Making Peace With Red Tape

I have finally finished my U.S. taxes. Well, I have finally finished gathering together the materials to do them, so that I could send them to my tax preparer. (Doing my U.S. taxes as an expat is clearly out of the question. I am still traumatized by my Dad making me do them when I was in college and I had to try to figure out how to account for share sales that were paying my tuition).

Life is full of red tape. There's always something you need to be doing admin-wise. Whether it's making a dentist appointment, figuring out how the heck to send a postal ballot in the U.K., applying for a mortgage or doing your taxes, it will probably never cease. There are thank-you notes to send, birthday cards to write and garbage to take out. Living in a society with other peoples comes with all sorts of rules and responsibilities this way. Even dying requires a certain amount of admin.

I've started making a sort of truce with red tape. Not sure if I'm at peace with it yet, but the light bulb has finally gone on and I've realized that putting things off doesn't make them go away and instead creates more pain. Playing catch-up is always a grind. So why do so many of us keep things on our to-do list for ages, taunting us?

I was thinking about it last night and realized that sometimes completing things frightens me. When things are all done, beds are made and the admin is under control, what's left? If I didn't have silly things to worry about, would I be faced with the really scary things – the fears that I don't particularly like sitting with?

Ironically, having all sorts of admin hanging over my head avoids a certain amount of discomfort. Clearing away all the excess clutter leaves me alone with whatever is there (whatever that is). I suppose it's a little like meditation. Just sitting there, doing nothing, alone with your thoughts. No wonder people turn the other direction when you start talking about meditation.

But the flip side – and the less scary side – is that when you do clear away all the clutter of life, you can also find the space to focus. You can touch base with the uncomfortable stuff and then make choices about what's actually important.

But practically, how do you get started on clearing all the admin away?
What has helped me is finding some time to focus on it – a scheduled time. Setting aside a specific time does two things – it makes sure you stay focused when you're doing it and also it gives your brain space to do other things when it's not the time to do admin.

For example, when I do manage to get up early (at 6 a.m.), I'm not actually ready to do creative things, but I've found that I am really good at clearing my inbox and sorting out other tasks like bills, online grocery shopping or figuring out how to get to an upcoming country wedding by train. I prefer to get serious writing done instead after work and before dinner. Also, starting the day with admin sorted makes it much easier to really concentrate on work at 9 a.m.

Another thing I do is set aside some time on Sunday nights to go through the stack of papers that has accumulated throughout the week (mail, magazines, odd scraps of paper with lists scribbled on them, etc.). I file away important bits and decide what to chuck. That means during the week I can open my mail without worrying too much about it. I can just put it in the pile if it can wait until Sunday. I know piling things is another form of procrastination, but I'm OK with only sorting it out once a week (hey, nobody's perfect).

Also, if I have a bigger project I want to do, such as cleaning out a closet, or putting together a flat-packed piece of furniture (don't get me started on how long this actually takes – I am never ordering furniture in pieces again), I schedule it in. Block out a Saturday afternoon. Just like I would do with a social engagement. If you want to de-clutter your life and your brain, you have to build in the time.

Obviously, you have to be your own expert and find what works for you. But before you just sigh and forget about it, thinking red tape is the bug bear impossible to conquer, it's worth examining what it is that keeps you from actually dealing with annoying admin. And what you could gain by getting it under control.

Related Posts:

No comments

Back to Top