Getting organized is on many a busy administrative assistant’s to-do list. But once you’ve set up systems to tame the clutter, staying organized can be a continual challenge.
“You are always going in 10 different directions,” says admin-turned-author Jamie Novak, who wrote 1,000 Best Quick and Easy Organizing Secrets. “You are interrupted often, plus you need to keep everything at your fingertips, and others are constantly giving you new projects that need to be worked into the list of existing projects.”
So how do you keep on top of your time and workspace while getting your job done? Heed these five tips:
- Pay Attention: With so many distractions and competing priorities, it’s easy to get derailed. And that can create chaos. Monica Ricci, a professional organizer and author of Organize Your Office in No Time, suggests taking a second to be aware of what you should be doing. “Refer to your schedule, calendar or task list frequently,” she says. “Your organizing assistants -- like your task list -- will help you stay on track and avoid being distracted.”
- Keep Track: Managing multiple deadlines can mean several projects wind up on your desk daily. This usually results in confusion and clutter. Janet Luhrs, author of The Simple Living Guide, offers this organizational tip: “Have a dedicated basket or small shelf for pending projects, and stack them in order of deadline. If the deadline isn't today, create a second file -- not on your desk -- for items that are due later in the week.”
- Expand Space: Don’t have enough surface area for that second file? Get creative. “Use hanging hot pockets to free up your immediate real estate for active paperwork,” Luhrs suggests. “That way, you only have one item in front of you on your desk while you're working on it.”
- Manage Minutes: Using the few spare seconds you do have to get things in order can really pay off. “If you can do a task in two minutes or less, you must do it right then,” Novak advises. “File that one folder instead of making a pile to be filed later. Spend five minutes at the end of the day wrapping up, putting away things you used during the day and pulling items you’ll need for the next day while creating a top 10 to-do list in order of priority.”
- Triage Papers: Managing your paper trails makes it easier to navigate your day. “Act on items needing immediate action,” says Betsy Fein, president of Clutterbusters. “Toss items after you've read them and [they] are not important to keep. If you haven't used it or needed it in three months, it can be archived or tossed. When in doubt, throw it out.” Retain only those items you won’t be able to retrieve again through other means.
Organization and the Big Picture
These tips will help you stay organized, but the real key to maintaining order is your own ability to focus and prioritize.
“The degree to which you have this ability is not reflected in how neat or messy your desk is, or even in how well you manage information and records,” says Jim Stroup, DBA, San Diego-based author of Managing Leadership. “The truth is, many people are obsessive about maintaining a clean desk or organizing all their files and records precisely, because they’re not really sure what they actually ought to be doing.”
Stroup maintains that you have to organize around something. To figure out what that is, he suggests asking yourself these questions:
- What do I need to do to add value?
- What is my company’s purpose, and how does my role fit in?
- What are my boss’s major headaches or distractions, and how can I help alleviate them?
“No one of these things should be used to determine and prioritize your goals, but a review of all of them will help you accomplish both tasks,” Stroup says. “Then, almost to your own surprise, you’ll find that you are organized like you’ve never been before. And your goals, together with your new methods of determining them, will act as landmarks that will keep you on track.”
For more information and tips to help you advance your administrative career, see all our advice for admin professionals.