Managing (and Prioritizing) the Admin’s Never-Ending To-Do List

Jan 18, 2018 | Organization

Planning for just 15 minutes at the end of the day can potentially save you two and a half hours tomorrow, according to time-management expert Brian Tracy. That’s a huge return on your time – but as a busy administrative professional, even 15 minutes can be difficult to find.

So how do you find the time? Prioritizing your to-do list!

We all have the same number of hours in each day. It’s what we do with them that matters. Managing your seemingly endless to-do list isn’t as impossible as it seems when you take the time to plan for both the expected and the unexpected.

Prioritize Daily, Weekly, and Monthly

Prioritizing is all about looking ahead. Knowing what needs to get done today is great, but do you also know what needs to be done this week and this month? If you have a spare 30 minutes, should you use them to get three small tasks done, or make some solid progress on one big task that may be more valuable overall?

Productivity expert Laura Stack recommends using a project management tool, like Microsoft Outlook, to create one task list with three separate views. The task list is comprised of all your to-do’s. The three views are your memory list (undated items, long-term planning), master list (dated items, active projects), and HIT list (high-impact tasks – a limited, daily to-do list).

From here, you can map out your monthly, weekly, and daily focus points. I pick three important projects or tasks for the month. These typically remain consistent throughout the month. Then I review them weekly to identify which three actions I need to take to get closer to accomplishing each project or task. From there, I map out the three primary tasks that need to occur each day to help me accomplish my weekly list. Since I’m a visual, list-oriented person, I write them on my office whiteboard. This allows me to see what I need to focus on daily and how they tie into my weekly and monthly priorities.

My daily, handwritten to-do list then reflects the actions I need to take today to accomplish my three main daily tasks. I know there will be other things that come up each day that I need to do. But this keeps my focus on the most important things in between the unexpected requests and interruptions that are inevitable.

Identify Your Pain Points

While this strategy works wonderfully, there is one caveat: You have to plan for your pain points, too. For me, that means email management. No matter how hard I tried, I could never achieve inbox zero – until I plugged it into my task list every single day.

Your pain points might be different than mine. Maybe you’re an email pro, but you struggle with organization, catching up with your executive, or time management.

Whatever it is that derails you, make sure it’s on your daily task list. Make it a priority, and vow to put a stop to the downward spiral it causes!

Create Better Prioritizing Habits

Here are a few simple things you can do right now to create better time management and prioritization habits.

  • Do you have a set time each day for daily planning? If not, start by spending 20-30 minutes before you leave the office each day to wrap things up and map out your plan of action for tomorrow. Repeat this daily.
  • When you get to the office in the morning, review your plan of action again, and make any necessary adjustments based on information or messages that came in overnight.
  • Do you have a daily meeting with your executive? If not, it’s time to initiate this daily best practice. It may take a little time and convincing if it’s not something your executive has done before, but it’s worth it!
  • Do you know how much time you truly have to work on important tasks and projects each day? If not, keep a time log for at least five days to give yourself some insights into how long things take and where you’re spending your time.
  • What are some helpful checklists you can create to help you stay on track and remember all the details without overloading your brain? Create one today. Add it to your procedures binder. Then create your next checklist tomorrow. Repeat.

Prioritizing your workload day in and day out is a crucial skill for assistants. When you know what needs to be done and when you’re in a better position to manage the unexpected when something pops up. When you create a prioritizing system to help you deliver consistent and positive results while managing the influx, you’ll be able to stay on top of the priorities and adjust more quickly when changes occur.

Do you have a system for setting priorities? Email us at and tell us all about it!


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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 Become a Procedures Pro: The Admin’s Guide to Developing Effective Office Systems and Procedures. 

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