“I actually resist making lists, except when I am absolutely and completely overwhelmed, because the things that I really want to get done -- wake up to my true nature, live in love, experience the fullness of life -- never seem to make it onto the list,” laments comedian/actress/author/writer/artist Beth Lapides, who wrote Did I Wake You? “When I have too much to do, I remind myself never to do today what I can put off forever.”
But seriously, folks: Managing your work effectively as an admin really comes down to priorities. We’re all expected to do more in less time. And that makes managing work flow more important than ever, especially if you don’t want to be so burned out from work that you can’t enjoy the other parts of your life.
Without priorities, you can’t make smart decisions about which projects to take on and what to do when. And that is the fast track to burnout. Here’s how to make -- and stick to -- priorities that work for you.
Set the Right Priorities
Tapping into your gut feelings and judgment is a good place to start identifying priorities. Jim Stroup, author of Managing Leadership, recommends considering these factors:
- What is my job description?
- What are my boss’s responsibilities and deliverables, and how can I help address them?
- What is my company’s purpose?
For more input, ask your boss to help you develop criteria for setting priorities, and review them together periodically.
Put Them to Use
But priorities won’t do you any good if you don’t use them to avoid saying yes anytime someone asks you to do something.
“Learn to say, ‘I have a lot on my plate right now,” suggests Karen Leland, author of Watercooler Wisdom: How Smart People Prosper in the Face of Conflict, Pressure and Change. “Other people don’t know how much you have on your agenda, so letting them know is one way to keep your action schedule manageable.”
Another tactic: Deflect the decision. “Pick the highest priority activity you have, and if you think it conflicts with a new assignment, then say, ‘I'm flat out on X right now; would you like me to focus on this new task before X?’” offers Rick Brenner, principal of Chaco Canyon Consulting. “You probably won't get an immediate answer either way, because most bosses haven't thought about it to the necessary level of detail. If you don't get a clear answer, it's your cue to probe about priorities. So be prepared for that conversation with your list, in priority order, of all tasks.”
What if your boss tells you everything is a priority? “That's your cue to replace your boss, which is usually done by finding a new position,” Brenner says.
In addition to priority-setting, there are a few other things you can do to help you cope with the increasing demands of work without feeling fried to a crisp. Leslie Godwin, author of From Burned Out to Fired Up, recommends you:
- Schedule extra help at work and at home for predictably hectic times.
- Discipline yourself to use scheduled breaks to rejuvenate and recharge.
- Let family and friends know that work is extra-challenging and ask for help.
And after the hectic time is over? “Do some soul searching,” Godwin advises. “Discover whether you were on a mission to do everything yourself, if you didn't get enough sleep or if there is anything else you need to do differently next time. Then plan to make real changes in your work responsibilities or how you respond to them.”
For more information and tips to help you advance your administrative career, see all our advice for admin professionals.