How to Ask for Help and Succeed as a Team of One

Shannon Byrne
October 15, 2019

As an office manager, operations manager, or administrative professional, you’re likely one person responsible for keeping a growing team equipped, organized, and engaged. This responsibility can often make you feel isolated, stretched thin, and like you are responsible for everyone’s happiness but your own. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way.

You don’t have to tackle everything yourself and you most certainly don’t need to prioritize the wellbeing of an office printer or hosting happy hour over your own health. Here are a few ways you can ask for help at work while maintaining optimal performanceand your cool.

Ask for help and delegate

Your boss didn’t hire you to do everything yourself. They hired you because you’re smart, strategic, organized, and you have fresh ideas on how to run an office. They trust you to make decisions, create processes, delegate, and ask for help. Managing an office doesn’t mean managing tasks, it means managing a system. Here’s how:

Outsource tasks to a tool or service

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, track your time for a week. Take inventory of where you’re spending the most time and what’s having the greatest impact around your office.

You may find you’re spending quality time and mental energy on a menial task like ordering supplies, for example. This can be streamlined by leveraging a system like Managed by Q or recurring subscription purchases on Amazon Prime Pantry.

Or, perhaps ordering team lunches is taking a large part of your day. You could create a Slack Bot to automate the process like Geckoboard did, use a service like Seamless or Stadium that lets people order their own lunch within a certain budget, or hire a caterer who you trust to make decisions based on team dietary needs.

There are many tools and services that automate time-consuming tasks or manage them for you. For example, you can use a tool like Calendly to schedule meetings, record expenses with Expensify, and collect and manage employee requests and make to-do lists with Employee Helpdesk.

Recruit team members, increase engagement and excitement

Let’s say you’re planning an office party or happy hour but are not sure what kind of space your teammates would prefer. Rather than spending hours Yelping the best bars in the neighborhood, ask your coworkers for help. People love to offer suggestions of their favorite spots. You can also send out a survey to your coworkers asking for ideas.

If you’re planning an event like a holiday party or company retreat with dozens of moving parts, ask a select group of coworkers to get involved. You can also use it to highlight your team members talents and skills. If you have a yogi on the team, see if they want to plan a morning yoga session. Have a foodie onboard? Have them work with the caterer on the menus. Is someone artistically driven? They can lead an optional painting workshop to clear everyone’s minds!

When delegating, clear expectations and well-communicated deadlines are crucial. They also make it easier to give up control. In a blog post, Evelin Andrespok from Toggl says her trick is to offer friendly reminders when the due dates are approaching. She said, “the given deadline should always be closer than the actual time by which things must be finalized. Think of it as turning the clock five minutes ahead to make sure you don’t miss your morning train.”

Rethink your priorities

Also on the Toggl blog, freelance writer Kat Boogaard suggests the Eisenhower Decision Matrix, which is simpler than it sounds. Divide a square into four parts and label the left side with “important” and the right side with “not important” and the long side with “urgent” and “not urgent.” Then place all your tasks in the corresponding squares. This will identify which tasks you should do, plan to do, delegate, or eliminate.

Nervous to eliminate something? Put it in a backlog, then revisit it when you have more time and headspace. Or talk to your teammates about it. Maybe someone has free time and will offer to help. If a task isn’t important now and won’t be in four weeks, it’ll probably never be a priority. Let it go.

In addition, never underestimate the power of saying no. If someone asks you for something that doesn’t benefit the entire team and you don’t have reasonable time for, you can politely refuse. If this creates tension, work with your manager to help find a solution. You can’t please everyone, nor should you at the sake of your own job productivity, mental, or physical health.

Revisit your processes and systems

As your team grows and evolves, dynamics will shift and work will change and often your processes need to shift along with them. Always be ready to adapt your systems to accommodate the needs of the team and yourself.

Take a step back and analyze your day-to-day workflow. If tasks are falling through the cracks, you’re forgetting details, or answering the same question over and over again, there’s a gap in your system or process. The fix could be as simple as adding a new page to the welcome handbook or an automated email or Slack alert for when the coffee is running low.

Let’s take your employee onboarding process as a specific example. Lauren Moon from Trello suggests creating a centralized space, like a Google Doc folder, for every job-related logistical item and business requirement. She says, “To save time (and avoid mistakes), create an employee onboarding template or checklist with all of these documents and resources, then simply copy and personalize it for each new person.” Employee Helpdesk makes it easy to create template cards and checklists, too. Or try a Slack plug-in like Donut to automate some of the onboarding process. 

Listen to your team members, take note of requests, and pay attention to what is frustrating you. Then take a step back and think about solutions. Change is good and can move your job, and business, forward.

Practice self-care

While your office relies on you for their productivity and happiness, it also won’t fall apart if you take a day off. Taking time off, whether it’s a vacation that you’ve been putting off or a mental health day will enable you to be better equipped to do your job the best of your best ability.

Find time to take time for yourself, whether that means taking time off after after organizing an event, or leaving work when everyone else does knowing whatever is left can be taken care of tomorrow. Try to work a little time away from the office everyday: leave the office at lunch or even for a short coffee break. If you are feeling overwhelmed, step away from your desk and take a few deep breaths before jumping right back into your tasks.

You help people be better at their jobs all day, every day so self-care at home is crucial. Take salt baths, buy yourself a nice candle, cook healthy meals, get a manicure, go to the sauna, or take a meditation class. Or listen to a song you love, watch a film, eat a nice meal, hang with friends, journal, or go to a museum or show. Need some inspiration? Girlboss created a helpful self-care 101 checklist.

You have to take care of yourself in order to take care of others. If you’re refreshed, you’ll be more focused and productive when you return to work.

Talk to your boss

If you still feel you are working at an unsustainable pace and unable to find the support you need, have a talk with your manager. Ask for help. Discuss your findings on how you’re spending your time, where you’ve already streamlined and delegated, and what’s holding you back. Be open, honest, and professional.

In all likelihood, they’ve been too busy keeping up themselves to notice how much has been put on your plate. They’ll likely be happy to help you find a solution, whether that means hiring someone else or reorganizing your responsibilities. At the end of the day, they want you to be happy, healthy and able to do your best work.

Overall, stay in tune with what your body and mind needs. Running an office can be a taxing job. It’s up to you to mitigate any potential stress and to have fun with your responsibilities. Focus on the parts of your job you love, celebrate your accomplishments big and small, and ask for help when you need it. You don’t need to be isolated if you work on communicating your needs.

Illustration by Tin Nguyen

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