10 ways to prevent admin tasks from draining your creative energy

Illustration for post with tips on keeping admin tasks from draining creative energy
Illustration by Gabrielle Matte

Your workday is full of commitments that range from the mundane to the sublime. Though administrative tasks often feel like a drag, they can be handled strategically so they don’t erode your creative flow. Here’s how.

1. Finish the small stuff on your commute

You can start your workday with the work that excites you by handling administrative tasks on the way into the office—such as to-do lists, CRM planning, email responses, or expense request processing.

2. Procrastinate productively

Recognize when you’re better served by postponing creative work. Instead, focus on something tangible that contributes to your momentum. Blowing off steam with some alternatively useful task (research, time-tracking, meditation) for 10 minutes can help you settle into creating.

3. Ruminate as you administrate

Oftentimes, rumination can be confused for procrastination. You can sneak up on some of your biggest creative challenges by letting them simmer in the background as you do rote tasks—preferably physical ones, like clearing your desk, filing paper, or washing your stack of used coffee mugs. Creating space around a specific problem or question gives it room to start sending up solutions while you’re otherwise engaged.

4. Make the mundane matter

Understanding the personality types and productivity strategies of the people around you is essential to your success. Make status meetings and other seemingly mundane team process matter—by learning more about your teammates’ workstyles. This can help you collaborate more powerfully and better appreciate your collective work product.

5. Create urgency around creative work

When you want to get in the creative flow, protect this time with everything you’ve got to prevent the insidious administrative creep. Try raising the stakes by working in 20-minute sprints with specific goals. This intense focus mobilizes your sense of competition and helps prevent your mind from wandering to non-essential distractions.

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6. Turn have-to’s into want-to’s

Energize work you’re avoiding by adding your own fun. Listen to music while handling tasks that are buoyed by a beat, do something collaboratively with a colleague that you dread doing on your own, or promise yourself a favorite snack as a reward for getting it done.

7. Do it somewhere else

Certain tasks are location-specific (filing happens at the filing cabinet). But many aren’t. Changing the scenery (move to a conference room, a café, or a walking desk) can change your perspective. And finding the right context for each type of work can boost creative energy.

8. Designate distinct work zones

Even when you can’t leave your desk, you can give yourself physical or visual cues when switching tasks to help clarify boundaries and ease transition turbulence. When creating, close the blinds or put on headphones to signal “cave time”. And when it’s time for administrative housekeeping, do something that adds levity—such as putting on your referee’s cap or Mardi Gras beads.

9. Appreciate the value of admin work

Keep in mind that your administrative work is the scaffolding for your creative work. Rote tasks give structure to the systems that make creative work possible. When you do this work with an awareness of its necessity and appreciation of its role in your most important contributions, it will feed your creative energy instead of draining it.

10. Remember that you have all day

Author Grace Paley was once asked by a journalist, “You’re a mother, activist, professor, and accomplished fiction writer. How do you do it all?” Paley responded, “Well, I have all day.” Her humorous response is a good reminder that the way we think about, talk about, and spend our time defines our experience. Recognizing that you have all day can help you create and administrate in the balance that serves you best.

When it comes to handling uninspiring tasks, your attitude and approach can make all the difference. And you’re in charge of those. Every chore can be in service to your greatest creative expression, if that’s what you choose. Being intentional about how, when, where, and why you work can help accelerate your progress.

Sage Cohen is the author of Fierce on the Page, The Productive Writer, Writing the Life Poetic, and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World. As Chief Executive Storyteller of Sage Cohen Global since 1997, she develops communication, education, and empowerment solutions that help people and businesses change the conversation.

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