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Managing the admin

Friday, 30 October 2009

Most people, in my experience, have at least some of their time when the paperwork mounts up, appears to be breeding on your desk, and things get put off and put off until (or after!) they become due. I know I’m pretty guilty of this at times (see my entry on Planning versus Pressure here), and, after a day yesterday when I won the battle against my mental tendencies and got a VAT return, a corporation tax return, and a Companies House annual return done, I realised it was about time to pick up on a comment I made back on the Passion & Pragmatism entry (here) and explain how I try to manage these things.

In that entry, I wrote about the challenge for business owners, and particularly start-ups, in striking the right balance between the passion for doing the bits you’re interested in versus the pragmatism of getting done the things that simply have to be done, even if they (as is pretty likely with entrepreneurs) completely fail to excite you.

I’m going to assume for the sake of this article that you do not have the choice at the moment to pass those administrative jobs onto someone else, either via outsourcing or delegation, but that you genuinely have no choice but to do it yourself - as is often the case with me, and in some aspects of most people’s lives, will happen to them some of the time. So, you’ve got to get it done...what tricks are available to help?

Tell lies

I lie to myself. At least once a quarter. For the last few years now, I’ve set up a series of repeating notes in my diary showing the deadlines for the quarterly VAT returns for both of the companies I run. These are not the real dates, but are about two weeks earlier than they are actually due, as a method of forcing me to get them done early/on time.

The reason for this is that if I have the real dates there, I’m most likely to complete the returns on the day they are due, and, if anything else is happening, or the HMRC website falls over, I’m late, get fined, and kick myself (after blaming everything and everybody else!). I still tend to do them on the “due date”, but, if something goes wrong, I’ve got a little leeway.

This only works though if you strictly maintain one thing...and that’s not knowing, or forgetting, by how much you’ve adjusted the deadline. I know a few people who set clocks and watches fast to help them be on time, but they know to the minute how much fast they are, and therefore take that into account. I genuinely do not know, and don’t allow myself to check, when my VAT returns are actually due, so my self imposed date is the only information I have.

Be mean

I love most of my job. That’s why I do it. But there are those bits I’m not mad about, but which have to be done. So I’m cruel to myself. If I don’t get X done, I don’t allow myself to do Y. It’s the reverse of the reward principle (and works better for me)...I’m more of a stick man than a carrot man.

If you can set a clear reward for getting something done, or a rule that says you can’t do it until, not only is there an incentive to do it, there is an increased feeling of satisfaction once the task is complete. I often reward myself with a proper coffee (freshly ground beans, the works) only once I have ticked something unpleasant or boring off the list.

Punish yourself

I know I’m never going to feel great about having completed an annual return form. It’s easy, quick, largely painless, and requires very little thought, creativity or inspiration. So I struggle to be particularly proud of my “achievement”. Positive reinforcement of my self-esteem is not really going to work.

The reverse does though. If this exercise is so easy, quick, and largely painless, just how much of an idiot am I if I don’t just get it done? It takes five minutes, it’s all done online, and so the only thing really stopping me doing it is my very poor self-management...and I don’t want to see myself like that!


As with all things, there can be a year, I completed my personal tax return within two weeks of the end of the tax year, and then spent the rest of the year wondering and checking whether or not I’d actually done it at all! That’s getting better now, as I trust myself a little more...

I’d love comments on how other people manage the dull parts of their jobs and lives...there is no way I’m a qualified expert in this - but I’d love to be one!

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