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What’s the best way for a busy executive assistant to track her time?

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Question: "I work for three directors who are all very busy. Their workloads have increased over the past year, thus increasing my workload.  I am able to complete my critical tasks, but I am unable to find time to do the less important tasks or projects that I have been asked to work on or take on additional tasks.  We are going to request an additional assistant to work for two of the directors, while I am assigned to the busiest of the three. I would like to track my time so that we have justification for the request, but I’m at a loss as to how to do that. Any suggestions or ideas from anyone who has done this in their executive assistant role?" —Busy E.A.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Jo Ann Plante April 6, 2012 at 11:53 am

Just make a list of “lesser” tasks that you do and try to estimate the amount of time it takes to do them. Consider any errands you run or setting up for presentations. This will give management a clearer picture of what is a priority for you, but necessary for an assistant to do. You can always tweak this list later.

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Judy March 9, 2012 at 3:19 pm

I like the simplicity of this, Victoria. Would you mind sharing how you export to Excel, please/

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Mark March 8, 2012 at 4:51 pm

When we’ve had people requesting additional help, or if they simply said they were swamped, we had them keep a detailed time log. For example, it might say:
8:00-8:12: Responded to e-mails.
8:12-8:17: Returned phone calls.
8:18-8:55: Attended staff meeting.
8:56-9:12: Aided Judy with project.
And so on. They had to do this for a full week. We then added up all the categories of time, to see that, for example, 3.5 hours a week were spent on e-mail, 4.9 hours a week were spent on phone calls, 12.8 hours a week were spent assisting other assistants, etc.

We find it to be VERY helpful. Often, a person does not know where their day goes until they are required to track it.

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Part-time working mom March 7, 2012 at 8:02 pm

I struggle with keeping accurate track of my time. Lisa P. I think the idea of setting the “snooze” on Outlook to remind you every 15 min. to jot it down is a great idea. I read in the book 18 minutes that Peter Bregman says to start each day w/ a blank sheet of paper (i use a tiny notebook) to jot down what you want to accomplish that day then he sets his calendar to ping every hour so he can check to see if he’s on task. “Then look at your calendar and deliberately recommit to how you are going to use the next hour. ” it helps. Also he does a 5 min. review at end of day to see what worked/where he went off track. I wish I did this every day, but usually I only do it when I really need to stay on task.

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May March 2, 2012 at 8:49 am

Another idea is to do this daily, along with your to do list. I am in the habit of looking at my to do list at the end and beginning of the day to see what you have accomplished. Like several ladies stated, you can then add a column and set categories/allotted time.

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Amy C. March 2, 2012 at 7:51 am

Tracking your time is required in my workplace so we use a project management software called Clarity. There are many other less expensive options, though. You can create a basic spreadsheet with a list of your projects or people you support and include columns for each day of the week. At the end of the day, simply enter how much time you spent doing each particular task. There are also some great templates available in Microsoft Excel that you could try. Good luck!

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Victoria March 1, 2012 at 4:27 pm

I’ve been doing this for years. Using Outlook, I create a task for everything I do: Some are specific projects others are repeating general items such as “Catering” or “Invoice Processing”. When I start working on a project I drag the task to the calendar and change the appointment time to now and then when I’m done, I close the appointment recording the time. Each task is categorized with a general category such as IT or CALENDAR and with a department code (You could use your director’s name.) Then it’s just a matter of exporting to Excel and doing some simple analysis.

Every 18 months or so it seems I’m asked to write an updated job description. This has helped me tremendesly. I run a report ever quarter or so.

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Lisa P March 1, 2012 at 4:21 pm

A few years ago I was getting overwhelmed by the volume of work, but my boss was convinced I was just not using my time well. Thinking he may be right, I began tracking everything I do on an itinerary form I created. I devided the day into 15 minute segments and put a reminder in my Outlook calendar that popped up at 9:15 every morning, with a snooze every 15 minutes. Each time it popped up, I recorded what I had been doing, including interruptions such as phone calls, drop in requests for quick help, etc. and then hit snooze. After a few months of this, I showed my itineraries to my boss, and he agreed to hire another admin. It is not as time consuming as it may sound, and it really prooved my point. Totally worth it.

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Jane March 1, 2012 at 4:10 pm

I agree! I did this for a three-week period and was amazed how much I do! Remember also to include triaging your manager’s e-mail and taking action as appropriate, if that applies for you. In my case, it takes a substantial block of time each day.

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Amy February 29, 2012 at 5:21 pm

It’s not as daunting as it seems. When I did this, I made a list of everything I do, and I mean everything. Then I figured out how much time it took me per day. If it was a monthly task, I calculated the time it took on that one day a month and divided it out to come up with a per day amount. After I did that, I added it all up to show my managers exactly how many hours of work was left undone each day. It made a powerful statement. Then we were able to go through the list to reassign some things, get rid of non-essential tasks, and prioritize what was left.

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