The smarter professional assistant understands the value of productivity.

It impresses bosses and clients, opens doors, frees up time and usually means more money.

Picture of the word productivity on a dartboard

There are many ways for the VA, EA and PA to be more productive. Here are 20 suggestions (including how Microsoft Outlook can serve your cause):

1. Get Important Tasks in Your Calendar

Your calendar should be the control hub for all your activity. Make sure you add your most important tasks and set reminders. Microsoft Outlook can take care of this so everything, business and personal, is managed efficiently.

2. Get Started

Procrastination can happen when a project or task feels difficult, complex or less exciting than your usual work. Valuable minutes (or even hours) can be wasted by distracting yourself from the task.

Just get started. If you really cannot begin with one project or task, start on something else. This can give you encouragement and momentum to keep going.

3. Time Yourself

An assistant’s day can involve many different types of work and you may not realise just how much time is taken up with particular tasks – until you measure it.

There are a number of timer apps – such as RescueTime, Clockify and TimeCamp – you can use to monitor your activity. Some people embrace approaches like the Pomodoro Technique, where you focus on a task for 25 minutes followed by a five-minute break.

4. Work at Your Peak

Some people advocate early rising to get more done but that’s not the best practice for everyone. You need to discover when you work best. Are you a morning lark or a night owl?

People have different energies, not just at certain times of the day but also with the type of task they are doing. (If a task is one that consistently does not suit your best energy, it may be one to consider outsourcing).

5. Avoid Distractions

You can switch off your phone or put it on silent or ‘airplane’ mode. With Microsoft Outlook, you can pause or turn off email notifications. Notice what takes away from your focus and do something about it.

6. Plan and Prioritise

Take your list of tasks and prioritise them. This way you can plan what to do each day and in what order. Microsoft Outlook is perfect for tackling this.

7. Listen to Music for Concentration

Depending on office policies or your own preference, listening with headphones to music designed for focus, study and concentration may help to shut out noise and distractions.

8. Avoid Multitasking

Research does tend to suggest that trying to do several things at once is not productive. Keep your focus on one task at a time. Manage your day with Outlook and a timer app.

9. Take Breaks

Sitting down at a screen and keyboard all day is not good for your health. Ensure you set aside time for breaks. Grab a cuppa, take a power nap or get some fresh air. Your mind will thank you for it and you’ll get more done.

10. Make Notes

Sometimes you may be working and think of another task that needs doing, or an idea or a thought. Have a notebook and pen to hand or use an app like OneNote or Evernote to jot things down.

Make sure any ‘to do’ activities get added to your list and placed in your calendar for attention.

11. Keep a Clear Inbox

A tidy inbox supports a tidy mind. Simple management of your inbox is possible when you know the essentials of Microsoft Outlook.

Avoid clutter. Organise messages so they are sorted, filtered and easy to find.

12. Organise Your Data

Being able to find files, documents, emails, notes and message threads fast is vital for good productivity.

When you have the suite of Microsoft Office applications with Microsoft 365, you will find Outlook, Teams and OneDrive support each other well in keeping everything in order.

13. Start saying ‘No’

The more you say No, the more time you give yourself for other things. Focus on what is important and reject things which are not a good use of your time. You’ll thank yourself.

14. Create a Productive Environment

Where you work can influence your productivity. If you’re in an office environment, it may be all set up for you. However, open plan spaces can take some getting used to.

If working from home, having your own office or study is the best option. Failing that, make your work area as comfortable, light and tidy as possible.

15. Batch Similar Tasks

Instead of switching from task to task, which is not so productive, you can use Outlook and your calendar to plan similar work in ‘batches’. Set focused time aside for emails, errands, phone calls and writing. It will save you time.

16. Learn Keyboard Shortcuts

When using Microsoft applications, there are usually shortcuts you can use. I share these in my weekly tips and complete range of online courses.

17. Master Microsoft Applications

The smarter VAs, EAs and PAs understand that the better they know how to use their tools, the more productive they will be. Less time spent working out how to do a task and more time to focus on delivering a great result for the boss or client.

If you’re serious about productivity, mastering Microsoft Outlook is a sensible first step. Then look at your other Office and 365 applications to get on top of those.

18. Get Good Sleep and Rest

Just as taking regular breaks is important for your productivity, so is getting enough sleep. When your mind and body are tired, it affects your speed of thought and work. Decide what’s right for you but many experts suggest seven or eight hours is about right.

19. Exercise

Exercise, whether it’s a session in the gym or a walk outdoors, is good for you. It can help to get the mind and body flowing, and provide a break from work. Join friends and there’s the added bonus of the social element.

Planning your exercise and breaks, and putting them into your Outlook calendar, means there is more likelihood of you doing it.

20. Review Your Productivity

As with anything in business, take time at regular intervals through the year to see how you’re doing on the productivity front.

What’s working well? What is holding you back? What could you start, stop or change to make things better?

What more do you need to learn about Outlook or other Microsoft applications for greater productivity?

Let me know what tips you found most useful – and what’s working best for you.

The session was well structured and the explanation was very clear. It was amazing how Shelley managed to squeeze so much info in just one hour and a half! Colin’s support and contributions were also very valuable, and so were “Virtual Veronica”‘s. Thank you for a most interesting and useful training session at the Miss Jones Virtual Summit!

Laura Carizzo- Royal Norwegian Embassy in Argentina

I haven’t used PowerPoint in 20 years, this has really boosted my confidence.

Lyn Parker

Course is packed with so much valuable information in a easy-to-understand and follow language, even for a complete beginner. I can respect the fact that sometimes it’s very hard for an expert to break the information down to basics. but Shelley has done it brilliantly. I was sure that I knew quite a bit but Shelley has proven me wrong even at the very beginning of the basics of PowerPoint. Lessons are short and precise which allowed me to easily transfer the new skill into practice without being overwhelmed and to carry on adding on more with each lesson. I had so many ‘Aha!’ moments and for most of them I couldn’t believe I used to pay graphic designer to do it for me, now, thanks to Shelley, I am looking forward to creating, designing, converting my presentations all by myself!

Iva Freeman – Vertex Human Capital

Shelley was very thorough and knew a lot of tip’s for using Teams, thank you 🙂

James O’Connor – Cavannah Homes

Very informative, constantly getting everyone in the meeting involved, loved every bit of it!

Dylan Teal Hopkins – Cavannah Homes
Fantastic and informative training and great to see all of the exciting functions with Microsoft Teams.
Laura Rigby – The Apprenticeship College
Shelley was really clear in her teaching and went at a pace that was helpful to us. We covered all we needed to know to get us started, as a small team, using MS Teams. She was also very helpful in the run up to the session, with check in calls and ensuring our platform was set up correctly. I would highly recommend Shelley to anyone wanting to learn to navigate their way around MS Teams.
Leigh Dowling – Innuous

Microsoft Teams One to One Training Session

Shelley was approachable, easy to work with, and agile with answering questions to apply the session to my specific needs

Melissa Marshall – Present Your Science

A course on Outlook had been on the top of my list when Shelley asked VA’s what they wanted to learn.

It was a real case of ‘so that’s how you do it’ or ‘I never knew that’. I have to say that I learnt so many great tips it has definitely improved the way I work in Outlook and my inbox is looking colourful and organised and I can’t wait to share this knowledge with my clients.

Jacqueline Leake – JLeake VA Services – Outlook

A great course with lots of examples and step by step instructions. I can now confidently create infographics and as a bonus, I learnt a lot of new PowerPoint functionality that will enhance all my PowerPoint work and save me so much time.

Jessica Bailey – Integral Resource

I really like Shelley’s courses. She has a clear and easy to follow teaching style. In ‘How to Create Fillable Forms’ I’ve learned about the functions of the Developer ribbon which will mean I’ll be able to create a bespoke Returns Form for a client who has an online shop

Freya Henderson – Virtual Office Orkney

Shelley was really clear in her teaching and went at a pace that was helpful to us. We covered all we needed to know to get us started, as a small team, using MS Teams. She was also very helpful in the run up to the session, with check in calls and ensuring our platform was set up correctly. I would highly recommend Shelley to anyone wanting to learn to navigate their way around MS Teams.

Sarah Clements – Inuous

Absolutely superb course, easy to follow and to refer back whilst putting it all into practice! I was unaware of the extent you can customise a presentation and it’s just made me want to know more – what’s next Shelley?

Denise Williams

I thought I had a pretty good grasp of Outlook until I did this course! In her videos, Shelley is clear and concise, and the language she uses is straightforward and jargon-free. Each module is broken down into manageable chunks, which helps keep your attention and means the course is easy to fit in around other commitments. I’ve created email templates and implemented rules that are already saving me time, and as all the other things I’ve learnt start to become second nature, the positive impact on my efficiency is fast becoming clear. This course has been incredibly beneficial and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to strengthen their skills and boost productivity.

Pip Doleman VA

I thought I knew Powerpoint really well, but I wanted to specifically learn how to use Powerpoint to create better infographics, easily and quickly. Shelley explains everything in a very logical and clear way, so I understood everything the first time I heard it. The most useful thing I learnt was that Powerpoint can do so much more than I thought it could. By also using the short cuts that Shelley showed me I am much quicker than I have ever been and I thought I was already quick!

Susan Marot

Shelley Fishel of Tomorrow’s VA has a wealth of experience in Microsoft Office. I met her in person 2 years ago at the PA Show in London. I also saw her in action in a fab workshop and knew she was the whizz that everyone had told me she was. I have since bought a lifetime access to her HUB and all the courses in there are a MUST if you are a VA on a mission. The courses will give you confidence in all the Office 365 components and will catapult you to dizzy heights

Alex Hughes