being good at your job
June 6, 2017 9:34 AM   Subscribe

My job is administrative, and I find myself getting lost in the details and falling behind. I'm not naturally administrative, but I've learned to be, but it's now getting to the point that I feel that I can't keep up, due to 1) the amount of things coming in, and 2) not feeling like I'm in an expert in what I'm asked to manage most of the time. Things that are especially tricky for me are projects that have a lot of moving parts.

I know this is pretty vague. I have a task management program that I actually find super helpful, but the stuff that keeps coming in becomes distracting to that process. Any tips for doing this well? Is there a way to scale a system such that new tasks become subservient to the system, and not the other way around? I need, basically, a way to keep track of tasks and projects. I need a way to "big picture"everything, while also being able to do down to the details, in a way that is efficient and predictable and things don't fall through the cracks. What worked for you when work got crazy?
posted by SpacemanStix to Work & Money (5 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I find scrum/kanban boards useful for tracking detailed projects and tasks.

Trello is a free app that lets you build your own. There are others. Post its tacked up on a grid is a classic option.

Set aside a portion of your day (20 mins?) to add new tasks to your board. Don't add things as they come in, don't let yourself get sidetracked by new items unless it's some kind of deadline emergency. Just flag it and wait until your scheduled time to add it to your task board.
posted by phunniemee at 9:48 AM on June 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

I started using Asana (also free, for a limited number of users), which allows you to have projects and tasks within the projects. You can add subtasks within the tasks, and I think you can make some tasks dependent on others.

Can you set aside a time to process your email - once an hour, or every couple of hours, and only touch it then? I can't really do that, but I hear that it can be helpful.
posted by needlegrrl at 11:07 AM on June 6, 2017

Have you ever looked into the Getting Things Done method? I find the general philosophy really useful for not letting things slip through the cracks. There's a ton of info online about it if you google, but the components I use that might be useful are:

1) For any task that comes up in person, or any e-mail, triage it in one of two ways as soon as you hear about it (either ASAP for in person convos or whenever you read your e-mail).
2) If it takes less than 2 minutes, just do the task now (e.g., forwarding an e-mail, asking a quick question, filing something), before moving on to any other e-mails/tasks.
3) If it will take longer than 2 minutes, add it to your list.
4) Review your list regularly (on a schedule) to make sure nothing gets lost/dropped off the list/forgotten about, and to add any tasks that you forgot to add previously.
posted by jouir at 12:23 PM on June 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

your role might be different than a traditional admin, but perhaps you might find this old question (and my answer, ha) helpful. (One thing to note is I don't use Xobni anymore as it was sunset and wasn't worth the trouble with outlook).

Some things that I've found helpful as I manage some high-stakes, significant projects that have many complicated moving pieces (and volume) and no shortage of interruptions (I'm no longer an admin but my experience was so helpful):
- you have to find a system that works for you and is as simple as possible. I honestly use a combo of my inbox and calendar to keep track bc I only have one place I need to return to or reference. When you find the system with the lowest possible friction, it will help you. If you've been trying to use something and it doesn't stick, can you identify why, exactly? Is it because you have to log into a separate site? Is it because it takes an extra two clicks to add a task? Is the only place you check your inbox? What is going to force you to review, ruthlessly prioritize and get it done?
- Record everything and review regularly. Your brain can only hold so much and it's not reliable 100% of the time. Keep track of everything in... you guessed it: one place. No random post it notes and emails and scribbles in notebooks. This ensures that you have a repository of things that can be then transferred into tasks when you don't have time to do that directly (e.g., walking and are asked to do something, during a mtg, someone stops by your desk during a task you can't interrupt more than a few seconds, etc.). I also find this helps free up mental space to get shit done bc I'm not trying to remember to do something later or fretting about it.
- This is embarrassing... but after years of trying to use spreadsheets and project management software to organize myself, the best way I found to see everything at a glance was a table organized by weeks and buckets/categories... in an editable, saved email, no less. That way it was easy for me to see at a glance what had to be done each week and either adjust (with an eye on my deadlines), highlight what was absolutely the most important to get done and cross things off my lists. I say this as someone who is pretty tech savvy and unafraid of new, different products. I personally found that trying to use sites like Asana and Trello were more useful for keeping others updated on a specific project rather than for myself. It's not a one size fits all. Are you a pen and paper person? Or would you rather be able to do everything on your phone?
- nth the get things done method.

If you have specific follow up questions or want to toss ideas back and forth, memail me! Best of luck!!
posted by sums at 12:34 AM on June 7, 2017

Thanks, everyone! Great advice, and I think I've stumbled on some good systems based on your suggestions.
posted by SpacemanStix at 1:48 PM on June 10, 2017

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