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Desk Management through Time Management

There is only so much time in the work day and how you use that time will determine how effective you are at managing your own job and work load. Time management issues that face county office assistants include handling paper, establishing priorities, working for multiple bosses, dealing with interruptions and socializers, and how to say "no." Listed below are some hints for dealing with each of these issues.

Handling Paper
Take out all the paper for the day and sort it into two piles: work for today and work for tomorrow. Then put the tomorrow's work pile out of sight and only deal with today's work pile.

Strategies for handling paper only once

  • Toss it out. If you have looked at the piece only once in the last 12 months and it is not a legal document, then get rid of it.
  • Delegate it to someone else to review and handle.
  • Do it now. Handle it immediately.
  • Place it in a tickler file to handle at a more appropriate time.
  • Place in a project file to be reviewed when you are working on that project.
  • Place in a permanent file.
  • Each time you pick up a piece of paper and cannot decide how to handle it, put a dot at the top of the page. When you have several dots, you will know you are being indecisive about this piece.
  • Each time you pick up a piece of paper and cannot decide how to handle it, tear off the top inch of the page. Eventually you will not have to worry about the piece.
  • Establishing Priorities
    The key to managing time is being effective, which means working on the right things at the right time or establishing priorities.
  • The first thing each morning ask your boss for his or her schedule. If she or he is not available, make arrangements to talk by telephone.
  • Ask your boss for her or his priorities.
  • Use your daily calendar to note everything. Do not keep multiple lists or schedules on different calendars.
  • Set priorities by projects as they are given to you. Assign an A, B, C or 1, 2, 3 code to the projects. Then work on the A's or l's first.
  • Use an assignment request form for the person giving you the project. The person must assign a priority to the project for you and give you a specific date and time the project is needed. If the instructions are on the request form, this can eliminate interruptions.
  • Use a daily written "to do" list. Do it the last thing each day or the first thing each morning. Plan some time for interruptions and be realistic about the amount of work that can be accomplished.

Working for Multiple Bosses

  • Do the work first for the person who does your performance evaluation.
  • Ask for specific deadlines. Ask for when they want the item and when they absolutely need the item.
  • Use the FIFO system. If you do not get specific deadlines, use the "first in, first out" system.
  • Develop a log sheet for projects and post it on your desk. The log sheet would include:

Column 1

Column 2

Column 3

Column 4





When someone brings a project to you have him or her enter it on the log sheet. This lets others know the workload and lets them know they need to set priorities.

  • When in doubt about priorities, ask, and, if possible, ask the multiple parties when they are together. 

Dealing with Interruptions and Socializers

  • When someone wants to talk, suggest you have lunch or talk at coffee break so you can give them your full attention.
  • Be assertive and say no. Be firm and explain why you cannot talk right now. Then use the broken record strategy of repeating the same comment over and over.
  • When someone comes to your desk to talk, stand up and put a time limit on the discussion. Stick to it.
  • Give the person, the chit-chatter, something to do while they are talking to you.
  • Do not have a chair next to your desk. You can easily get one if you need to meet with someone at your desk.
  • Stand up and walk toward the door while talking in the past tense.
  • Accept the fact that interruptions are a part of the job. If people do not need to talk to you, maybe your position is not needed. 

How to Say No

  • Be certain to convey what the problem is with the request and why you cannot fulfill it.
  • Convey the consequences of the situation; e.g., If I do this now, I will not complete the report you need by 2 p.m.
  • Be willing and able to negotiate other options.
  • Before you say no, consider who you are saying no to; e.g., immediate supervisor vs. someone from another organization.
  • Do not say yes and then let people down.
  • Keep in mind your own priorities.
  • Many times people do not care if you say no. So do not worry needlessly.
  • Some times we say yes because we want to be liked. Do not confuse being liked with being respected.
  • When you say no, stand up so you are on equal ground with the other person.
  • Consider the fact that you work as a team and develop the kind of relationship where you can discuss sticky issues and concerns.

By implementing some of these suggestions you will find yourself becoming more effective, more confident, and less distressed in your work.