How to Hack Those Draining Tasks on Your To-Do List
February 4, 2019
I have a to-do-list secret: Most of the tasks on my list have been there for days, if not weeks. I’m a pro at dodging what I have to get done.
I always thought this was a weird quirk, or a sign that I wasn’t “adulting” right.
Turns out, it just means I’m an Admin Avoider.
In her new book, Life Admin: How I Learned to Do Less, Do Better and Live More, author and law professor Elizabeth Emens breaks down four different types of people, divided up by how easily and willingly they tackle what she calls “admin”: Those annoying, menial tasks required by daily life. (Think: Paying bills, sending thank-you notes, doing the dishes.)
“The basic divide is between Doers and Non-Doers,” explains Emens. “The Doers are doing it—or at least trying too. The Non-Doers are not doing it and not trying to—not really.”
Below, how to find your type—and what to do about all those tasks you’ve been putting off.
First, let's get the "super doer" out of the way—they're the get-it-done-ASAP people.
“The Super Doer is on top of admin,” writes Emens.
A Super Doer is the person planning gatherings and trips for everyone, remembering those birthdays with a thoughtful card, giving out recommendations left and right for "doctors, real estate agents, hairstylists" and more—all while managing a day-to-day job, Emens says.
Super-doing doesn’t necessarily mean you’re tackling the laundry, bills, appointments and planning yourself. A Super Doer might delegate or outsource nearly everything that needs to be done, but is proactive in that outsourcing.
If you’re a Super Doer, pat yourself on the back—then give yourself a break. Holding it together can be hard, and you deserve some serious self-care.
“The Reluctant Doer is more likely to experience admin as an obstacle, something they have to contend with but really doesn’t want to be facing,” Emens writes. “The Reluctant Doer feels that the to-do list is endless—and that they are always several steps behind."
For the Reluctant Doer, the important stuff usually gets done—but often late or at the last minute.
Reluctance to handle the small things can lead to relationship conflicts, or decisions not to pursue a certain passion or career. Reluctant Doers are also likely to feel unqualified for the admin they’ve been tasked with—helloooo, imposter syndrome!
If this sounds like you, remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can and that this kind of work doesn’t come easily to most. Then, see what you can do about delegating your most hated tasks.
“The avoider is trying to escape admin,” Emens writes. “The avoider sees admin out there, flying right toward them, and ducks.” Or, in my case, scribbles out the task and writes it again, day after day after day.
The admin avoider, writes Emens, might make excuses for why plowing through a to-do list is so hard. And often, they might think they're "bad" at certain things, giving them extra reason to avoid tasks.
The good news: Acknowledging the work that needs to be done is the first step toward tackling it. Once you know you need to set up a dentist appointment, for example, all that’s left is actually doing it.
Finally, we have the Admin Denier. Whereas an avoider sees the problem and ignores it, the Admin Denier “doesn’t think there’s a problem,” writes Emens. They're either ignoring admin tasks entirely–and getting into big issues because of it—or finding someone else to take care of it all for them.
Here’s the thing: an Admin Denier may not know they’re an Admin Denier. They may think that this whole admin thing isn’t such a big deal—that there isn’t really that much to get done. After all, won’t someone else step in before things get too bad?
Making a change requires a shift in that viewpoint, and a willingness to acknowledge the problem.
The Good News: You Can Hack Your Style
If you found yourself nodding along to several descriptions, don’t panic.
“Most of us are not simply one type or another,” Emens writes. “These admin personalities are archetypes, caricatures, whereas people are complex creatures whose realities partake of diverse feelings and life strategies.”
No matter your type—or types—everyone can benefit from rethinking the way you tackle admin. Here, four of Emens’ best admin hacks.
1. Start Your Day on the Get-It-Done Foot
Make a short list of easy-enough tasks that can help you build momentum at the start of the day (ex. packing your lunch, sending that email, checking the mail). Once you start crossing things off your list, you'll prove to yourself "I got this" and build momentum towards those less-exciting tasks.
2. Optimize Your Admin
Make things easy on yourself and automate as much as you can. Set up online bill-pays whenever possible. Share calendars with anyone else in your household. Keep a stockpile of gifts and supplies such as tissues for cold season and sunscreen for summer. When you can, plan for the future you that wants to avoid admin tasks.
3. Work in the Moment
Rather than telling your boss you’ll email them once you finish your project, just do it while you’re thinking of it, then get back to work.
4. Take Inventory of Your Murky Admin
Take a look at what’s still on your to-do list. Why haven’t you done it yet? What’s making it so hard?
Once you’ve wrapped your mind around how a task makes you feel, it'll make the emotion less intense and less of a blocker to starting. Once you finally finish it up, be sure to reward yourself after.