LIFE ADMIN

How I Learned to Do Less, Do Better, and Live More


Reading this book should be at the top of your To Do list. Life Admin will give you many hours of your life back.

Every day an unseen form of labor creeps into our lives—stealing precious moments of free time, placing a strain on our schedules and our relationships, and earning neither appreciation nor compensation in return. This labor is life admin: the kind of secretarial and managerial work necessary to run a life and a household.

Elizabeth Emens was a working mother with two young children, swamped like so many of us, when she realized that this invisible labor was consuming her.

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Reading this book should be at the top of your To Do list. Life Admin will give you many hours of your life back.

Every day an unseen form of labor creeps into our lives—stealing precious moments of free time, placing a strain on our schedules and our relationships, and earning neither appreciation nor compensation in return. This labor is life admin: the kind of secretarial and managerial work necessary to run a life and a household.

Elizabeth Emens was a working mother with two young children, swamped like so many of us, when she realized that this invisible labor was consuming her. Desperate to survive and to help others along the way, she conducted interviews and focus groups to gather favorite tips and tricks, admin confessions, and the secrets of admin-happy households.

Life Admin tackles the problem of admin in all its forms, from everyday tasks like scheduling doctors appointments and paying bills, to life-cycle events like planning a wedding, a birth, a funeral. Emens explores how this labor is created, how it affects our lives, and how we might avoid, reduce, and redistribute admin whenever possible—as individuals and as a society.

Life Admin is the book that will teach us all how to do less of it, and to do it better.

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  • Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Hardcover
  • January 2019
  • 288 Pages
  • 9780544557239

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$26.00

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About Elizabeth Emens

emens_elizabethElizabeth F. Emens is Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law at Columbia Law School. She earned her law degree at Yale and her Ph.D. at Cambridge. She lives in New York City.

Praise

“In this timely and necessary book, Elizabeth Emens shines a light on one of the most important productivity topics that no one talks about: the relentless administrative obligations required to organize life outside of work. This book is a must-read for anyone who feels overwhelmed by admin at home.” –Cal Newport, author of Digital Minimalism

“Every so often you come across a book that really does profoundly change how you see the world. Life Admin is just such a book – it will, by force of its own genius, reprogram your life and give you a tool for seeing things as they actually are.” –Tim Wu, author of The Attention Merchants

“There are many books telling us how to organize a closet or the kitchen. Elizabeth Emens takes on the sorting of our brains.  They say that death and taxes are the only two sure things in life.  But they left out all the in-between—car repair, PTA, doctors’ appointments, home maintenance, making dinner, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.  There is calm at the end of Emens’ rainbow, and the deep sense of accomplishment that clarity of focus endows.” –Patricia J. Williams, The Nation

“The stuff of life never ends. It piles up in junk drawers, steals our time, weighs on our minds and, if avoided for too long, can have painful consequences. Rather than avoid it, as so many of us do, Elizabeth Emens instead has waded gamely into the muck to discover not only the best life hacks, but how to make it visible, understandable, better manageable and fairer. (I’m looking at you, ball-droppers.) Reading Life Admin is like sitting down with a friend who knows exactly how it feels to be drowning in your To Do list, and throws you a very welcome life line to help you to make your way out.” –Brigid Schulte, author of the New York Times bestselling Overwhelmed

Excerpt

What’s Your Admin Personality?

Below is a series of questions about how you relate to life admin—the office work of life. Choose the answer that is closest to how you act or feel. There are no right or wrong answers. And no admin personality is best. The aim of the quiz is to understand oneself better in relation to life admin.

1. How do you keep track of your to-do items for your life and home?
A. I have a method that works really well for me.
B. I don’t have time to create a really good system for keeping track of it all, but I get the essentials done.
C. My partner nudges me.
D. Why would I need a list? There’s not that much to do.

2. How do you deal with your snail mail at home?
A. I collect it every day and deal with it promptly.
B. I usually collect it and pull out the important stuff.
C. My mail pile topples over until someone else takes care of it—or something overdue catches up with me.
D. Nothing important seems to happen in snail mail, though I don’t really check.

3. You and your immediate family need to plan a party for a close friend. Which statement is most true?
A. I’m great at throwing parties and enjoy doing it well, whether I do all the work myself or delegate.
B. I know the party will end up on my plate, and I’ll do it, but at the cost of much time and energy.
C. It’s fine with me for the party to take place, but I probably won’t be that much help.
D. Just tell me when and where to show up.

4. How do you relate to life admin?
The term life admin—in other words, the office work of life—includes managerial tasks, like making decisions and delegating, and secretarial tasks, like scheduling, filling out forms, and paying bills.
A. I mostly get admin done and feel pretty good about it.
B. I mostly get done whatever admin needs to get done, but I wish I didn’t have to.
C. I try to avoid it, but I don’t feel so good about that.
D. I mostly stay away from the thing you’re calling admin (if it’s a thing at all).

5. You receive an email that was sent to multiple people. The email makes a request for information in the second paragraph. Which answer best describes what happens next?
A. I am likely to respond first and be as helpful as I can (quickly) be.
B. I am often the one to respond, not because I want to, but because I doubt anyone else will.
C. Someone else is likely to respond before me.
D. I’m not likely to read as far as the second paragraph.

6. Which of the following statements sounds most like you in relation to household bills?
A. I have a good method for paying my bills, so they never weigh on me.
B. I pay my bills on time, but I wish I didn’t have to deal with them.
C. My bills pile up, and eventually guilt or late fees force me to deal with them.
D. I don’t seem to pay many bills.

7. How do you and your partner (or housemate) divide up your shared admin?
A. I am in charge of most of it.
B. We aim to divide things up evenly. If someone does more, though, it’s probably (or definitely) me.
C. My partner/housemate is in charge of more of it.
D. It doesn’t seem like there’s much shared admin to do.

8. Is there anyone in your world who you think does less life admin than they should?
A. Most people.
B. The person who leaves it to me (for example, my partner, housemate, or family member).
C. Probably me.
D. I don’t think so.

9. Do you ever suffer from madmin mind?
Madmin mind is a mind spinning with so much life admin that it feels like it’s in overdrive.
A. Occasionally, but mostly I stay on top of things so they don’t spin out of control.
B. Unfortunately, yes. Too often.
C. I’ve seen madmin up close, mostly in others, and it’s pretty scary—it’s one reason I try to avoid admin.
D. No. I’m not sure what could make that happen to someone.

10. You’re finally in bed after a long day and have just turned off the lights. Which best describes you?
A. You make a mental checklist of your tasks for the next day, feel satisfied about the prospect of another productive day, and promptly fall asleep.
B. You toss and turn at the thought of all the things you need to do over the next few days (or weeks or months).
C. You suddenly remember that you need to pay a long overdue bill but feel so tired that you fall asleep.
D. What admin? You stretch, appreciate how comfortable your bed is, and fall asleep immediately.

How’d you do?

It’s possible you noticed a pattern. Each letter always corresponds to the same admin personality. (This makes scoring your results very low-admin!)

If you answered mostly A, you’re a Super Doer.
If you answered mostly B, you’re a Reluctant Doer.
If you answered mostly C, you’re an Admin Avoider.
If you answered mostly D, you’re an Admin Denier.

Interpreting Your Score

The letter with the most answers is your primary admin personality. The letter with the second most answers is your secondary admin personality. Our admin personalities can vary across relationships and across contexts. For instance, you may have one personality in relation to a particular partner or housemate and another personality in relation to extended family. Or you may have one personality in relation to planning parties and another in relation to snail mail.

The closer the scores between your primary admin personality and any other personality, the greater your variability and the more likely your admin personality differs across relationships or contexts.

The personalities capture a combination of action and feeling. These are archetypes. Most of us are really hybrids. And our answers can also be affected by the sheer quantity—large or small—of admin in our lives and households right now. But these are the basic four:

Super Doer: You are getting the admin done—by doing it yourself or explicitly delegating it to others‚ and you feel basically on top of it and therefore pretty good.

Reluctant Doer: You take care of the admin that needs doing, but you wish you didn’t have to.

Admin Avoider: You avoid admin as much as possible and don’t feel good about it, either because the consequences of your non-doing catch up with you or because you feel bad that other people are doing it for you.

Admin Denier: You generally don’t see admin as a problem, or even as a thing; you do very little of it and don’t feel bad about that.