It’s no secret that our stress levels rise when our personal and professional responsibilities clash. We work long hours and struggle with increasing workloads, which can make it difficult to find the time for all the other "life admin" tasks we’re required to do, such as household paperwork.
According to a survey of 2,000 people, the average adult carries out 109 "life admin" tasks every year.
A substantial amount of time is taken up by jobs such as sorting out car insurance, checking bank accounts and paying bills. And with many of us juggling work, life and other responsibilities like childcare, it can be a struggle to keep up with admin – which can lead to additional anxiety as we fall behind on deadlines and payments.
“Children, young ones in particular, are time-consuming and can sap you of physical and mental energy. Trying to deliver on work responsibilities, look after children, plus nail your life admin can feel like an insurmountable task,” says Lizzie Martin, accredited executive coach and director of Work Life Mother.
“Many refer to it as 'always being on' – which drains your mental reserves and is not only overwhelming but leads to burnout,” she says. “Children also have the uncanny ability of interrupting just when you get into flow or sit down to start an important task.”
Although lots of us take pride in our abilities to multitask, it can actually have a negative impact on your productivity. In fact, having lots of different tasks and projects to think about at once divides our attention in a way that reduces our performance.
“Research has found that every additional task you switch to eats up 20% of your productivity and it takes an average of about 25 minutes – 23 minutes and 15 seconds, to be exact – to return to the original task after an interruption,” says Martin.
In addition, Life Coach Directory member Chantal Dempsey says we often find it difficult to get life admin done because we procrastinate when it comes to boring tasks.
“Paying bills or organising appointments are thankless tasks, so they make a perfect platform for procrastination,” she says. “Unless the admin is urgent, it can easily be put off, and when you’re wondering whether to pay the bills or go for a coffee in that hour you have spare, the decision makes itself. The bills will be paid when you get the red letter. Until then, boring tasks plus no urgency equals procrastination for most people.”
When we have unfinished tasks looming over us, the increased stress can interfere with our ability to function and impact our workplace performance. However, there never seems to be enough hours in the day to get everything ticked off, leaving lots of us trying to sort out bills and more when we should be resting.
An occasional day off work might give us more time to get things done, leaving us feeling calmer and more organised at work and at home. But is it reasonable to sort out personal tasks while working – or should you ask your employer for a day off to sort things out?
“If you can take work time for admin, the pressure of being found out can motivate you to get it done,” says Dempsey. “It will give you the urgency element that combats procrastination. You can justify this in many ways – everyone does it. You take phone calls out of hours all the time, you will make it up by reducing your coffee breaks for the next month, for example.”
However Martin suggests life admin should be done in your own time, either during annual leave or on your lunch break.
“But if you are struggling to get on top of it and it’s interfering with your productivity at work then an open conversation with your line manager and some flexibility with your work hours could be what you need to regain some balance and to get back on track,” she says.
“If this is something that occurs frequently for you then it's a good opportunity to review how much you are taking on, whether you need to be setting some tighter boundaries, enforcing deadlines or getting some extra help to avoid falling behind on things – both at work and at home.”
Depending on the relationship you have with your manager, they may be open to you taking a personal day – either paid or unpaid – to relieve some pressure. However, not all employers will be amenable to your request. It may seem easier to call in sick, but be aware that this could backfire if your boss finds out you aren’t actually unwell.
“Always be honest with your employer, it will cultivate a relationship of trust. At times, we all need support with our home lives and in return your employer should recognise that,” Martin says. “Think of it as give and take as there will be times when your employer will call on you to work extra hours, such as when there is an important deadline.”
Ultimately, feeling stressed about unfinished tasks at home may have a negative effect on your work too. “You want to work together to find a way for you to thrive in both. If however your time away from work is going to be taken from your holiday allowance, don't feel obliged to tell your boss or colleagues what you are doing with that time, you don't need a reason to take time off work,” says Martin.