I Solved Admin And Now I Can Sleep Last Updated 14 January 2022 by Michael Forrest
Have you ever found yourself lying awake at 1 o’clock in the morning on a Sunday, worrying about all the little chores you’ve forgotten to do? Sometimes you feel guilty that you haven’t replied to an email from three weeks ago. Or you remember that your tax return is overdue and you’re building up fines. You lie there remembering all the little jobs that have slipped between the cracks, but you’ll forget them all the instant you sit at your desk and look at your email the next morning.
The things that slipped through the cracks the most, for me, always involved Admin work.
For years I avoided Admin like the plague. It felt like an annoying waste of time. So I’d put everything off until the last minute and just lived my life with a gnawing sense of anxiety that I was always forgetting something. That I was never quite in control.
Why Does Admin Suck?
One day I said “enough is enough! time to conquer this foe!” and I looked Admin directly in the eye. “Why do I fear you?” I demanded to know, “What is the source of your power? How do you cause me so much pain?”
And this way I came to understand the two major problems I had with Admin.
The first problem was choice paralysis. I had task lists all over the place. Post-its, pads, an app on my phone, an app on my laptop, an app in the cloud. But I didn’t know where to start! So it was easier not to start at all.
The second problem was unpredictability. One task might take a few seconds, but the next might take hours. I didn’t know which was which, and the longer any one thing took, the more frustrated I’d get with it.
Choice paralysis and time-unpredictability.
A System to Solve Admin
Because I like creating systems.
How To Solve Choice Paralysis?
Don’t Make Me Choose!
I didn’t want to see all of the things I need to do. I just wanted to see what I need to do next. With no clutter. No chaos, just a system that shows me one task at a time and doesn’t overwhelm me with the job of choosing for myself.
How to solve Time-Unpredictability?
Time Box that shiz!
If I set aside half an hour each morning to do admin, during which time I’d chip away at my list, then I’d never have to worry about losing a whole morning to some random task. And if I tracked how long I spent on each task then I’d get to feel good when I ticked off several items in one session, even if I had to pause the last one halfway through and pick it up the next day. I could start to treat admin more mindfully, appreciating it as time well spent instead of like a black hole sucking away precious hours that I should be using for “real” work.
Specifications of my System
- Let me create a simple list of tasks that will run top-to-bottom
- Then show me one task at a time so I can give it my full attention
- Let me track how long I work on it and let me check it off when I’m done
- Ring a bell after half an hour, letting me pause or quickly finish whatever I was working on, so I can get back to my “real” work.
I spent several months using a Coda document that I built to meet this spec which was great for figuring out the details and iterating on a prototype, but I ultimately wanted a much cleaner visual design. So once it was all figured out, I granted myself some time to turn this into a real product.
Honestly, it was a huge feat of willpower for me not just to jump into a production build! I knew it was a pretty esoteric, highly-personal system and I didn’t want to take time away from what I was supposed to be doing. And everybody knows the world doesn’t need another TODO list app. But I just loved my system so much that I couldn’t resist. I had to make it legit.
So now it exists as a web app you can use on donegood.app.
Here’s how it works. Note that it’s not perfect yet but I use it every day for everything I do so how bad can it be…
You’ll need to sign up at donegood.app to get started. I’ll outline the steps in the video below but Donegood will guide you through everything if you prefer!
Click below and the video will play from the start of the tutorial, frog-free.
1. Creating a prioritised list of tasks
We’ll start by naming our list “Admin”.
Then you’ll need to add three tasks.
I feel like this is where a lot of people get stuck. The best thing to do is look around you - see what post-its you have stuck to things, see what’s in your Reminders app, check your Trello boards - find some things you wrote down that you know are important to work on. Look in your inbox. Do you have some emails you need to deal with?
Think back to Sunday night. What was keeping you awake?
Be mindful about what you add to your list. I would avoid just dumping everything in there straight away. Start slow.
Donegood is now gonna ask you WHEN you’ll work on your list. If you select some time here, then you’ll get an email reminding you to start. Personally I have Donegood in a pinned tab at all times but I wanted to remind you one way or another. I do admin first thing each morning. You can set the time but that just tells Donegood when to send you a reminder email.
2. Seeing one thing at a time
Now you’re ready to start. You see your next task and your timer.
You can add tasks at any time by clicking on the list. Hover where you want to add the task and click.
Now is a good time to add Donegood to your phone’s home screen. Navigate to donegood.app on your phone and use the bookmarking feature to save it to your home screen. I have Donegood in my main app bar on my iPhone.
3. Track your time and mark a task completed
Just check the box. If you don’t remember to click Start or Complete straight away, there are some options.
If you want to remove a task you can right-click and press “Delete” (this should say “Archive” if you have tracked time against this task!)
When you check off a task, Donegood automatically starts the timer for the next thing in your list.
4. When you’ve done enough for the day
Donegood rings a bell and posts a desktop notification when you hit half an hour.
You can ignore the bell and keep going, or you can pause what you were doing and come back to it tomorrow. In our case, tomorrow we’ll see “Clear Inbox” first- your paused task will come later.
We’re only human
I have done my best to make Donegood treat you as a human. Some tools punish you for any time-tracking mistakes and make it awkward to recover. Not Donegood.
Time tracking accuracy
I don’t always start my timer at the right time. I sometimes leave it running overnight. Donegood lets you fix this through the dropdowns under your current task.
- If you forgot to start your timer straight away, you can say “Start 5 minutes ago” (or 10, 20 etc…), or “Start from end of previous activity”.
- If you didn’t stop the timer immediately you can say “Complete 5 minutes ago” etc… or “Complete with duration…” to say how long you took.
- If Donegood started your next task but you hadn’t started it straight away, you can use “Pause without saving (I was doing something else)”. This means that “Start from end of previous activity will work for what you were actually doing.
- Whether you’ve started or not, you can snooze a task. This will track the time you’ve spent already and then get rid of it, bringing it back at some later time of your choosing (tomorrow by default)
Change how long to work each day?
You can set your target by clicking the timer. Click the dashed-underlined “30 minutes” to edit your target.
Make it pretty!
You can turn on NASA’s Photo Of The Day images any time you want. Just click your avatar, Change Background Picture and check the box.
You can add any picture you want to the background. It won’t be uploaded to our servers so don’t worry about grabbing something from Google Images. Or you could use a family photo to remind you why you’re working so hard!
I Love This System
Since I started using the system behind Donegood, a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I get to Inbox Zero pretty much every day. I do my tax returns at the start of the year instead of at the last minute. I do all my books and reply to my accountant the same day they ask me, instead of waiting for the fourth or fifth reminder before getting my arse in gear.
I keep Donegood in a pinned tab and each morning, when I sit at my desk, it’s the first thing I look at. I love it so much that I don’t just use it for my admin, I use it for everything!
I feel like I’m in control of my life in a way I’ve never felt before.
If you fall in love with Donegood you can become a power user with some extra paid features.
I have multiple lists and manage a highly complex schedule through Donegood. I can set different projects for different days and minimise the overhead of context-switching.
You can access your lists down here.
Click the timer to manage your schedule. You can select a different day by clicking where it says “Today” or you can click “Review” to see absolutely everything.
Donegood will automatically copy last week’s schedule to the next week as you start each day, or you can set things up in advance yourself.
Visualise Your Data
Donegood is Free
You can try out Donegood right now. Don’t forget to click the little chat box if you have any questions or feedback. I’m right here, waiting!