Just a Moment of Your Time

The role of PAs and secretaries is, by nature, about supporting others. But, if you’re constantly at the beck and call of others, your own work can suffer. We asked Paul Pennant to give his advice on how to stop interruptions.

By: Paul Pennant

We all know that the role of a Personal Assistant is, by nature, a supporting one. You’re there to help, to “assist” your boss in meeting their strategic objectives. It’s what you do.

But there is such a thing as being too helpful, too visible, and if you are constantly at everyone’s beck and call, soon it will affect your work your concentration and your boss. You need to take action.

And the winner is …

The award for the biggest time waster in an office environment goes to … interruptions. Hardly a surprise. “This’ll only take five minutes”/ “Can you spare two minutes?”/ “Have you got a minute?” Sound familiar?

And, it isn’t only work-related disruptions. Chatting to your fellow workers (“How are you?” “Did you have a good holiday?”) is vital but how do you avoid the latest office gossip?

In short, how do you stay polite, approachable, helpful and in control of your time?

Not waving but working

The easiest way to prevent interruptions is simply to close your office door, if you have one. If you work in an open plan office, try changing the layout or the position of your desk so you no longer face passers-by.

One moment, please, caller

Make good use of your answering machine or voice mail to screen calls. Perhaps you could divert your phone to Reception for a set amount of time.

The mail must get through

Unless you have superb willpower, turn off your email alerts. Some of you may be strong enough to ignore these little reminders but for most of us, resistance is useless.

Set times to check your emails. Four times a day is perfect and enough to make sure you don’t miss anything important.

Any time you’re passing …

Are there visitors’ chairs in your office? Placing folders or a briefcase on these will discourage your co-workers from sitting down whenever they drop by. For a more drastic remedy, remove the chairs entirely!

When a colleague does come to see you, stand up (pretend you’re reaching for a file) and stay standing. You’ll find your visitor is less likely to hang around for a nice chat.

If they have a genuine problem, suggest that you go to see them later on, say, in an hour. This puts you in the driving seat.

An urgent problem? Ask how long they’ll need. Agree – and stick to – that time. You could even invent another appointment: “Yes, I have 15 minutes before my meeting with my boss/the Head of Accounts/a cappuccino and a jam doughnut.”

Time to yourself

When planning the week ahead and organising your workload, try setting aside time to work on important projects. Having identified this, arrange with your boss for “protected time” to carry out the tasks. This may involve working in a quiet conference room or even taking work home.

A balancing act

One important point: make sure your tactics aren’t detrimental – to your employer or to yourself. The trick is to avoid interruptions without isolating yourself completely, to keep your manner brisk and business-like, not off-hand and abrupt. You can do it.

And finally …

Were you interrupted reading this? How many times?

No matter how long the interruption, your brain takes 2 minutes to re-engage and re-focus on the task in hand (in this case, reading these words of wisdom). So 20 interruptions a day - a good or bad day, you decide – means 40 minutes just getting your brain back into gear.

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Paul Pennant has been a highly-successful PA and Office Manager and is now Managing Director of www.todaysPA.co.uk. With a post-graduate degree in business studies, few if any trainers are better qualified to deliver and lead training workshops for today's PAs. In the past year, Paul has trained PAs from Selfridges, Rugby Football Union, Barclays Bank, Shell, AXA Insurance, ABN AMRO, Lehman Brothers and Carphone Warehouse.

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