What is a Good Work Balance? – Ask an Admin

training_for_administrative_assistantsWelcome to another question for Ask an Admin – Admin to Admin Advice. This is where you submit the question and your peers answer your question. We believe that there are many different ways to approach problems, difficult tasks, and situations so we thought this would be a great way to provide you a place to share your input as well as receive input from others.


This week, Rachel R. asks us:

No matter how fast I work or how many hours it seems that I put in, I am unable to get in front of my assignments. I am always ensuring a “fire” doesn’t start and I am unable to work methodically on one or all of my projects. Any advice?


Interesting question. How do you handle a lot of assignments/tasks in a methodical way while ensuring “fires” don’t start or spread? I know what Joan Burge would say! NO MULTI-TASKING. Well, I think we all know that Joan would say that…but what advice would you give Rachel?


It’s your turn to give your advice, tips, tricks, and anything else you have to offer up. Place your comments or advice in the comment section below.


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13 thoughts on “What is a Good Work Balance? – Ask an Admin”

  1. Courtney N Kloehn

    At our organization, we refer to the fires as whirlwinds. This is the chaos that happens that prevents us from making meaningful movement forward on projects and goals. There is no way to prevent the whirlwind all together, however, there are methods that can be used to be sure that the whirlwind does not prevent progress on major projects and forward momentum on goals. Let me share how I manage the whirlwind to ensure dedicated time on focused work.

    1) I use a project management software called MeisterTask. I came across this program last summer, and it has greatly improved the efficiency of our admin. team as it allows for collaboration with other users on projects. It allows me to organize my priorities so that if I do get pulled away by the whirlwind, things don’t fall off my plate, they are in the program for me to pick back up when I return. This has been a game-changer for me!

    2) I have dedicated, non-negotiable, project time each week. This is something that our organization implemented three years ago. It is called “Soaring Time”. All leaders (myself included) are required to have between one and three hours of dedicated, closed door, soaring time a week. This is not time that is intended to manage the whirlwind, but rather time that is intended to move large objectives forward. This can be project work, focused work on action plans that moves the mark for our goals, and etc. Knowing that I have this focused time built into my afternoons on Monday and Friday really helps me to manage the whirlwind on a day-to-day basis.

    3) Communicate, communicate, communicate! When I am given a project, I communicate to the person handing the project off my anticipated completion timeline. If the whirlwind is overwhelming and is going to prevent me from meeting that timeline, I take the time to meet with the person who assigned the project, in person (not via e-mail), to explain what has come up, and talk about a new timeline that will work for both of us. This not only relieves some of the stress and anxiety, it also helps to build trust. It is very infrequent that I need to extend a timeline, but when I do, they know that I have done everything I can to meet the original timeline, and they are always understanding in helping to establish a new timeline.

    So, to summarize, find a system/program that works for you to track all of the balls you are juggling (I use MeisterTask), talk with your executive about whether they would support one to two hours per week of dedicated project work (we call it Soaring Time), and finally, openly communicate with those who assign you projects what you have on your plate, and your expectation for turnaround time. If something comes up, take the time to talk in person about the delay, and work as a team to identify a new timeline. This really is what helps me to manage all of the balls that are thrown my way, while still moving projects and goals forward, and building relationships with those that I work with.

    Being an administrative professional is such a rewarding career. One of the best parts of this career for me is the changing environment and the unknowns in each day, but we all must have ways to manage the unknowns that work for us, to truly be successful.

    Find what those tools are for you, and you will soar in your role.


  2. I agree with the above comments, in that you do have to run all the traps and figure out your company’s organizational goals, your department’s goals, and ultimately your goals, and figure out what tasks belong to you, what makes sense for you to keep ownership of, and what to do about all that.

    Once you’ve spent time thinking this over, it’s time for a plan of action. Firstly, you will want a list of all duties performed within the last year. Then, you will want to define timelines – are these daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, biannual, annual tasks? Next, you will need to set a schedule for those items that can be scheduled. Put a recurring task reminder on your Outlook calendar for the appropriate time interval.

    For those tasks that are more off-ones, but yet you are still responsible to perform from time-to-time, you can try to categorize them to allow them to be more readily prioritized. For example, where I work, my boss is responsible for many things, but I have managed to categorize them into only 4 sets of items: business (blue), personal (green), owner-related (orange), and non-business/owner entities-related (yellow). I code all emails per color, and all tasks per color.

    When we are going over his To-do list, I sort by category, and always ask – what would you like to start with firstly? He knows his priorities, whether there’s currently an “A” in the orange/owner-related category, or a “C” in his personal category. He will always tell me where he needs to start.

    Because we are checking in on a regular basis, I begin to understand the way he thinks, and the tasks that are most important to him.

    Again, this goes back to understanding company, department, your boss and/or your goals. You can begin to clearly see, where you’ll need to focus more diligently, and where you can “backburner” something a little longer.

    Also, I call your never-ending tasks “washing the dishes” or “housekeeping”, about which there is NOTHING you can offload there. You will need to learn how to manage your time efficiently for those. Again, calendar reminders work wonders for me! I have “housekeeping” reminders for: expense reports, business card entry, scheduling/shuffling, signatures/approvals, mail, etc.

    Basically, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, you MUST take a step back and try to see the forest for the trees as much as possible.

    There are so many more tips I’d love to share, but, please do check out Julie Perrine’s Desk Procedures guidelines. It’s a wonderful template to start from, even if you don’t utilize it for anything other than your top 10 tasks.
    It’s a wonderful resource on “how to” look at the tasks you’re responsible for, and hey, if you don’t know exactly what you’re responsible for – ask. Ask for a job description. Ask to speak with your manager about your circumstance. Ask for advice from a trusted, internal colleague who you admire/respect.

    One last bit of encouragement: you asked the question, which means you care about the excellence with which you’re trying to perform your role. You are on your way to being amazing!

    Best Wishes!

      1. Joan, you are most welcome! I truly admire and respect all you’ve offered our profession – attending the Office Dynamics 2016 and 2017 conferences have changed me for the better, both personally and professionally. A big “thank you” to you and your team for providing this forum and ALL you do to help us learn and grow. I’m looking forward to learning from my fellow admin pros! 🙂

  3. Christina McGuire

    I am a list person so everything is on a list. All current tasks and then the new ones added as I get them. I prioritize the list, mark things off when done. Review this list every morning and move things up in importance as needed. I have spent many years serving a large group of administrators and realize it is very frustrating to “put out fires” constantly. That is a very quick way to burn out.

  4. Rachel, you’re preaching to the choir. For the most part, I can juggle between 6 “bosses” fairly well, but some days I’m fire-fighting the entire day. To help my sanity, I keep a detailed “To Do” list in Excel so no task gets forgotten. And I warn them that any requests made in the hallways, on the fly, are not guaranteed.

    Different days need different approaches. Sometime I delegate the morning hours to scheduling meetings and email catch-up, then spend the afternoons doing mileage reports, their daily activity reports, and other paperwork tasks.

    My most difficult tasks are doing meeting Minutes and webinars, which take concentrated, focused attention – at those times, I stand a sign on my desk “Webinar/Transcription In Progress” and hope they get the hint (occasionally I put on big, 80s headphones for visual impact too 😉 They get the hint for the most part – unfortunately there will always be some who think their needs are “more important,” but this approach works most of the time.

    Hope there is something here that helps!

  5. I have a similar experience as Elizabeth. I made lists like Beth and then ended up having more than one conversation with my boss saying “Here is my list for today, you are trying to add another thing, please tell which task should be removed from today’s task list to accommodate?”. This way, there was a better understanding from management how much workload there was with not enough hours to do them all.

  6. Personally, I like to take a step back and take a good, hard look at each of my assignments individually and try to answer questions like – Why am I doing this? Who am I doing this for? Do I really need to be doing this? Am I spending time on things that are important to me but may not be important to the bigger picture? Can I delegate something? Can I lock myself away somewhere to work on this priority so no one interrupts?

    Prioritizing is huge when you have a zillion things coming your way, and I would agree…multi-tasking is never the answer. Who wants to do many things so so, or not good at all, when you can do a great job working on one priority at a time?

    Have an organized workspace will also help. If you’re constantly looking at the pile of things you still need to get done, you’ll just get overwhelmed.

    And never forget that you’re not alone! Talk to your fellow admin professionals for tips and tricks that they use.

  7. Granted, I don’t know your entire situation, but from my own past experience I get overwhelmed when I’m multitasking or not setting boundaries. Are all the tasks being given to you, truly your tasks or it is possible to delegate them? In the past, I would take ownership of tasks that I really shouldn’t be doing, but did them just to be nice. The only person that ends up on the short end of the stick was me. Again, don’t fully know your situation, but thought this might be something for you to consider. Good luck! I hope you find a great nugget of advice in this chain of comments.

  8. Over the years I thought like this too. I have been there and am there. I would suggest stepping back and surveying the company/division you work at. Rather than make yourself “wrong” look at the work environment. I have looked back at places I left and was able to see they were in over their heads — Didn’t understand (or afford) more people are needed or they are stretched to thin trying to make a profit (bonuses). Maybe you are simply doing the work of too many people. You will never “win” at that game the way it is set up. Would not matter who was hired for your job. It may not be you! In fact, it is probably not you. Ease up and give yourself a break and don’t tear yourself down. Look for a company that is better managed.

  9. For me, multi-tasking is a recipe for disaster. I end up forgetting crucial details because I’m trying to do too many things at one time. I live and die by LISTS. I am very careful to keep notes about all the elements of the project I’m working on, and checking off things I have done. I try not to go onto the next thing until I have reached a clear and defined stopping point in my current work. Obviously, in our roles, things come up all the time that necessitate switching gears. For me, I have to be very mindful to not go onto something new until I have mentally “closed up” the previous work. Don’t leave things hanging!

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