17 April 2010

Keeping focussed in a busy environment

There are so many distractions in the office -- the telephone, your co-workers, email and your boss!  How can you keep focussed when there is just so much going on?

I learnt a valuable lesson many years ago when I cleaned houses and I have taken it to the office with me.  I am a single mom, but wanted to stay home to raise my daughter, but I needed a job too.  What I did was take on odd jobs such as house cleaning, babysitting and homecare for seniors. 

My first day housecleaning, I had a large house to clean. I set aside four hours to clean it, which seemed reasonable to me.  I mean, I had been cleaning my own house for years, how hard could it be?  I started in the bathroom, cleaning here and there, and then I needed a cleaning supply so went in the kitchen to get it.  While there I started cleaning the kitchen sink.  To finish up and make it shine, I used a glass cleaner.  That got me thinking about the glass tops on the tables in the livingroom so I went in there to do that.  Can you see the problem here?  I was not focussing on one task and finishing it, but was going from here to there and everywhere so after a few hours it still looked like I hadn't accomplished much and I started to panic that I wouldn't get the house cleaned on time. 

What I learned very quickly was that I had to finish one room at a time.  I had to be prepared and have all the cleaning products I was going to need to finish the job, but if I did have to go and get something, I had to resist starting on something else and return right back to the task at hand.  It's the same principle in the office.  With all the tasks coming at you and all the things you have on your to-do list, it can seem overwhelming and sometimes you can feel paralyzed wondering where to start.  Having a to-do list can be a life saver.  Prioritize the tasks you need to do for the day/week/month and then do them one item at a time.  If you have to answer the phone, deal with an email or attend to something for your boss, do so, as that is the nature of the admin job -- multi-tasking, but once you have done it, go right back to your to-do list, re-focus and continue what you were doing.

Sometimes you are just not sure what is sapping up your time and I have found a time log will help you determine where you are going astray.  When I first started at a law firm I was in unfamiliar territory and was finding it hard to focus on one task so was all over the place.  I knew I was crazy busy, but when my supervisor asked me what was taking up my time, I couldn't really pin point one particular thing.  It just seemed like it was everything and nothing seemed to be getting done.  She suggested I keep a time log for a time so I could identify what it was.  I left the office thinking, "Great, one more thing for me to add to my already huge list!"  But I did it by keeping a notepad by the phone and each time I started a task I would write it down.  In a very short time I started to see what the problem was -- telephone calls. 

In a law firm you can spend a lot of time on the phone with clients, other law firms, setting up mediations, court dates, etc.  Being on the phone was a very important part of my day and it was still going to take a big part of my time, but I could better manage it by scheduling a time to make my phone calls. 

As well, I received lots of voicemails and others that my boss forwarded to me and I had to transcribe them, which also took a lot of my time.  Once I had identifed the problem, I could make a plan on how to deal with it.  I went to my boss with my newfound knowledge and she arranged to get me some new technology to make transcribing voicemails less time consuming.  Whew! Now that I knew what was taking the time, I could do something about it and make adjustments to organize my day better.

So don't let all that work get you down. 
  • Break it down into chunks and prioritize your work on a to-do list. 
  • Pay attention to what might be taking all your time by keeping a time log and then try to manage it, rather than letting it manage you. 
  • Don't be afraid to ask someone else's advice on how best to make some changes -- your boss, a co-worker, someone from your professional association or a friend.  Someone else just might have the answer that will help you.
  • Keep your desk organized with a place for everything.  Not having to frantically look for things all the time will definitely help you. 
  • And most importantly, prioritize your work and keep focussed on what needs to be done first.

5 April 2010

When your boss arranges meetings behind your back...

Does your boss ever organize a meeting behind your back?  Mine does and it can cause problems with my scheduling.  He will have a quick conversation with a staff member and set up a meeting, but not tell me anything about it.  That makes it difficult when I am supposed to be organizing his calendar, but since I am responsible to organize his time and in spite of my frustration, I have to make it work.  So what can you do when your boss is ruining your perfectly scheduled calendar? 
  • Realize that nothing is cast in stone and things can change so be prepared to make the necessary adjustments.  Your boss is not trying to sabotage you.
  • Assess which meetings can be adjusted without too much disruption. Internal meetings can usually be changed more easily so start there. 
  • Depending on the importance of the impromptu meeting, it may need to be changed to another timeslot to accommodate his or her calendar.  Usually when I point out the conflict to my boss, he is more than willing to make the change.
  • If you have to reschedule, send an email apologizing, but advise that your boss's schedule has changed.  People are busy and certainly understand schedule changes.