Can I ask a personal question? How do you feel about administrative tasks?
Which tasks am I talking about? The small, seemingly innocent ones that feel like they’re about to bury you under their combined weight.
This has been an admin-heavy week for me, and I caught myself feeling a bit despondent today. Even though I’ve been busy, I don’t have any world-changing accomplishments to show for it. Sure, old client paperwork has been filed away, forms filled out, banking taken care of, email messages responded to, and website domains renewed. It’s just that I would rather spend my week on something more meaningful than forms, checklists, and phone calls to 1-800 numbers. Sigh.
I needed a different way to look at this situation because disliking administrative tasks does not make them go away, and ignoring them can be perilous. That’s why I came up with a list of 5 “screens” – different modes of thinking that might just change my outlook when I am in the middle of the next menial task.
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1. Focus on what is important about the task.
It is easy and tempting to huff and puff about admin. The tasks can seem meaningless, below your pay grade, boring, repetitive, or unglamorous. Those are all valid feelings, but they don’t serve you. Focus instead on finding meaning in each task. Will it make someone’s day easier? Will it prevent a future problem? Will it keep you in business, delivering a valuable service to clients? Seeing that benefit will keep you motivated through all the checklists, forms, and long times on hold.
2. Reframe what the task means to you.
This can be a powerful tool, especially for those daily tasks that never seem “done.” Your email inbox is a great example: no matter how much you clear it out, it will probably be full again by noon tomorrow. It is easy to look at 96 unread emails and feel disheartened, especially if the meaning you give them is “I did not work hard enough today,” “I am no good at my job,” or “My teammates can’t sneeze without asking a question.”
What if unread emails meant something else? They can mean your expertise is needed and appreciated. They can mean an opportunity to help your colleagues and clients. They can mean that you are alive and well enough to be working. If you look at it that way, an empty inbox may not be a measure of success.
3. Set a time limit.
There are lots of things I could not bear to spend a full day on. However, I can usually do them for a short period of time – say, 30 minutes. An alarm on your computer or phone can let you know when your time is up. I use an old-fashioned 30-minute hourglass sand timer. I like having the visual reminder that I have not, in fact, been filling out an online application form “for hours.” The shorter time block may mean that the task won’t be fully completed in one sitting, but you will have made enough progress to pick it up again the next day.
4. Build in a reward.
It seems intuitive but if the “reward” is missing, you can feel you’ve spent your day doing things that were, well, unrewarding! Pick something good: a treat, a walk, a bath, extra sleep, or extra time doing something you really enjoy.
5. Consider outsourcing or delegating the task.
Sure, it needs to get done – but must you be the one doing it? If you do only the things that only you can do, you’re free to delegate the rest and carefully guard your time. What are you doing today that can be handled by someone else? Sure, hiring a virtual assistant or delegating a task to a coworker may take some thought, planning, and creativity – but isn’t your time worth that?