mail you receive.
  2. Don’t just name everything after a person because after a while this becomes ineffective. Unless it’s a person who normally sends junky, chain letter type emails.
  3. Include special folders like these: receipts, reference items, awaiting approval, call within 24 hours, etc. Make your folders meaningful for follow up.
  4. Now when you receive mail in your Inbox, sort through it (at the designated email checking time). Delete what needs to be deleted. Forward what needs to be forwarded. Reply right away when you can. Put receipts and items you’ll need for reference at a later date in their specified folders. And for the ones that require you to take action later… file them in the appropriate folders.

If done properly, your email can be one of your best allies in your war on time management. You can take an entire email and in 2 seconds, add it to your calendar with a reminder. You can set flags not only for yourself, but for others so they respond in the timeframe you desire.

Change Your Environment

Why this is important: This can be interpreted multiple ways. My context here is that you organize your environment. You’ll save time if you have your most used items at your fingertips… if your files are in order… if your desk is not cluttered.

Here’s how to master the approach:

  1. Clean up your office. Simple right? Well not if you’ve been dreading it for 6 months. ? Just take that elephant and chomp on him piece by piece. Take big tasks and break them down. Instead of attacking all of the files/papers/receipts/etc. today… just do the A-H. And so on…
  2. Work from a clean desk. Again a simple one and a self-explanatory one. Clutter is distracting. Period. Studies have shown that when you have post it notes or pieces of paper on your desk, you will look at them at least 6 or 7 times a day!

It’s as simple as that. The sooner you do this, the less distracted you’ll be and the more you’ll be able to get done and the less “scattered” you’ll be.

Work & Break While Others Don’t

Why this is important: This one is a superstars only approach. Why? Because it will take discipline for you to do it. You’ll have to get over needing to do everything with the group. And sometimes you won’t be able to be social and hang out.

Here’s how to master the approach:

  1. Take your lunch when everybody else is working. This means that you’ll be working while everyone else is at lunch. End result: no distractions from your employees, vendors or colleagues for at least an hour. Who doesn’t want a whole hour of uninterrupted time?
    2. Get to work 30 minutes before everyone else. I told you this would take discipline, right? Again, 30 minutes of uninterrupted time is priceless. Especially if you get in before your boss or co-workers because once they are there it’s a wrap. :) Find the uninterrupted time you need and maximize it.

Shut Down All Distractions When Needed (Email, Multiple Browser Tabs, Phones) Why this is important: This is another simple one to do, but initially will take some getting used to. Especially if you are like I was and feel shut off from the world when you can’t get to your email or the Internet for 5 minutes.

Here’s how to master the approach:

  1. Get a tool like with and it will block you from getting on the Internet for whatever time you specify. The only way you’ll be able to get back online will be to restart your computer. This is what I call “enforced obedience” :)
    2. When you are browsing eliminate multiple tabs as much as possible. I don’t know about you, but I fell in love with multiple tabbed web browsers. I sometimes had 6 or 7 tabs open at the same time. What I found was I’d end up wasting so much time because I’d lose all focus on the task at hand because I was jumping back and forth between browsers.
  2. Shut down email and turn off phones. You know these two well, I’m sure. Right now as I type this email, my email is closed, my ringer is off and I’m blasting classical music (it helps me think). Now, truth is, sometimes my mind will want to check the email. Especially if it’s been hours since my last look. Since I’ve been doing this for a while, it’s not so hard to ignore the urge anymore but at first, oh boy! These types of distractions are such a huge enemy to proper time management. With a little discipline (enforced obedience), you can master them.

Allot a Time for Tasks - The Task Will “Fill” the Time

Why this is important: A task will fill the time you give it. So if you allot 2 hours for a task, even if you can get it done in 1 hour, somehow it’ll meander along until 2 hours have gone by. It’ll fill the time. Also, it’s been shown that when you give yourself a deadline, not just a date, but also a time, you’ll rise to the challenge to get the task done within the time allotted.

Here’s how to master the approach:

  1. When you begin one of your tasks specify a time of completion and as much as humanly possible stick to that time.
  2. Now you have an “excuse” for eliminating distractions from colleagues and/or employees. Just tell them “I have to get this done by 2 pm so let me call you or come by when I’m done.”
  3. Make sure the time is realistic but not too lenient. You don’t want to stress yourself out by trying to get a 2 hour task done in 30 minutes. Nor do you want to waste time on one that can be done in 15.

Your mind is an amazing tool. It will adapt and adjust to pretty much anything you tell it. Impose deadlines on it and it’ll rise to the occasion and finish strong!

Eliminate Time Thieves

Phone, email and co-worker interruptions happen constantly. Here are just a few quick tips to avoid being sidetracked every twenty minutes.

  1. Try to provide information and answers to recurring questions elsewhere, like on your website, hotline or voicemail. On your voicemail, ask for the caller’s usual information and, if relevant, give them your company website address for more information. This may seem like a lot of information to leave on a voice message however it saves you lots of time in the end. A 5 minute phone call that started with one simple question can quickly turn into 10 minutes.
  2. Turn your email notification off and schedule specific times to check email (at least 3-4 times a day, depending on how heavily your company relies on email to communicate). If your email is constantly dinging all day long, your attention is going to be drawn away from the task at hand. The ability to focus on your tasks and projects is critical to getting more done each day.
  3. Set your phone to go directly to voicemail during certain times of the day so that it doesn’t ring, or just turn your ringer off. This is pretty self-explanatory. Based on the daily schedule that you created, when you block off time to actually work on your to-do list, you should focus on the current task at hand. Just as with email, a ringing phone will distract you and slow you down.
  4. Send email responses rather than calling. You have to be careful with email because they can be easily misunderstood. When appropriate, send an email rather than calling because, again, phone calls can get lengthy pretty fast.
  5. Close your door for 2 hours (open doors welcome visitors passing by). Your company may have an open door policy where for the most part, everybody keeps their doors open. This is fine. Just prepare co-workers and your manager ahead of time that this is something you intend to do. So that when you need focused time of work, you can close your door for short periods of time. You can even make a sign to place on the door that kindly states that during this time you are not to be interrupted.
  6. When you call someone, tell them you only have 5 minutes to talk and end the call in exactly 5 minutes. This is an easy way to not get bogged down on phone calls.
  7. Remove chairs from your office so that people won’t linger by sitting down.

If there is nowhere to sit down, people tend to say what they have to say and move on. There is no temptation to linger.

  1. Put in and out trays in your manager’s office so that you aren’t in and out of his office all day. Every manager is different, so you have to know your manager’s style. For example, you could have two trays in my manager’s office… one for items she wants me to handle immediately and one for items that are not urgent. Check the trays periodically throughout the day and handle items as needed. The intention is to reduce the number of times you have to go back and forth into your boss’ office throughout the day.
  2. Keep email replies short and concise. There’s not much explaining needed for this one. Quick replies save time.
  3. Don’t reply to every email... really, it’s not necessary. You don’t have to respond to say “thank you” or “ok” to every email.
  4. Ask questions to get all related information. How well you communicate with your manager and co-workers is an important piece in your time management puzzle. Do you have a clear understanding of what is expected of you? Have you clearly expressed what your expectations are?
  5. Make meetings productive. Nobody likes to feel like they have wasted their time when they leave a meeting. Keep people on topic and use your agenda.
  6. Kick people out of your office (nicely!). You can get up and go to the restroom or go to the mail room which forces people to follow you. Hopefully, you lose them on the way (smile).
  7. Use or create standard forms for daily tasks and operations. For routine tasks, standard forms leave less room for errors and co-workers don’t have to stop you for instructions over and over again.
  8. Manage up. Learn how to anticipate your manager’s needs and meet them even before he asks. A great resource for learning how to “mange up” is a book by Roseanne Badowski, former Executive Assistant to Jack Welch, aptly titled Managing Up.
  9. Stick to your systems. This takes discipline but once you create a routine, stick to it.
  10. Train your co-workers to use the systems you create. This is the same as #16. Consistency is necessary.
  11. Don’t let other people’s lack of planning create emergencies for you.

The material appearing in this web site is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. Transmission of this information is not intended to create, and receipt does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. The information provided herein is intended only as general information which may or may not reflect the most current developments. Although these materials may be prepared by professionals, they should not be used as a substitute for professional services. If legal or other professional advice is required, the services of a professional should be sought.

The opinions or viewpoints expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of Lorman Education Services. All materials and content were prepared by persons and/or entities other than Lorman Education Services, and said other persons and/or entities are solely responsible for their content.

Any links to other web sites are not intended to be referrals or endorsements of these sites. The links provided are maintained by the respective organizations, and they are solely responsible for the content of their own sites.