Over the last ten years I have seen a number of recurring themes that affect how much work gets done during the working day. This short article looks at the three of the seven common problems I witness on a regular basis. The other four common problems are covered in a separate article (Part II). Each section includes several steps that you can try and test so that you can avoid the same pitfalls.

Problem 1: Your e-mails are out of control

Email can be a tremendously useful ally. It can also be a pain. People who get the most done seem to have a system to handle their inbox. People who don't have a system for handling their emails risk getting caught up with inefficient trawling through their messages and missing deadlines.

Solution: Get a system for your emails

Recommended actions:

  • Decide how much time each day you want to spend working on your emails.
  • Split this time up across the day so that you can still be responsive to your customers (internal or external).
  • Switch off your email program outside of these times.
  • Develop a process to handle your emails:
    • Delete the junk.
    • Delegate actions that aren't yours.
    • Defer the task to a later date (add it to your diary).
    • Do it now (if there is time left in your predefined slot).

Email can be really useful. Let's use it effectively in our businesses.

Problem 2: You are working hard but achieving less than you want

If you are not clear about what is needed to get a job done you are likely to waste a lot of time doing unnecessary tasks.

Solution: Ensure you know what needs to be done

Recommended actions:

  • List all of the steps it takes you to complete a task.
  • Remove all of the steps that don't help you complete the task.
  • Re-arrange the remaining steps if it makes sense to do so.
  • Challenge the remaining steps to be done with less effort.
  • Review your new process and give it a go.

And that is the essence of process improvement. There are some things that will help you to complete your task and other things that just get in the way. Challenge the old ways of working and see how much better you can make them.

Problem 3: You spend a lot of your time 'fire-fighting'

Developing effective routines can make a huge difference to the performance of your team through less time lost to fire fighting.

Solution: Get your business running like clockwork

Recommended actions:

  • Look at all of your business processes, what key tasks have to happen each day / week / month?
  • Summarise this list of routine tasks and create a checklist.
  • Review the checklist at an existing daily / weekly team meeting.

Performing the right steps in the right sequence can make a big shift in terms of how much you can achieve.

In part 2 of this article I cover the remaining four problems that zap the productivity of admin teams.

Article by Giles Johnston of Smartspeed Consulting Ltd.

Contact 07738 466724 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

NBSL LogoThis article is brought to you by NBSL's North East Business Support Fund which funds the costs of business improvement projects such as website development, marketing strategies, external consultancy – click here to find out more

The North East Business Support Fund  has hundreds of registered providers offering a wide range of business support. NBSL has used its best efforts to post on this web site the most accurate and reliable information given to us by our providers but does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of any information. The thoughts and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the authors and are licensed to NBSL for publication on this website.


Register your business as an NBSL provider and stay up to date with the latest funding information.

If you provide business support services like marketing, business planning, human resources or financial planning find out how you could register with us to offer a grant of up to £3200 to your clients for work that you do for them.

Find out more

Our Support

From start up to growth.

Our unique support programmes can provide help no matter what stage your business is at.