The majority of secretaries will often have more to do than they can accomplish in any given time.  The successful secretary will accomplish the ‘single most important thing’ in that given time, and as much more as she can manage.  Sound judgment as to what is the ‘single most important thing’ separates the effective secretary from the ineffective one.  Another important thing is to stay with a task until it is complete.  You have accomplished nothing if you have four tasks three-quarters of the way towards completion.  It is better to have two projects completed and out of the way.

The team approach

If a secretary and boss operate as a team it is essential that the secretary knows her boss’s objectives are at all times.  He needs to share his goals and ideals with her in order that she may maximize the assistance she is able to give him.  A secretary and her boss should discuss together at regular intervals what each can do to enhance the overall performance of ‘the team’.

Things that eat into your time

  • Performing unnecessary work
  • Failing to complete a task
  • Failing to plan and budget your time
  • Slow reading
  • Inability to make decisions
  • Failure to consult printed instructions, eg staff handbooks, instruction manuals
  • Inability to listen attentively to instructions
  • Frittering away time on personal activities, eg reading papers and magazines, eg personal phone calls
  • An untidy desk
  • Making unnecessary drafts of routine correspondence

Twenty hints for better management of time

  1. Set yourself targets
  2. Set aside some time every day for planning
  3. Keep checklists
  4. Make a ‘things to do today’ list.
  5. Note the priority items and attend to them first
  6. Keep frequently consulted materials to hand, eg telephone numbers
  7. Keep wall charts and visual control boards up to date
  8. File every day
  9. Discard unwanted paper – don’t hoard
  10. Keep drawers tidy and label containers
  11. Put things away when you have finished with them
  12. Set aside regular times each day for certain tasks – develop a routine
  13. Group tasks together, eg try to do all photocopying together
  14. See every task through – don’t leave things half done
  15. Break up large task into manageable units
  16. Be systematic and tidy – don’t crumble under pressure
  17. If you are busy, learn to say ‘no’ pleasantly but assertively
  18. Improve your reading speed and accuracy
  19. Be confident – avoid checking and rechecking (better proofreading can save time in the long run)
  20. Take your time – don’t panic – stop to think. Remember that correcting errors is time consuming!


These are jobs which must be done.

  • Office housekeeping – This includes cleaning the typewriter/computer, preparing your own desk, preparing your boss’s desk, dusting if necessary, inserting clean blotting paper in the pad, sharpening pencils, note pad, changing date on calendar, filling desk lighter, checking that the reception area and cloack rooms are clean and attractive, checking that the cleaners have done their work properly, watering plants, arranging ashtrays on conference table.
  • Listen for instructions on the dictation machine
  • Open and distribute mail. The secretary may have to do this for the whole organization if it is a small one.
  • Deal with routine correspondence
  • Take dictation
  • Discuss with boss any points/queries/problems
  • Obtain information required from letters etc
  • Transcribe notes
  • Filing
  • Appointment list


  • Take notes at a meeting
  • Receive visitors and deal with telephone calls
  • Research
  • Remind boss about dental check up
  • Remind boss to start work on quarterly production report

Jobs which should be done

  • Prepare draft minutes of meeting
  • Buy adapter for photocopier
  • Order duplicating supplies for production of house magazine

Jobs which could be done

  • Revise circulation slip for next morning


  • Prioritize your work. If you have several ongoing projects and a new one comes in, ask your employer which one has the highest priority. He can say when some projects can wait or shifted to other workers.
  • Tasks are prioritized as urgent, that is, top priority must be done today, Not so urgent but important, that is, try to do it today and not urgent and less important, that is, could wait for another day if time doesn’t permit for it to be done today.
  • Maintain a daily to-do list on paper or in your computer and check off each item as it is accomplished and stick to the plan. When new projects come in, try to complete them as quickly as possible.
  • Any job without a specific deadline should be given a time schedule otherwise it will be pushed away until it becomes urgent.
  • Allocate time for each job allowing extra for unforeseen interruptions, for example, absence of employer or secretary delay in receiving data and materials.
  • Setting realistic deadlines, that is, give yourself enough time to complete a project.
  • Don’t be scared of turning work down or delaying workload to avoid having too much to do with no little time.
  • Start any new projects until there is more room in your work schedule.
  • Each day or week set aside time to figure out what needs to be accomplished, break a large task into smaller manageable pieces/units versus completing the task in one block of time.
  • Learn to say no to interruptions, for example, phone calls, chatting to unwanted guests or work colleagues or going to movies in order for you to stay on task.
  • Delegating work to people who are doing similar work.
  • Working overtime, that is, beyond the regular time.
  • Make effective use of planning aids, such as, use of a diary to remind you of work deadlines, or use of desk organizers to create an organized work area, so that you know where everything is in your work space and why you have each item.


  1. Highlight six ways in which a secretary may manage time effectively.  (12 marks)
  2. Outline five guidelines which will help a secretary to keep the workload controlled and evenly spread through the day (10 marks)
  3. The following is a list of the activities carried out by a secretary in a day: opening and distributing incoming mail, dealing with correspondence, scheduling appointments, filing, discussion with the boss and housekeeping. Prepare a schedule of  carrying out these activities. (3 marks)
  4. Classify the following secretarial assignments as either routine or non-routine (12 marks)
  • Preparing the boss’ itinerary
  • Serving refreshments to the weekly gathering of section heads
  • Taking instructions from the Dictaphone
  • Making hotel reservations in Cairo for the boss
  • Inviting guest speakers to a conference
  • Dealing with visitors
  • Picking the boss from the airport in the absence of the company driver
  • Typing correspondence
  • Interviewing junior stenographers
  • Organizing for tour vans to take senior managers on an excursion
  • Handling petty cash
  • Updating the diary
  1. Highlight eight routine duties that are performed by the secretary at the beginning of the working day. (8 marks)
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