Angela Garry offers brave tips on how to make your job more enjoyable
Enjoying your work is important to being an exceptional PA. So it’s good, every so often, to take stock of our lives: where we’ve been, where we are, where we’re going. Finding contentment at work is probably high on our list – and, yes, it is possible.
Here are some brave tips on how to make your job more enjoyable.
Leave home at home
You already spend enough time at home worrying about home items, such as the house, the kids, the bills and so on. Dragging this baggage into work is not only unfair to you, but also to your employer. So leave your personal issues at home where they belong. This may be easier said than done – the trick is to find a way to shut the door on the problem when you walk into the office. If you are having trouble, seek out a friend who might be able to shed some light on your situation and offer some advice on how to separate the two.
Enjoy your surroundings
How many hours a day do you spend at work? Too many, right? Well, regardless of your actual work space – whether your desk is in your own office or in an open-plan environment – make the space your own. The goal is for your workspace to feel both relaxing and motivating. Seems impossible? Well, it’s not as hard as you might think. According to Brenda, an HR manager near Boston in Lincolnshire, “You don’t want to decorate as if this were your home. Instead, you want to personalise the space with such things as photos and small items that mean something to you. Find a combination of items that you can either look at or hold when you are either feeling stressed or seeking to recharge your battery.”
Develop friendly relationships
While work is not supposed to be a place to socialise, it is where you spend the majority of your time, so it only makes sense that you should have a friendly face or two that you can call on. These can be relationships that stay at work – it can be as simple as just having coffee for a few minutes each day or as involved as eating lunch once a week. The key is to find someone you can lean on for support, and who you can offer support to in return, without worrying about what is discussed being made public.
Chaos creates chaos
Disorganisation is one of the most frustrating things at work. The main reasons for this are quite simple: either you have no time to get organised or you don’t have the skill set to be effective at it. So, here’s a quick three-step approach to stopping the chaos.
Make one pass at everything on your desk or in your office and apply the “touch it once rule”. You must (a) throw it out, (b) delegate it or (c) act on it. During this first pass, the goal is to unclutter and get all the “act on it” items in one place.
Select one item to act on and follow it through to completion. We sometimes have so many projects overwhelming us that we start this, and dabble on that, and fiddle with this, and yet nothing gets finished. Experience what it feels like to get one thing accomplished.
Be realistic in what you can and cannot do. It’s surprising how much work you can get done when you set a timeframe for completing it. This typically happens before you are about to take your annual leave when you make extreme, rash and sometimes exceptional decisions about a task because you have something more important (and usually better) that you want to do. Try taking control over a 30-minute period before lunch each day and pretend (in your head) that you are not coming back after lunch. Get everything done that you possibly can, by using tremendous focus during that 30 minutes.
A trend seems to have arisen in which employees find it’s their job to “flag” their peers who are being either ineffective, inefficient or both. Granted, this is usually driven by frustration because of a specific incident (eg you are depending on someone to give you a paragraph of text and they don’t, and this now means that your report is late, which will result in further problems with sending out papers for a meeting). Instead of waiting to be let down by others, accept that sometimes there are going to be delays from certain quarters which you can do nothing about. Plan ahead for the unexpected, and develop a system for going around obstacles.
You may work and work and work, and all you achieve may go completely unnoticed. This can be quite demotivating, to say the least. However, you are at your job to work, not to receive pats on the back. So, set a personal goal for yourself and reward yourself for achieving it. This could be a nice lunch or a trinket for your desk.
You can’t hear this often enough – stay positive. One of my favourite song lyrics is, “We’ve got two lives: one we’re given and the other one we make.” Your outlook on life is entirely up to you. Make an active decision to try to see the positive in the world around you and in all aspects of your job: compliment a colleague, email a note of appreciation to someone else’s boss, thank someone who helped you with a project, invite a new staff member to lunch. These are all little things that can have a tremendously positive impact. Try just one a day, and see what happens!
Feeling fulfilled is highly important in being an exceptional PA
If you aren’t sufficiently challenged or satisfied with your role, either work towards making it more fulfilling or move on.
We all need to feel fulfilled in our work if we are to truly excel in what we do. It might be that you get up each morning, go to work, do a good job, make some decent money and possibly even enjoy yourself, but deep inside something is missing. You might feel that your job isn’t worthwhile, or you aren’t working to your full capacity, or you aren’t finding it as challenging or it isn’t as interesting as you would like, and this prevents you from giving the best of yourself. You might feel trapped or you might feel that whilst your salary meets what you need to run your home, you are not happy. You might feel that, even though you are successful in your role, you don’t get the creative spark you need.
If you don’t feel emotionally fulfilled or socially content, you can end up feeling stuck or discouraged. All of these are signs that you need to change something within yourself, change something within your job or actually change job.
This may all sound like doom and gloom – and if you do feel unfulfilled, you join the millions of people in industries the world over. There is good news though – there are ways to fix this.
You should always consider talking with your boss and explaining that you are seeking something more satisfying or demanding from your job. You may decide not to, of course, but if you are confident about asking for new challenges, then let them know that you are looking to feel more fulfilled, more useful or more successful in your role. Your boss may not have realised that there was a problem, or may have seen that you have been unhappy but not known what to do about it. A good boss will welcome the opportunity to develop your role or to give you some additional or different responsibilities. To prepare yourself for this talk, you might want to think about the following pointers:
1 Knowing and appreciating who you are
Be happy with who you are. Know what your capabilities are, acknowledge your gifts and your talents, and decide how they could be used in a better or different way. Make a list of the things that you do well and celebrate them. Remember that you bring special assets to the table, so work on defining what you can do with them.
2 Don’t try to be something you’re not
Often we try to fit ourselves into the ideal of what we believe or think others want or expect of us, but frequently our assumptions are wide of the mark. Quite apart from trying to mould ourselves into something we’re not, this can disconnect us from who we actually are. Don’t suppress your gifts and talents. Don’t stay in a job that doesn’t fit your ambitions, where you feel unfulfilled or where you suspect your talents are not required or your skills are being wasted. Look deep inside yourself to see if you should be doing something else. Working as a PA or an administrative assistant within a school, college or university is an incredibly busy and hard-working job. But if it doesn’t feel right for you, acknowledge that. If you want to take on more responsibility within your role, make a list of possible areas you’d like to work in – and then get on with doing it! This applies, of course, to every job – not just working in education – but sometimes it can take real bravery to acknowledge, accept and do something about not being fulfilled in your job. Don’t just sit and moan to yourself that it doesn’t feel right, or that you don’t fit in, or that your role isn’t satisfying.
3 Be true to yourself
You don’t only need to accept who you are – you need to honour that you are who you are. Don’t compromise. Be proud of your accomplishments. By remaining true to yourself, you are more likely to find the area you want to work in because you will have the necessary self-confidence. You are likely to be more appealing to prospective new employers, or to your boss when you suggest changes to your role, because your self-belief will shine through.
4 Don’t be afraid to dream
Many people are unwilling to allow themselves to dream of a career where they feel fulfilled and have a sense of accomplishment. But these jobs do exist – and I hope your role can become one of these! I remember seeing a cartoon once in which a man sat on a park bench saying to himself, “There must be more to life than sitting around thinking there must be more to life.” And I thought, “How sad to have nothing to dream about.” Write a list of the things you love and are passionate about. Look at the list and try to decide for yourself what you really want to do. At this point, don’t try to fit it into a specific career, industry type or area – just reflect on your overall dreams and where they fit with your passions. Then look at how you might possibly incorporate these into your existing role or where they might be available within other roles.
5 Let go of the fear of change
Many people hold themselves back from new ventures because they are terrified of change. Sometimes just changing your mind can be all it takes to open up the possibility for new opportunities. Fear can be a strong motivator to staying still, remaining stuck and not moving on. Ask yourself if not facing your fear is holding you back. If so, let go of it and see what happens. Embarking on something new – like starting a training programme, becoming involved in an after-school club where you would be working in a very different way with pupils and teachers or creating a new CV after many years of working in one role – can feel very unnerving, but just think about how much enjoyment you could get from embracing the change, pushing through the uncomfortable period and moving into a more challenging (or more restful) and fulfilling future.
6 Brave up and face the risks
It would be foolish to imagine there are no risks involved in changing job, employer, profession or industry. By nature, most of us are realistic and level-headed, so we recognise there may be unforeseen consequences. Progressing towards your desire to be fulfilled in your work doesn’t mean that you have to give up everything you know. Yes, there will be risks, but you need to work out what risks those are and which ones you are willing to take. The choice is yours.
7 Don’t just sit there – go for it!
Defining their dream is sometimes where many people stop. Thinking about the time and effort that will be involved in making changes to your job, hunting for a new job, making the necessary plans to take a training course or pushing yourself towards a different career can feel intimidating. You can conquer this by making a step-by-step plan and then following it. Your plan could involve researching or talking with a mentor about your desired aims – either within your current role or a new one.
Consider letting the appropriate people know that you are searching for something new. For example, if you would like to move into a project management role, you could indicate this to your boss and to others within the company, to people within your networks and to others who work in project management roles elsewhere. Set yourself targets for learning more about your desired goal or preferred profession for the future.
So, start taking action and working towards your goal. Just having an ambition is not enough: you need to act on your dreams. The end result will be well worth it, and you will be pleasantly surprised at what you learn about yourself in the process.