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Most timesaving “secrets” are the best practices you’ve been hearing about since the advent of paper clips. The trick is, you have to try them out to discover whether they match your work style. And then you have to stick with them to gain the benefits.

Here are three timesaving secrets recommended by administrative professionals:

1. Set up a tickler file to avoid future items falling through the cracks. One admin, Robyn, swears by her tickler file, which organizes paper documents by date (through files labeled 1 through 31) and month (files labeled January through December).

“When I run across something that needs to be done at a later date, I put it in that day or month,” she says. “At the first of every month, I go to that month’s file and take out everything, putting it in the appropriate day. This way, you don’t have to have stacks on your desk and nothing gets lost.”

Another bonus of the system: If you’re unexpectedly out of the office, a co-worker can look in the file and determine what needs to be done.

2. Trim the time you spend closing the loop on unfinished work. Admin Genea works in a college office, where it’s difficult to catch faculty in their offices. She has devised two methods for getting faculty to finish paperwork, both of which point to the importance of matching your communication style to your workplace culture.

To circulate documents needing signatures, she uses a red folder with a large “Please Sign” label on the front. By using only red folders for that purpose, she communicates without saying a word.

To prompt others to return unfinished paperwork, she says, “I also created reminder notes called ‘Genea’s Nag Notes,’ which has a graphic of an old, broken-down horse on it. I get faster results with a nag note and a little laugh versus email reminders,” that would likely become lost in the clutter.

3. Batch work into desktop folders. Admin Fran uses batching to streamline daily tasks. “I organize all my copying that needs to be done that day in one folder, filing in another, and pending tasks/projects in another,” she says.

That way, for example, she makes only one trip to the copier in the afternoon, rather than several trips throughout the day—a classic timesaving tactic.

Putting it to Practice:
Organizing a $408,000,000,000 CEO

Imagine the task of helping the CEO of a $408 billion business stay organized. Walmart CEO Mike Duke relies on his assistant, Paula, to help him track a business that spans 8,500-plus stores and employs 2.1 million people.

What organizing principles keep the office humming?

A strict “on time” philosophy. Duke’s schedule is packed. If a meeting is scheduled to end, he’s not above leaving, even if someone is still talking.

No email carryovers at the end of the day. Duke likes to keep his email and voicemail inboxes clear. “At the end of the day, I don’t want any phone messages that haven’t been returned or emails that aren’t addressed,” he says.

He reads and deletes, prints or forwards messages to Paula for action.

Preparing in advance for one-on-one meetings. Duke’s assistant puts eight red folders, one for every direct report, on his credenza. Each folder has a sticky note with the name of the executive and the time of his or her next meeting. Duke and his assistant slide in sales figures, questions or notes that need follow-up.

The bigger the business, the more details there are—and the more critical it becomes to have strategies in place for tracking them.

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