Administrative assistants juggle many tasks at once, often take care of several people in an office, and must manage several facets of their job simultaneously. When your boss gives you a list of important tasks, how do you handle conflicting priorities? If your boss tells you to schedule a meeting with 12 people for this afternoon, but a big report is due by tomorrow, what's the best way to handle the situation?
Manage conflicting priorities by creating a plan of attack. The first step is realizing you have a disorganized boss, and that this is not your fault. Ineffective managers or executives often leave the company after monumental failures, but bosses who lack organizational skills may linger simply because other people help them to meet deadlines.
One reason your manager may have organizational dysfunction is the way information comes to his desktop. Copious emails, voice mails, text messages, social media posts and LinkedIn messages enter his frame of reference every week; that's why your manager hired an administrative assistant in the first place. Help make your boss's work life better, and the conflicts should ease up.
Offer to help out on major tasks. If your manager has trouble delegating to others and he becomes overwhelmed, ask what you can do to alleviate the stress of the project. Organize files, retrieve data or make phone calls to the people who know what to do.
Make sure your department has regular meetings. Sometimes, the best way for a team to communicate is through face-to-face contact rather than by a slew of emails that clutter your manager's inbox. However, ensure that meetings don't just become time-sinks by keeping them brief, organized and to the point.
Disseminate information in a digest format once per week instead of using individual, personalized emails. This may seem impersonal, but a regular email to many people at once lets them know what to expect. Manage conflicting priorities by giving out only the most essential information in personal formats; mundane things can wait for the weekly email.
Think ahead when your boss presents conflicting priorities to you. Which task has the most value? Sometimes, people need information before a meeting that is already scheduled, for example. Phone calls to the board secretaries can happen on a lunch break, if necessary, but data for a report must be run at certain times to complete documents accurately and on time for board members to read at the meeting.
Coping with conflicting priorities is a pertinent skill for every administrative assistant. The best way to mitigate disparate, yet equal, project demands may be your people skills. Getting others to do their bit can take the weight off you in trying times. Having an even-handed attitude, job know-how and experience with the tasks at hand also help you work around a boss who may not know what to do at all times.
Conflicting priorities do not occur all of the time. Take advantage of breaks in the action to organize your desk, files and information so you can create systems to help you cope the next time you have to run in three directions at once.
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