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Climbing the Life Admin Mountain
Why we’ll never get to the end of our to-do lists—and why we should embrace it
There comes a day in all of our lives where we graduate to full adult. I’m not talking about finishing school, starting out in our first job, or moving into our own place. I’m talking about the day that very first bill hits your doormat—the day you enter the world of life admin.
A 2018 survey featured in this article estimated that we complete an average of 109 of these life admin tasks every year, such as paying taxes and renewing insurance. Even with all the free time in the world, these essential yet boring tasks seem to take up proportionately way more space than they should. For people like myself, who tend to put them off for as long as they can, they actually end up causing way more anxiety than they’re worth—a phenomenon that the aforementioned article dubs ‘errand paralysis’.
The endless life admin was always something that frustrated me about the modern world. I constantly found myself thinking “how the hell do people have the time to get on top of all this?”
I think I thought subconsciously that there’d be some point in the future where I’d have all the time in the world to get these things done, and that I’d suffer from errand paralysis no longer.
In the present day, as a father of two young children, I can confirm that I am further from that point than ever before.
I don’t want to turn this into a parent vs non-parent thing — life admin does affect us all. But there’s no getting away from the reality that having to raise a kid means less free time in which to tackle life admin, as well as the fact that each child comes with their own life admin. And do they have the decency to do it themselves? Of course not.
Don’t take my word for it either. A survey (discussed here) of 2,000 mothers of under 16-year-olds suggested that over three quarters of parents are facing the same daily wrangle with their to-do lists.
You might be forgiven for thinking “So what? Every parent has a never-ending to-do list. What’s the big deal?” But the fact that so many of us fail to get around to important tasks can have a knock-on effect in many aspects of our lives.
From the same survey, the constant and ceaseless job of running around after kids delays 43% of mothers from getting around to booking appointments with their doctor, and one in four from scheduling their smear tests. Over a quarter haven’t had time to switch to a better or cheaper energy provider. 27% don’t have time to pay off a bill. Another 43% can’t get enough time to book a haircut, whilst nearly half don’t even have time in the day to take a shower.
Whether it’s neglecting health, finances or even the basics of self-care, it’s clear that the weight of life admin that a lot of people are living under has a lot to answer for. Even just the knowledge that there’s a giant unfinished list of stuff to do, and no time to do it in, can really weigh heavy on us. Those empty check marks at the end of each day are like daggers in my gut; a reminder that somehow that day I failed at being a functioning adult.
For parents, all this starts before the child is even born. Here in the UK, you get your big dossier of maternity notes that you CANNOT FORGET to bring to ANY ante-natal check-up, otherwise they will send you straight home to go and get them. If only humanity could figure out a way to store files digitally so that we don’t have to go around printing and carrying paper documents anymore…
Whilst baby is chilling out, floating around in the womb, we’re trying to find time to write down birth preferences that—spoiler alert for those not yet aware—do not get looked at by anyone other than us. We’re packing hospital bags. We’re trying to find time to assemble the crib, the Moses basket, the changing table, and all the other stuff that these tiny little humans apparently need. It’s enough to make you say “just get this damn baby born!”
And then they’re here. The midwife hands over your little bundle of joy, announcing their time of birth and weight. You were listening to that right? Because you’ll have to remember those figures in your fatigue-addled malaise to recite to an endless procession of health professionals—if only one of them would just write it down in the bastard notes that I forgot on the way to the hospital and had to turn around to pick up.
And you know when you get home, you’re sleep deprived and all you want to do is lock the doors and stay inside for the next month? Not happening. You’ve got to register the baby with the doctor and the council—in person. Yes, in 2023 we’re still having to haul our post-baby cadavers up to the doctor’s office to hand-collect a registration form to fill out, and then return by hard-copy. Again, if only we as a species had been able to develop some sort of electronic mailing system that could make this whole process simpler. Fanciful, I know—what would you even call that?
Once the child is official, things really kick into the next gear. You’ve got to book your immunisations, you’ve got your midwife visits, health visitors, organising various dates and times for the stream of friends and family that want to barge down your door to see the baby. You’ve got to find the time to jump through the requisite hoops to claim the child benefit that you’re entitled to.
And let’s be clear—this is all on top of the day-to-day perennials of our task lists: fixing shit around the house, booking and going to eye tests, weeding the garden, posting birthday cards, renewing insurance, returning packages, picking up prescriptions, ironing, washing, cleaning…it’s no wonder so many people are struggling to get the basics done, due to the cold-hard truth that raising kids demands the overwhelming majority of our daily attention.
Even after the flurry of birth-related admin, it doesn’t stop. Every single baby group you go to has their own online payment system that you need to separately register to. Some charge per term, some per session; either way, you’d better remember when the cash is due, or your place is gobbled up by another parent who got swallowed up in the maelstrom of life admin badly enough to miss out on the class, and had to reach for the waiting list life ring.
I’ve been lucky enough to get to relive the early stages of child-related life admin recently, so at least I know the ropes. But it’s all the stuff related to our three-year-old that’s proving to be a continuous well of untold joys recently.
The life admin task that really fried my mind recently was applying for her nursery school place. This was what every piece of child admin so far had been secretly prepping us for.
Unfortunately, I was not prepared.
For a start there was no letter or anything that comes through the door telling you “hey, it’s time to start applying for schools”. I was naive to assume this, but we’re fortunate enough to have neighbours with a similar aged kid. They’re the kind of parents who just know all this shit, and seem to have the whole life admin thing down to a tee.
So we find out that we need to actually proactively find out the applications dates ourselves. I look online, and get linked to an 80 page PDF that I have to actually read (I know, gross) to find out when we can apply from and how long we have left.
I finally get to the application form, and holy shit it’s so long I was actually impressed. It’s like the end of term exam—all the random bits of information you’ve been storing about your child are now pertinent to completing this magnum opus of life admin.
Then it comes to actually picking the school you want to send your child to. I thought this would be a straightforward part of the deal—she goes to the closest one.
Is it straightforward? This is life admin. What do you think?
Subscribing to Some Other Dad is one piece of admin that will only take you seconds—and it’s free!
I get presented with the dreaded open text box, and I’m asked to outline the specific circumstances and reasons why we’re applying for our daughter to go to this school. The word limit is 500. Immediately I know that just writing “because it’s closest”—instead my mind wanders to the other parents waxing lyrical about the school’s values, ethos and curriculum and why they match their child perfectly, all in an attempt to not have to cling to the waiting list. So there I go, pulling buzzwords off the school’s website just to fill up this text box.
But the final part of this form is what made me nearly give up and embrace homeschooling. I’m presented with a map of the local area. The form instructs me to plot out the quickest available route that we’d take to school every day, to prove just how close we live.
Yet again, this is an example of a parental life admin task being overcomplicated to the extreme. They’ve got our address, and the address of the school. Can’t they just use Google Maps to see our quickest route, instead of making me sit there plotting points on a map, as if I’ve got nothing better to do with my time?
I’ve ranted for way too long about that particular ordeal, but it’s just another example of something we have to do for our kids that contributes to the time-sink that is child-related life admin.
Until AI can sort all this shit out for us, this is just one of those things us parents have to come to terms with. The simple reality of adding extra humans to your household—each one with their own life admin that needs doing—with the kicker that they can’t do it themselves, means that mountain of life admin is only going to get taller.
But the sooner we let go of the idea that we’ll ever get to the top of that admin mountain, I think the better off we’ll be.
If you Google search for tips on dealing with life admin, there’s many articles that will advocate making space for a “life admin day” when you can. That’s all well and good, but for me that’s way too unrealistic.
If there’s even just one single task that I manage to get done each day—however long it takes—then I call that a win. Too often in the past have I told myself I’d do everything on my to-do list in the same day, only for life to inevitably get in the way and make me feel shit about not achieving what I wanted to.
Our time is so stretched that we have to be that extra bit kinder to ourselves, and set more realistic expectations on how we manage it.
Life looking after these little people is unpredictable. Hell, we might not even get the time to do the one thing we wanted on some days—and that’s fine. There’s always the next day to attempt another step up that mountain.
Where’s my fellow mountain climbers at?
Excuse the ranty post this week, but never-ending to-do lists are a constant source of frustration for me. If I was less merciful, I could have gone on longer.
I’m sure I’m not alone. How do you fare with climbing the life admin mountain? What’s the one thing that you’ve been putting off for ages because of running around after the kids that you wish you had time to get done?
Next week's post? YOU DECIDE!
I’ve got some ideas for posts over the next few weeks, and I just noticed a button to add a poll to posts here on Substack. So let’s give this a go—what do you want next week’s issue to be about?
Previously on Some Other Dad
Other previous issues
I had to return something yesterday. I strapped our newborn to my chest, took the effort in my deep-fatigue state to actually leave the house and walk down to the post office (that’s actually just a desk in a corner shop). Was the corner shop open? Yes. Was the post office desk open? Like fuck it was!