If you’re crying SOS, try an SOP!

Dec 9, 2011 | Procedures

I got an SOS email from a colleague last week.  It read something like this:

HELP!! I’m about ready to quit my job. It’s a long story about what I’m doing and I need to pick your brain and soon please.

It was signed: Desperate.

We met briefly one morning this week to dig deeper into her situation. She was suffering from a typical issue many admins face; she was overwhelmed with countless details and information being thrown at her all day long combined with a disorganized executive.  She was at her wits end. Her three biggest challenges surrounded the management of information for and the distribution of a weekly electronic newsletter, a weekly printed newsletter, and a monthly printed publication.  All three were separate publications but they had some overlapping content.  The material for each one came from different staff members – mostly volunteers.  And she felt like she was constantly chasing her tail trying to make sure she had everything she needed from each person for each specific publication by the correct times each week in order to publish them in time. Sound familiar?

Here’s the first thing I always ask when I hear situations like this: do you have a checklist you consistently follow?  The answer is almost always: No. So that’s the first place we need to start. Here’s what I suggested she do immediately upon her return to the office the next day:

  1. Print out a paper copy of each publication.
  2. Take a pen and number each section of content included in each publication.
  3. Create bullets under each section identifying the following:
    • Who is responsible for sending me the content for this section?
    • By what deadline are they supposed to have it submitted?
    • Include any other important information about this section.
  4. At the bottom of the document, create a bulleted list of additional information or details that are important to remember related to assembling and distributing that particular publication:
    • Delivery method (e.g. printed and distributed by mail or in person, email, etc)
    • Delivery date and time
    • Proofreading and approval process (if applicable)
    • Which sections of this publication are also replicated in the other publications
  5. Three hole punch this and put it in a 3-ring binder. Keep this on your desk so you have it easily accessible as a visual guide each time you work on assembling these three publications.
  6. Use this checklist to guide you systematically through the assembly of these publications EVERY time you work on them.  It allows you to keep your head clear of the details you need to manage (your checklist does that for you) and focus on what you need to do next in the assembly process.
  7. If you find it helpful to have a printed checklist to physically check things off of each time you create each publication without ruining the one in your binder, run a photocopy of this handwritten version and use that.

What we accomplished by doing this was three-fold:

  • We created a documented procedure for assembling these publications that anyone in her office could follow to accomplish this in her absence.
  • We freed up valuable real estate in her head for much more productive purposes. Now she can concentrate on doing a great job assembling the publications instead of stressing out about whether or not she is remembering all of the details about how to do each one every time she does them.
  • We completely re-energized her about her job with one simple tweak.

When I’m training people on how to create administrative procedures manuals for their position, I teach this over and over again: don’t get stuck on thinking your procedures or checklists need to be perfectly typed!  A handwritten procedure or checklist is more effective than not having one at all, and they are just as effective as a typed one. So simply put the details on paper so you can clear the clutter out of your head, look at it objectively, break it into step by step chunks, and suddenly it’s not nearly as overwhelming as it may have first appeared. Plus, we’re all visual in one way or another, so creating a visual checklist using the document or report you’re responsible for assembling is even more effective in most cases than a boring checklist may be.

There was instant relief written all over my colleagues face as we talked through this. But that’s exactly what standard operating procedures (SOPs) or documented procedures do – they provide relief!  They help you organize chaos. They help you provide consistent service. They provide one of the best solutions to overwhelm that I know of.

You can’t always do a lot to change the people you work with, but you can change the way you manage the information and communications they send your direction. Give it a try! Turn your SOS cry into an SOP crusade to overcome the deluge of details causing overwhelm for you, too.

If you’re looking for some FREE templates to help you get started, click here.

For a quick-start guide on how to create your own administrative procedures manual for your position, check out my BRAND NEW ebook: 5 Simple Steps to Creating Your Administrative Procedures Binder.

© 2011 Julie Perrine International, LLC


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Julie Perrine, CAP-OM, is the founder and CEO of All Things Admin, providing training, mentoring and resources for administrative professionals worldwide. Julie applies her administrative expertise and passion for lifelong learning to serving as an enthusiastic mentor, speaker and author who educates admins around the world on how to be more effective every day. Learn more about Julie’s books — The Innovative Admin: Unleash the Power of Innovation in Your Administrative Career and The Organized Admin: Leverage Your Unique Organizing Style to Create Systems, Reduce Overwhelm, and Increase Productivity. And request your free copy of our special report “From Reactive to Proactive: Creating Your Strategic Administrative Career Plan” at www.AllThingsAdmin.com.

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