Effectively Prioritizing Tasks
As Executive Assistant to the CEO of Wildcard Corp., a man who does anything and everything, it is difficult to plan your entire day and stay focused and on-task. Things come up all day that require immediate attention, or future attention that cannot afford to be forgotten. This results in a lot of natural switch tasking, more commonly known as multitasking.
Multitasking, despite the average opinion, has been known to decrease productivity. When you are constantly having to change your mindset to a different task it can be very draining throughout the day. This can lead to few tasks getting fully accomplished and leave you with a full list of partially completed tasks. Having this happen can be quite daunting and stressful. Can you relate?
So, let's overcome the temptations of multitasking together by going over different strategies of how to handle a variety of tasks throughout the workday. An average day may contain tasks such as emails, meetings, various projects, and of course those interruptions that come up from co-workers. Although there are many other variations of tasks which require different techniques, I am going to focus on those I handle on a regular basis.
First things first, emails are a big part of my day being in an administrative role. I follow many different company emails which get updates from different departments and results in lots of emails. These email notifications that come throughout the day most often are not in need of immediate attention. To help limit these distractions turn off those unnecessary notifications. This rule goes with your phone too. Notifications are the ultimate distraction. Now, we can’t ignore our email forever, so schedule a time dedicated to checking email.
Try not to jump ahead and start responding to them one at a time or clicking on links that take you to other web pages and articles. Instead, start creating calendar events or tasks with certain emails that need extra attention or links you would like to explore. This will help you stay focused on one process at a time and not get distracted from responding to an email from a customer to a social media article and back to an email about that same customer project.
Do you save emails? Make sure not to clutter your inbox, use the archive so you aren’t distracted by emails you have already attended to. In the archive, you can easily search and find emails when you need them for the future.
"Meeting" is a word no one enjoys hearing. It is usually accompanied by thoughts like “there goes another hour of my day” or “does this really need to be a meeting rather than a conversation?” Despite everyone’s dread for meetings, they can be a vital part of communication in your company, if done right. Ultimately, if you are the organizer, ask yourself “is a meeting necessary”? If there is any question about this answer, don’t create a meeting invite. Instead, see what tasks you can assign to team members and have them report to you rather than getting everyone together to divide up those tasks.
"Use your calendar as your to-do list."
Whether you are creating the agenda for the meeting or just participating, look at it ahead of time so you can make the most of the meeting time and ask the questions you may have, as well as stay on topic. The number one rule of meetings is to be respectful. Keep eye contact with the organizer and pay attention so you do not have to rehash the details. When individuals are lacking eye contact and multitasking during meetings it costs you and everyone else in that room time. At the end of the meeting, recap what you got out of this meeting, and what the next step is for you. This is why note-taking during meetings is very important so there are fewer clarification questions for the organizer. Lastly, if there are tasks for you to accomplish or further attention is needed, schedule it on your calendar. Use your calendar as your to-do list so you have a designated time to focus on that task.
When working on different projects, your calendar becomes even more important. Adding all projects to one calendar ensures nothing will keep getting pushed to the side while you do other tasks that are more or less important. This includes setting the appropriate amount of time aside. When you are setting a time for your tasks, schedule a time slot that is 100% more than what you think it will take. This means if you think you can do something in an hour schedule two hours of dedicated time for the task as it may take longer than you think. This can help you keep focus rather than stressing about how you don’t have it finished and only have 5 minutes left in your time slot.
Using your calendar to set times should not limit you from doing other things that may be pressing or if you are working on collaborating with someone else and there is an active beneficial discussion. Simply adjust the time on your calendar for that project, keeping it on the same day but moving it to a different time. This will give you a good reminder to focus solely on that task later and it will be done rather than pushing it aside and saying, “I will get to it”.
Lastly, the quick question from co-workers can be detrimental to productivity. Constantly being messaged and answering others' questions forces you to change the task you are working on repeatedly. A technique to try and regulate this interruption is to schedule time with individuals you interact with if they have a topic they want to discuss. Give them access to your calendar so they can schedule a time with you to ask questions and discuss a project with you. Then you can give them your full attention, where you can bring your questions, answer theirs.
This will only work if you make it clear to others that this is your policy. If they have something they want to talk to you about, they need to schedule it in your calendar rather than coming up to you and asking, or messaging you while you might be in the middle of something else.
"Progress, not perfection."
Remember, when trying to be proactive and plan your calendar, focus on specific tasks rather than multitasking. It's about “Progress not Perfection” as things do come up, but as long as you are working towards improving, your productivity will show for it along with a decrease in your stress levels!