Executive Assistants: How to Deal with Interruptions and Stay Focused

October 12, 2021


executive assistant working on her laptop
Consider our tips for better task and time management.

A day in the life of an executive assistant is a whirlwind of activity. You have to wear so many hats and juggle so many balls, it’s no wonder that sometimes we get distracted and pulled off track. Even on the best day—in the best environment, we’ll experience at least one distraction, and on an ordinary day we’ll experience many. So how do we stay focused when it seems that life has been programmed to try and steal our attention, what with the constant stream of jingling notifications, ringing phones, and co-workers who just have to give you the latest gossip? 

These days many of us are working remotely, which brings in a whole new variety of interruptions. Kids, pets, and screaming sirens don’t take a break between 9 and 5, but executive assistant duties are never-ending. Let’s go over a few tips on how to stay focused, avoid interruptions, and tackle your daily responsibilities—no matter how crazy your work hours get. 

Take Control of Your Workspace

Emails, calls, and notifications are a big part of the job, but they’re also some of the most frequent distractions. You can make your technology work for you by setting up your voicemail to screen calls, asking callers to text you if they have urgent needs. Do the same with your smartphone by muting any notifications for unnecessary apps, like social media. Scheduling in time to check and respond to email, or checking after completing 1-2 other tasks, will keep you working efficiently and cut down on excessive notifications. 

Plan Ahead

Assistants are interrupted frequently. Being the go-to person for an executive is great, but it can cut into your workflow. Scheduling preemptive, routine meetings into your day ensures that people know they will have access to you soon. People may save some of those non-urgent questions for later, heading off some of those interruptions and desk drop-bys before they happen.

Batch Tasks Together

You’ll never be able to predict how your day is going to go down, but managing your time by taking similar tasks and doing them all at the same time can boost your productivity and help you fly through your work. Take a look at your to-do list and see which tasks can be batched together in one time block. For example, try filing paperwork, printing board packs, going over emails, or doing expenses for three different executives simultaneously. Instead of taking twenty minutes here and another twenty minutes there, figure out what you can do in one focused session, and then take a break. More on the importance of breaks soon. 

Know When to Say ‘No’

Saying ‘yes’ to everything is the quickest way to become overwhelmed, and can put you at risk of burning yourself out. It’s okay to say ‘no’, or to delegate tasks throughout your team when you have a full day already—or when a task isn’t your responsibility. With only so many hours in a day, assistants need to be able to prioritize and focus on their commitments without extra work filing in. Knowing what is expected of you and when to say ‘no’ can save you from interruptions (like projects that you didn’t plan for).

Take Breaks

Possibly the most important and helpful tip of all on managing your time is to take breaks. Taking purposeful breaks allows your brain and body to refresh, increasing energy, productivity, and focus. Work for a half-hour, and take a break to make a cup of tea and check in with a colleague. Do the things you usually do when you’re procrastinating actual work, and make a productive break out of it. Unavoidable interruptions are a part of the job, but sometimes they can be used to take a small break—allowing your brain and body to recharge before getting back to work.

The list of executive assistant duties is a long one, and interruptions are certainly par for the course, but finding ways to lessen and manage interruptions will help keep us productive. Knowing how to declutter your life and tackle the unexpected with a positive mindset will help head off frustration and anxiety, making your job easier and more enjoyable. Visit today to explore more advice on managing your duties and succeeding as an executive assistant.

Join the Conversation

Welcome to the ASAP Circle, a community platform for peer-to-peer conversation on trending topics, professional challenges, and shared experiences. We even have designated spaces for weekly Tuesday Coffee Breaks.

Start Connecting Today!

American Society of Administrative Professionals

Producer of

APC  EA Ignite