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Prioritising Admin

There was a day last week when I left the office with a real sense of calm.

After weeks of juggling work commitments alongside home-schooling, whilst still trying to find time to exercise and manage all of the essential life-admin, I felt as though I was suddenly back in control.

This happened part by chance, and part by design.

Whilst looking two weeks ahead to plan the coming week, I spotted nirvana. I had a clear day without any calls or virtual meetings.

I knew this was an opportunity to regain control, so I set the intention to launch a metaphorical ‘defensive operation’ to protect that time in my diary. I uncoiled the virtual barbed wire and ring-fenced the day.

When I was in the Army, ‘admin’ was frequently described as ‘not officer’s business’ (you can work out the acronym yourself). For senior leaders in the business world, admin is often viewed in a similar vein; ‘admin’ is not a leader’s business.

And if it is, it’s certainly not a priority.

But I believe that admin should be a priority. From time to time.

We humans have a finite cognitive capacity or ‘bandwidth’ which means our ability to pay attention, make good decisions and prioritise, is limited.

Having a long list of administrative tasks to complete, be that work or home-based, places a load on our mental bandwidth, meaning everything else starts to slow down. And alongside that, the long list of administrative to-dos can start to leave us with a residual sense of underlying anxiety.

In order to avoid this ‘bandwidth depletion’ we need to set time aside for an administrative clear down, or ACD. This might include:

• Clearing down non-urgent and non-priority emails
• Crossing off the essential, yet low priority, tasks on the to-do list
• Tidying files on your computer
• Sorting out your work bag or drawer

There are three distinct, and scientifically supported, benefits of doing this:

1. Crossing simple tasks off the to-do list increases the release of a neurotransmitter called dopamine, also known as the brain’s ‘pleasure chemical’.
2. Being able to easily locate things and live in a clutter-free environment reduces stress and makes it easier for us to fall asleep.
3. An ACD frees up cognitive bandwidth for those tasks that require more brain power.

Strategic deployment

The secret to success lies in the strategic deployment of this tactic.

In other words, think carefully about the days and times when your cognitive capacity is most limited, and use this time for an ACD. After all, we don’t want to be doing this sort of work when we are at our most alert.

Finally, remember the adage ‘what gets scheduled, gets done’. Once you’ve identified the best time and frequency (an hour a week, two hours every two weeks, etc) then block it out in your diary and circle it with the virtual razor wire!


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