Life admin: it’s all the work you are constantly doing, following up on, or procrastinating that you didn’t know had a name. The work you’re rarely recognized for and certainly not paid for.
Elizabeth Emens calls it “the office work of life” and it demands a LOT of our mental energy, time, and resources.
Fortunately, there are many ways to automate, streamline, simplify and/or delegate these life admin tasks! To lighten your mental load and save time, I compiled over 40 tips for:
- managing meals and household needs
- digital management
- information management
- budgeting and finances
- scheduling and social admin
- gifts and special events
Plus a special online form to generate your own personalized action plan!
Implementing any one of these tips could take just minutes but save you hours of time! More importantly, these tips will help you get the whirlwind of thoughts and worries OUT of your mind and into tools and systems you can rely on.
Before we dive into the specifics, we’ll also build a strong foundation for dealing with life admin by:
- understanding life admin
- managing the tasks of life admin
- finding time for life admin
This post contains affiliate links, which may generate a small commission for me, at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products & services I love. If you have questions, you can find the full site terms & conditions here.
How to Approach Life Admin
Understanding life admin
Elizabeth Emens literally wrote the book on life admin, so I’ll start with her definition:
Admin is the office-type work that it takes to run a life and a household. As with actual office work, this life admin involves both secretarial and managerial labor – filling out forms, scheduling doctor’s appointments, sorting mail, making shopping lists, returning faulty products, paying bills and taxes, applying for government benefits or identification, making financial decisions, managing any outsourcing, and keeping track of everything that needs doing. This list covers only a fraction of the job description.”Life Admin: How I Learned to Do Less, Do Better, and Live More by Elizabeth Emens*
I think one of the most powerful results of Emens’ book is that it puts a label on this type of work we rarely acknowledge. By naming this area of responsibility in our homes and lives, we can begin to understand the demands of time, energy, and thought that come from it.
Managing the tasks of life admin
Defining and acknowledging it also allows us to find tools and strategies for managing it better!
We will use three main strategies to make tasks more manageable, and you can apply these to any tasks in your life:
- Simplify – cut back on or eliminate tasks as you can
- Streamline / Automate – if it is a process you do regularly, either use a recurring checklist or an automatic tool to minimize the time & thought you put into accomplishing it
- Delegate / Outsource – consider the time it takes you vs. the money it costs for someone else to complete the task, and outsource jobs when appropriate; also consider free technological tools that can handle jobs for you
The three strategies above are all critical parts of a bigger goal: Minimize what you keep track of in your head – the manual, mental work of life admin.
This excerpt from The Brain’s blog post regarding David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done, says it well:
“… you can experience a tremendous sense of relief and control by moving your tasks and ideas outside of your mind and recording them externally in a place you can trust and where you will review them regularly. This frees your mind from remembering and allows you to focus on completing your tasks.”Getting Things Done with TheBrain
Each of the 40 tips below (and every resource at Our Home on Purpose!) is intended to accomplish this. Whether it’s a big change or small adjustment, these shifts can significantly lessen the weight of your mental load.
Finding Time for Life Admin
I know, hands-down, one of the hardest parts of handling life admin is carving out the time to address it. You’re not alone!
It is important to assess the tasks as you notice or receive them; know when/how to tackle each task; and plan a regular block of time to devote to working through them.
How often you handle life admin may depend on your existing personal and work schedule, the amount of “life responsibilities” you have to deal with, and your ability to outsource or delegate the tasks.
To help you decide on your best approach, I’ve gathered a few different ideas from some great life admin experts!
3-Pronged Approach from Life Admin Life Hacks
This is my favorite and the most thorough, because these ladies know their life admin! You’ll see several of the tips below linked to their podcast. 🙂
I recommend listening to Episode 5 (around 30 minutes) for their full guide to scheduling and managing to-do’s, but here’s the breakdown.
Most life admin tasks fall into three categories:
‘Two Minutes Too Easy’ – can be done as they arise
‘Ten Minute Time Killers’ – chunky tasks that can be done in idle time
‘Hour of Power’ – challenging tasks that require a focused effortSee Episode 005 show notes – Life Admin Life Hacks
As you assess tasks that come up, consider if you should:
- Do it immediately and not let it take up any more mental space
- Store the information in a place that can be easily accessed when you have 5-10 minutes to spare (like waiting in the school car line, etc.)
- Save it for a regularly-scheduled extended amount of time to take care of larger tasks
Regular Life Admin Session
Depending on how many “Ten Minute” or “Hour of Power” items you tend to have, you can schedule a regular time to handle these items – daily, weekly, biweekly, or even monthly.
If you like “sprints instead of marathons”, consider setting aside 15 minutes a day to chip away at an ongoing list, little by little.
I keep a running admin list as a part of my weekly planning session. It helps me get things wrapped up, discuss anything needed with my husband, and set follow-up to-do’s for the week.
Lastly, Sabrina Hersi Issa shares her monthly approach called a “personal inventory day”:
“Choose a date every month to make your personal inventory day. Add it as a recurring event to your calendar, and maybe even give it a cute name to make it sound less businesslike and admin-y.” “Most importantly,” Issa said, “it allows me to free up the brain space that I used to spend irrationally worrying and now I get to reinvest that into time that I can make memories with my family and friends.”Refinery 29
If you decide on a longer time period (like bi-weekly or monthly), consider scheduling time-sensitive tasks separately, when they are needed. Elizabeth Grace Saunders, a time management coach and author, shares the benefit of scheduling:
Scheduling these items has multiple purposes:
It helps me admit to myself that they take a significant amount of time and won’t be “squeezed” in somewhere.
It forces me to see where I have time between now and the deadline to get that activity done.
It helps me to make that particular activity a priority on that particular day and time.How to accomplish life-admin tasks, aka the most boring things on your to-do list list
However you decide to approach the time-management of life admin, the most important thing is simply to start and get some practice!
While I can’t possibly address every task that may fall in your administrative responsibilities, I hope to offer you actionable steps that will immediately move the most common tasks into systems you can trust (and give you those precious feelings of relief and control.)
Below are 40+ different tips with instructions & helpful links. Think of it as your reference book 🙂
But I have also put together a tool that will generate a Personalized Life Admin Action Plan for you! After reviewing and familiarizing yourself with the strategies below, you can fill out an online form to prioritize what areas are most important for you and eliminate tasks that are irrelevant,. Within seconds, you’ll get a custom plan email to you with:
- 3 separate lists that help you tackle the most important priorities first and wrap up the others when you have time
- Free “coaching” strategies with 4 research-based tips from my e-book, Habits-Based Homemaking.
Sign-up form is at the end of the post.
Solutions for Managing Life Admin
Life admin tips for meal planning, shopping, and household supplies
Use theme nights to take the thought out of meal planning. Meal Planning Blueprints (my meal planning hero) has an amazingly powerful, simple guide here!*
Save your meal plans to reuse again! For a template and to-do guide, see my full post and free workbook.
Use online grocery shopping & store pick-up to cut down on time in the store. Save common items as Favorites for easy reordering. (If you’ve never used Walmart Pick-Up, get $10 off your first order.*)
Use Amazon Prime Subscribe & Save* for items you know you’ll need every month, such as vitamins, paper supplies, etc. If there are items you order very frequently, Dash Buttons may work for you*. (Full disclosure, I haven’t used them but I have used Subscribe & Save.)
Use a staples checklist regularly (I recommend once a month) to inventory everything needed in your home for the next month. That way, you’re not keeping up with it along the way.
Set up a running list of miscellaneous items needed – a dry erase board on the fridge, an Alexa list, or a task with subtasks in your to-do app. Keep it in one place that is easy to access right when you notice something.
Use an app like Cookbook to store all your go-to recipes in one place. Cookbook in particular has so many time saving features:
- Import recipes from URL, from a photo, or manually.
- Search quickly by recipe name or by ingredients.
- Scroll through for quick meal selection.
- Use multiple built-in timers when cooking.
Life admin tips for digital management
Use LastPass to generate strong passwords, save logins across sites, and even save common information used to fill forms (like addresses, middle name, etc.)
Clean up your inbox by:
- Unsubscribing from unused emails or using Unroll.me to send unwanted email to trash and/or combine promotional emails into a summary
- Use filters to organize what emails you see first
- Choose an “Inbox Zero day” to clean out your inbox (can also apply to text messages, as well!)
Bookmark frequently-visited sites for quick navigation, especially log-in pages for bills, financial accounts, social accounts, etc. For bills, consider adding the due date of the bill WITHIN the bookmark name for an easy reminder.
Use online photo storage like Amazon Photos (see below) or iCloud to keep all your photos in one spot. If you prefer to keep a hard back-up, you can also set up a simple file structure on your laptop and schedule a regular time to transfer the photos.
Since I haven’t written a complete review yet, here’s a quick overview of Amazon Photos. We started using this after my son was born, and it has been a game-changer for us!
If you are member of Amazon Prime, it has free unlimited (uncompressed) photos and up 5 GB of video (we pay $1 extra month to increase storage and it is more than enough)
- Easy to store photos – has the option to automatically sync your phone’s photos, upload manually, or choose individual photos; anyone with the app logged into the same account can sync & upload (perfect for my husband and me!)
- Easy to find photos – sorting by person (facial recognition), place, occasion, date, and more! Even has memories each day.
- Easy to print – connects directly to Amazon Prints, which only takes a few days to arrive and is much cheaper than other printing services, in my experience; photo products are also available
- Easy to share – shared albums allow anyone with the link to view photos and even get notifications when new ones are added. This has been perfect for sharing photos across iPhone-Android incompatibilities and with older loved ones without smart phones 🙂
Life admin tips for finances and budgeting
Schedule a time for a budget review.
- Use a software that makes it easy to see your budget categories. Mint is a great free tool, but I think YNAB (You Need a Budget) is worth the money. Free trial here*.
- If you’re not using a budget yet, start by combing through all of your bank statements to see what bills and expenses you usually have. Mint and YNAB both have great categories to sort those expenses and start to create an idea of where your money is going.
Consider breaking down yearly or semi-annual bills (such as insurance premiums, membership fees, property taxes, and more) into monthly amounts. Set this back each month so that you are prepared when that bill comes around. (YNAB is perfect for this, as it uses “buckets” to budget your money.) This preparation eliminates the mental tracking and stress of irregular or unexpected bills.
- Low balance
- Direct deposit funds available
- Large purchase
- Unusual account activity
Set up auto-pay for your bills. (If cash flow is tricky, you could also set a reminder for a couple of days before to check your account. Otherwise, it’s automatic!)
Use PayPal, Venmo or Cash App for staying on top of paying miscellaneous funds, such as to friends, family, or non-recurring payments. When possible, send money immediately so you don’t have to remember to do it later.
Use the same tax professional or online tax preparation software year after year. Information from previous tax years will be saved within their software, meaning you don’t have to find the documents or re-enter it. This also means that the tax questions are tailored to your situation based on past information. (We use TurboTax for this.*) Add a recurring task to prepare & file taxes well in advance of your due date (for example, individual tax returns are due on April 15th in the US, so schedule a time as early as February.)
Keep separate folders in your filing system for tax-related documents. Don’t know what to keep? See this guide.
Consider working with a financial advisor to manage insurance policies, retirement accounts, investments, and more. We work with a personal friend at Northwestern Mutual, who keeps tabs on our financial situation and provides annual guidance for financial decisions. We never feel like things are slipping through the cracks and have accountability to regularly review and adjust our strategy. (You can contact our advisor here, or ask for recommendations in your area. Just make sure it is someone you trust!)
Similarly, working with an insurance broker you trust can be a great way to outsource reviewing, comparing, shopping around for, and renewing insurance policies. You can contact our advisor here.
Life admin tips for information & document management
Purchase a fire-safe lock-box* to store important documents like social security cards, birth certificates, marriage certificates, and more.
Use 1-2 filing boxes* (or drawers in your desk) for ONLY documents that need to be kept in physical form. Add a recurring yearly task to your to-do list for shredding ‘expired documents’. Better Money Habits has a helpful guide on what to keep and for how long.
For all other documents, scan them instead of holding on to them.
- Many printers have a built-in scanner that works well with default Windows programs like HP Scan & Capture. There are many free apps for your phone that use your camera as a “scanner.”
- No need to have a fancy filing program either! Create folders in your files or in Google Drive (free up to 15 GB, accessible on the go), and make sure they are easy to access. If you are setting up a file structure for the first time, this thorough guide can help!
- Scan your documents as soon as possible. Use your phone to snap a photo while you’re opening mail! Or, create a regular scanning session such as when reviewing finances monthly.
Life admin tips for scheduling and social admin
Create only ONE calendar through Google Calendar, iCal, Outlook so that it is accessible online to everyone involved. Life Admin Life Hacks has an amazing episode about setting up a shared family calendar (only 18 minutes).
(If you prefer keeping a to-do list rather than a true calendar, I love Asana!)
Use recurring events and/or recurring tasks to your advantage. Almost every calendar and/or to-do app has functionality to repeat an item at a set interval. Whether it’s a weekly meeting, a monthly chore, or an annual reminder, this is a wonderful way to stop tracking it all mentally.
Set up a weekly planning meeting, whether it is individually, with a spouse or partner, or for the entire family to:
- Review schedule
- Keep a running list of topics needed to discuss
- Follow up on previous tasks and divide new ones
When scheduling appointments, check if appointments can be scheduled immediately online. As soon as an appointment is made, add it to your calendar or to-do list. If there are details, include them in the description or take a picture of the information and upload it as well.
If you can schedule follow-up appointments during your initial appointment (such as the dentist) do it then rather than creating *another* tasks of scheduling it later.
Social admin – this sounds a little crazy but keep an actual list of the important people in your life. Whether you review this in your weekly planning session, monthly, or otherwise – include reaching out to them or scheduling time with them in your planning session. It’s important!
If you’re planning a meet-up or event with several people, use a Doodle poll to find a possible time to avoid the hassle and back-and-forth emails. (This was a great tip from Life Admin Life Hacks – again! – in their episode on organizing your social life.)
Life admin tips for gifts and special occasions
Keep a list of all birthdays and special dates for family and friends. Store addresses in this list or in the contacts of your phone. I call this my Master Gift List.
Set up birthday reminders – in advance for purchasing a gift, for shipping, and/or on day-of.
Use this gift brainstorming worksheet that streamlines the thought process of meaningful gifts!
Keep a running list of gift ideas as you think of them for every person on your list.
- Add specific links to products or even photos of gift ideas, which is especially good for kids’ wish lists throughout the year.
- Keep a list for yourself too, so you have ideas on hand to share with others if asked (another tip from Life Admin Life Hacks)
Use a gift budget to reduce financial anxiety and provide direction. Free template here!
Keep cards, wrapping paper, stamps, and even shipping supplies on hand. You could even keep favorite all-occasion gifts like candles, coffee, chocolate, hand soap, wine, etc. so that you can give a small gift anytime you want!
Consider “batching” your gift efforts. Purchase gifts for the next 1-2 months at one time, whether it’s all online or a day out shopping.
If you send a holiday card, use a service that can print and mail them for you.
If you are planning an event, consider using an e-vite to save time on physical invitations.
Get access to the online form to personalize your life admin plan, and get a custom list of strategies delivered to your email!