Heather Baker lists her top ten tips for managing stress at work
Being an assistant, particularly at a high level, is stressful. That’s accepted and can be part of the attraction to the role. Too much stress, though, can be extremely bad for your productivity, effectiveness – and, of course, your health.
Here are some tips to help you manage your stress levels:
1. Time management
Organise your time well and immediately you will be less stressed. Take some control over your workload by prioritising effectively (see point 5). Offer times and dates rather than request them.
2. Take off notifications
If you have alerts this means you are allowing the computer/other people to control you. Take them off and check your emails and messages when you are ready (again, taking control). Otherwise you are adding to the amount of interruptions you get – and aren’t these enough already? It is part of an Assistant’s role to be interrupted, but these should be kept to a minimum.
3. Tidy workspace
Keep your desk and workspace tidy; this avoids wasting time looking for papers and facilitates a calmer environment, ensuring you feel calmer.
4. Task Blocking
Try and maintain focus by finishing one job before starting another. When you do have to change, which is a normal part of the role, don’t continue changing. Jot down things to do later, tell people you will call them back. Deal with your emails in one go – and only do replies when you have prepared; make all your phone calls at one time. Every time we are interrupted it can take up to 2 minutes to refocus – don’t interrupt yourself!
5. Understand and prioritise
Ensure you fully understand what a task involves and how important it is. Expand your business acumen to ensure you can prioritise effectively. You can do this by understanding your manager’s objectives and strategy. Ask questions if you’re unsure. Knowing the objective of a task means you can prioritise without having to ask. Know your business.
6. Time allocation and energy levels
We often allocate too much time to routine tasks such as filing or printing. Start to allot time for preparation, development and reflection to improve your working practice and inject some calm. Do the more difficult tasks when your energy levels are higher.
7. Remember it’s your job
When my executive changed all his travel plans or cancelled a report I had spent a long time preparing, I used to get very stressed about the time wasted. I then realised that that was the nature of an executive’s role and therefore, as his assistant, part of mine. Remember it’s your job and don’t worry. You’ve not wasted time; you’ve simply changed your priorities.
8. Build support relationships
It is vital for an assistant to have good relationships with colleagues, managers and people outside their organisations. Networking for assistants, with international groups such as IMA and local ones, can be a great support and often help you find solutions to challenges. Find out more at executivesupportmagazine.com/associations/. Attend conferences and seminars aimed at assistants; of course, ES LIVE is certainly to be recommended. Not only does this mean you will build a support network, but you will also learn how to become exceptional in your role for your success and the success of your organisation.
People who are passive or aggressive are always going to be more stressed than assertive people. Learn how to say no in a polite way, always consider other people’s feelings as well as you own. Remember your, and your manager’s, objectives.
Finally, get rid of those sticky post-its and get yourself one workbook in which you write everything or use an app for to-do lists. Nothing gets lost, it looks more professional and it means you don’t have to remember so much because it’s in your book!
You are no use to your manager if you are stressed and you are certainly not doing yourself any good. Take you breaks, get away from your desk, get outside when you can.
Finally, I mention laughter because I feel it is a vital part of an effective working environment. It relieves stress, builds teams and means your clients are interacting with happy people – what is there to lose?