Stop Drowning in Your Workload: Unlock the Time-Management Secret of Top Assistants

One thing you may struggle with as an assistant is how to manage your workload. All too often I hear tales of woe where an assistant already has a full day or week and then more work comes in which makes them overloaded. Then they don’t know what to do because they know the new work is also part of their job, but they also promised to have the rest of their work done too.

What can be done about this?

Having just finished the book Come Up for Air by Nick Sonnenberg, I believe this solution is exactly what you’re looking for.

To put it simply, if you work forty hours per week but you spend fifteen hours in meetings, ten hours on email, and five hours on recurring work that is essential to your role, you have only ten hours of remaining bandwidth. Yet most people just assume they have forty hours of bandwidth every week and, as a result, bite off more than they can chew. When they get to the end of the week, they haven’t even come close to getting everything done, and they feel as if they’re underwater. The worst part is that since they’ve already agreed to this amount of work, it’s not as if they can just skip it— it has to get done, and they’re forced to work after hours.

Does this sound familiar? Now, for an assistant, it’s more like fifteen hours on recurring work, ten hours on email, and five hours in meetings, but you get the picture.

Have you actually calculated how much time you have available each week?

Here’s the formula that lets you calculate the number of hours you actually have available for new work according to the book:

Bandwidth = Capacity – Admin – Meetings

Bandwidth: time available for new work
Capacity: the total time you’re expected to work (say, forty hours per week)
Admin: time spent on administrative tasks and other responsibilities within your role
Meetings: time spent in meetings

This is why proponents of time blocking are right. Getting a visual of where you spend your time will help you see how much time you have to dedicate to special projects or new work. You can even take it a step further and color-code your calendar. Color 1 for meetings, color 2 for routine work, color 3 for email, and color 4 for projects.

Sonnenberg also recommends that you work in sprints. Based on his research, a sprint is anywhere from one week to one month.

Based on the flow of real estate, I recommend following the one-week sprint. This works well because you can easily plan your week on a Sunday afternoon and then head into the workweek with a solid plan.

Then on Monday, you share your plan with your lead agent, make adjustments where needed, and then get to work.

On Friday, you meeting with your lead agent again to celebrate what you accomplished, discuss what roadblocks or obstacles arose during the week, how you handled them, and what future work should be prioritized for the following week.

These two meetings allow you to have a calm discussion with your lead agent. Come to an agreement about how to handle new or urgent work when it lands on your plate. Decide up front what things can be bumped or sacrificed so you’re not having to work overtime and you’re not over-committing yourself.

Some lead agents think that things only take five minutes. That’s called time blindness. These are the agents who leave five minutes before they’re supposed to be at an appointment and it really takes fifteen minutes to get there. If that’s your lead agent, don’t let their lack of planning lead to an emergency on your part.

And please don’t take on their bad habits. It’s easy to get sucked into your lead agent’s mindset and behaviors and become reactive just like them. Don’t do it. Stick to your plan and use your contingency plan when needed.

But don’t cheat by working longer hours. That’s where burnout happens. You do it to yourself, but you blame the job or your lead agent for overloading you.

The reality is, this is your life. How you work is uniquely individual to you. So communicate that to your lead agent. Check in several times during the week just to let them know where you stand. Are you on track, off track, or ahead of schedule? And don’t wait to be asked. Simply report.

Managing workload as an assistant can be challenging, but with the right tools and mindset, it is possible to achieve success. By calculating your available time, time-blocking, and working in sprints, you can avoid overloading yourself and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

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