The smarter professional assistant understands the value of productivity.
It impresses bosses and clients, opens doors, frees up time and usually means more money.
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.
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.
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.