Most of us spend too much time doing ad hoc work (work as it shows up), we spend some time doing predefined work (work we’ve defined in advance such as the Next list), and we spend almost no time defining work that we want to do. Admin work is about defining work. It is about getting clear and current with our commitments.
Doing Admin work is about taking some time every day to stay on top of our personal and work commitments. It helps clear your deck, so to speak. It’s about taking time to define your work, maintain clarity on your projects, review what you accomplished and to plan for what’s to come tomorrow. This is a key part of the process of doing work for any knowledge worker. I’m talking about process here; this applies to any knowledge work regardless of what the work entails.
I suggest using the following workflow: Process, Review, Communicate. You can add/remove items from this list to make it your own. The important thing is that you spend a few minutes every day doing this.
Process is about defining work and emptying inboxes. Unless we clear our heads regarding things in our minds, how can we stay present and focused? We can’t.
- Empty your head. That means writing everything down in your inbox by capturing anything that has your attention. If you don’t, it will take more of your attention than it deserves.
Process physical and digital inboxes: list manager, email, phone, etc. Decide what you’re going to do with each piece of information that you have. You don’t have to do anything right now, you just need to decide right now, and then you can add it to your Next list to do later.
Admin work could also include doing actions that you can quickly do in batches such as paying bills, looking up things online, etc. that you’ve defined in advance in the Next list.
Next, we need to get current. This means that you review your lists and reflect on what you did today followed by planning for the next day.
When you’re reviewing, reflect on what you accomplished today; think in terms of results/outcomes, not on what you did or how many hours you spent at work, which is irrelevant.
- Review things you did today; focus on results and relationships. Celebrate your small wins.
- Check off completed items from your lists.
- Review projects to verify actions for each project.
- Plan/schedule things for tomorrow; this is about planning things from the initial weekly “brain-dump”. I wrote about weekly planning previously.
Finally, you spend the last part of the Admin hour communicating.
- Send/receive emails.
- Make/return phone calls.
- Call to confirm appointments for the next day.
There are a few reasons why you want to do this process every day:
- If we don’t do Admin work, then how do we know what to work on? Unless we define our work, how can we even begin to think about doing it? We can’t.
We need to do some admin work every day as a way to maintain clarity about our work. Defining our work is part of it. Reviewing our day is another example of it.
It helps you stay on top of your commitments; only when you have a system that you can trust can you be okay with what you’re not doing.
It helps you manage your expectations with yourself and with others appropriately.
How do we make sure that we do this process every day? Set aside an hour of time to do this process in your calendar, preferably the last hour of your workday (5–6, let’s say). Do this process every weekday at the same time. This way you don’t have to think about when to do it.
The reason you want to do this at the end of your work day is because it requires less energy as opposed to doing other work (in my case, creative work and consulting work). I wrote more about this in Getting Work Done.
When you take some time every day to do the Admin work, you’ll stay on top of your projects, know what you’ve accomplished, and know what you’ve planned for what’s to come. It helps you tie off all the loose ends.
The frequency or speed of the potentially meaningful inputs that get thrown at you doesn’t matter because you know you have a process to fall back on that you can trust. It’s just a matter of showing up and doing the work in that time. It allows you to stay on top of change and brings order to your chaotic life. Only when you have this order can you have the space to be fully creative.