Updated November 2022
When most people think about the challenges of running an office, the very first thing that comes to mind is multitasking.
Offices are hubs of activity. They are the nerve centre of every company, small business, government agency, and community organization.
Offices are, by definition, busy environments where employees coordinate projects, hold meetings, pitch ideas, and carry out routine operations.
It's normal for tasks, schedules, and priorities to collide as each individual works toward their own goals for the day.
Who is responsible for sorting it all out and ensuring the office runs as smoothly as possible? The administrative team.
Administrative assistants, receptionists, and office managers need exceptional multitasking skills. But what does effective multitasking actually look like? What core skills and characteristics does an office assistant need to juggle tasks effectively?
Let's break down the three keys to managing requests, assignments, and last-minute demands that land on your desk--all at the same time.
First of all, multitasking isn't what you think...
Before we begin, we should take a moment to clarify exactly what "multitasking" means. It's not about doing tasks at the same time. This is actually a terrible idea, and almost always leads to disaster (think: talking on the phone while writing an email, or proofreading an important document while scheduling appointments for your boss - no good can come of this!)
Multitasking in an office environment is about carefully shifting your attention from one task to another, not splitting your focus between many things at the same time. If you're bouncing randomly between jobs, something is bound to go awry. That's not multitasking—that's panicking!
Here are some practical strategies for shifting between tasks without missing a beat (or losing your mind).
1. Get your priorities straight: rank tasks by order of importance
This is the number one rule of task juggling for administrative assistants. For example, let's say you're sitting at reception, and four things happen at the same time:
- A client arrives for a meeting and approaches your desk
- The phone rings
- You receive an email request to print some documents for the meeting that's about to happen
- The mail arrives, ready for you to sort and distribute
Which of these events demands your immediate attention, and which can wait until later? Knowing how to rank incoming requests by order of importance is one of the central pillars of good multitasking.
Before leaping into action, take a second to get your priorities straight and decide which move you'll make first.
2. Group similar tasks together to maintain continuity
Let's say you have a large pile of work on your desk. Or a jumble of email requests sitting in your inbox. Simply figuring out where to begin can be a major challenge.
In addition to considering priority, it's a smart idea to group related tasks together. This is an efficient way to quickly sort your work, and maintain a sense of continuity while working on each "group" of tasks.
For example, you might put tasks related to a particular client in one group. Or pull together requests related to an upcoming meeting or corporate event you'll have to organize.
The advantage to this system? While you work on each task group, you'll have an easier time remembering all of the facts and details relevant to that group—rather than bouncing back and forth between unrelated tasks and having to "recalibrate" your brain every time.
3. Use a to-do list and keep it visible
Never underestimate the importance of a to-do list when you work in office admin! You might believe you can remember important dates, requests, and tasks—but without a list, something will always fall through the cracks.
Your list can be digital or on paper, but it should always be in a highly visible place (a pad of paper on your desk or an open Word document on your computer).
You'll want to sort your to-do list by priority, with a dedicated section for daily, routine tasks, and a separate area for upcoming deadlines and special assignments. Some kind of colour-coding system is also a good idea so you highlight items by priority.
Remember: You can't be everywhere at once. But you can prioritize, sort, and keep track of pending tasks to avoid panic and divide your time wisely.
As you settle into your first position after office assistant training, you can use these techniques to create your own multitasking management system—and keep improving it as you gain experience. You'll be juggling tasks like a pro in no time.
Interested in learning more about administrative assistant training?
Explore the Administrative Assistant diploma offered by Herzing College Winnipeg. Chat live with an admissions advisor to learn more about the training, or click below to browse the program for yourself. We're here to help!