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Life Admin Hacks: The step-by-step guide to saving time and money, reducing the mental load and streamlining your life AUSTRALIAN BUSINESS BOOK AWARDS 2022 FINALIST
Life Admin Hacks: The step-by-step guide to saving time and money, reducing the mental load and streamlining your life AUSTRALIAN BUSINESS BOOK AWARDS 2022 FINALIST
Life Admin Hacks: The step-by-step guide to saving time and money, reducing the mental load and streamlining your life AUSTRALIAN BUSINESS BOOK AWARDS 2022 FINALIST
Ebook467 pages7 hours

Life Admin Hacks: The step-by-step guide to saving time and money, reducing the mental load and streamlining your life AUSTRALIAN BUSINESS BOOK AWARDS 2022 FINALIST

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About this ebook

A super-practical guide to cleaning up your admin load and freeing up head space.


You have no idea what's for dinner tonight. You need a gift for that party next week. You still haven't consolidated your super. You're out of contract on your phone and paying who knows what. Those cupboards won't declutter themselves. The kids need a plan for the next school holidays. It's time to get the gutters cleaned. You still haven't made a will.

Sound familiar? Then this is the life admin guide you've been waiting for.

Life admin can't be eliminated but it can be minimised, automated and better shared within families.

This no-nonsense book:

  • outlines a clear system to transform your life admin into managed order
  • helps you share the mental load with others
  • gives you game-changing tools and small practical steps to follow
  • breaks down life admin into Two Minutes Too Easy, Ten Minute Time Killer or Hour of Power tasks
  • shows you the fastest ways to shop around for new providers
  • lets you focus on your major pain points or do a complete life admin makeover

Working parents Mia and Dinah have marshalled their professional expertise in innovation, finance, design thinking and operations to research best practices, trial the tech and craft the most efficient processes to optimise their own life admin. The result? No more overwhelm, way more spare time and thousands of dollars saved.

Now it's your turn.


'This book is life-changing. Mia and Dinah's practical, wise and clever advice will help you to start important conversations with your partner or children around the day-to-day tasks that have shackled women for centuries' Tracey Spicer, author and broadcaster

'My stress levels subsided from the opening page" Helen McCabe founder FUTURE WOMEN, and former editor-in-chief The Australian Women's Weekly

'Life Admin Hacks is for any woman who has ever felt completely squashed by the mental load of modern life. It will teach you how to streamline and conquer all the boring bits so you can get on with the actual fun of living. It's basically Mrs Beeton's Guide to Household Management for modern women, and every home needs a copy' Bron 'Maxabella' Mandile, publisher MUMLYFE

'This book flips the switch on life admin as we know it and the perpetual expectation on women to do it all. This book will streamline your life and support you to share the sometimes-crippling mental load' Tarla Lambert, WOMEN'S AGENDA

'I absolutely love this book and I think it's essential for ambitious and working women. It spells out solutions to life admin rather than just lamenting the problem ... Game changing! Mia and Dinah show you how to take small steps with big impact. They lay out the importance of sharing the load when it comes to admin as well as domestic duties. It breaks down the intersection of parenting, household duties and life admin. So many of us feel frustrated and overwhelmed at the moment. It is a must read for women' Sheree Rubinstein, founder ONE ROOF

Release dateJan 1, 2022
Life Admin Hacks: The step-by-step guide to saving time and money, reducing the mental load and streamlining your life AUSTRALIAN BUSINESS BOOK AWARDS 2022 FINALIST

Mia Northrop

Mia Northrop and Dinah-Rowe Roberts met at high school in Melbourne, studied together at university, and remained fast friends through marriages, dynamic corporate careers in London, Dubai, New York and Vancouver, and the arrival of children. Their combined experience in senior strategy, commercial, digital and customer experience roles did nothing to prevent the onslaught of life admin, which became their passion to solve. Today, they run Time & Grace, helping individuals and employees transform their life admin from chaos to a state of control and calm. They coach, write, speak and facilitate workshops about life admin, and together they host the podcast Life Admin Life Hacks.

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    Life Admin Hacks - Mia Northrop


    ‘You may have a fresh start any moment you choose . . .’

    – Mary Pickford

    You’re not crazy. Life is truly more complicated these days.

    At one stage, your whole life probably fitted in a planner. But those days are gone. Now your life is scattered across your devices, and erupting from filing cabinets, busy wall calendars and folders lining shelves. Your life admin has exploded. Life is more complex and technology has moved on. Often our systems and tools have simply not kept up.

    The demands of contemporary life require a new and intentional approach.

    Life admin consists of those personal administrative tasks and chores that make our lives work. Paying bills, banking, comparing services and switching to better deals, setting up insurance, and managing the kids’ schedules and the logistics of your social life. It also extends to things such as making medical appointments for you and your family members, organising your car service and maintaining your house. It’s the homework of life, tedious and never-ending.

    Life admin is not housework or parenting, but these often overlap. It includes the behind-the-scenes scheduling, booking, shopping, paperwork, and shadow work that often facilitates domestic and caring tasks.

    In countries such as Australia, we have much more choice than previous generations. Our utilities have been privatised, which means we get to choose a provider. Not only do we have to decide which providers to use, but also which plan suits us best, how we wish to be billed, and when and how to pay. These plans may also expire every two years, requiring us to select yet again. In contrast, our grandparents received a quarterly bill from the only service provided, which they paid via cheque. End of story.

    There are more regulations to comply with, too, which means more forms to fill in or fees to pay. We pay for parking permits, we complete multiple chunky forms to register our child for school, submit excursion slips with extensive medical details, adopt private health insurance to avoid tax penalties, and get Working With Children checks so we can volunteer. We even need licences to fish.

    We also have more expenses to manage. Mobile phones, internet, and streaming video and music on demand are just a handful of examples that our grandparents didn’t need to administer as adults. Today we deal with more communication from the government, organisations and businesses, prompting more choices and requests.

    You’re not alone in feeling overwhelmed.

    Another dimension to life admin is mostly invisible: the mental load. This is the thinking, planning and anticipating that keep chaos at bay. Juggling the mental load of remembering, and then actually doing the tasks, take an enormous amount of headspace. Being the person on top of everything causes stress and anxiety, and this role is often unacknowledged and unappreciated.

    Whoever carries the mental load in your household may have assumed the role by virtue of their gender, their part-time employment or stay-at-home status, their skills with finances or project management, or their personality. You may have designed your life admin systems for yourself when you were a party of one, and are now feeling that those systems – and the mental load – need to be rethought for a team of two (or more).

    In this book, we’ll shift you out of survival mode into a calmer life by design. We’ll bring transparency to the hidden tasks that absorb your time and thoughts. And we’ll give you better processes and tools to improve the tasks you’re all too aware of.

    Save time

    We’ll introduce efficiencies to automate, minimise or batch those frequent tasks taking up too much of your precious time. Do it once, then set and forget. Claim back that time for things that matter more.

    Restore your household harmony

    We could tell you about the stats on how household labour is divided between heterosexual couples, but in your gut and from your own experience, you probably recognise that women glaringly carry the burden. This is no way to live. Different sharing approaches work for different households. What is key is finding an approach that suits your situation, strengths and preferences. We’ll show you more equitable paths and suggest ways to shift the life admin responsibilities.

    Nurture peace of mind

    Your brain is better at making decisions than remembering things, so we’ll show you how to get the to-do list out of your head and into somewhere else, preferably a place that can be accessed by others so you can all share it. When you’ve noted it, scheduled it or passed on the responsibility, you can stop worrying about it. Once you’ve reclaimed headspace from the niggling day-to-day tasks and concerns, you’ll have more energy for tackling bigger stuff. As En Vogue says, free your mind . . .

    Save money

    Australians are estimated to be paying more than $11 billion in ‘loyalty tax’ by not shopping around. How can you stay on top of the best deals? You’ll find mustering the energy to comparison shop will be easier when we show you how to choose, and suggest a script to guide your conversation with a provider. We’ll alert you to the seasonal and personal triggers for comparison shopping, and the shortcuts to do it quickly, so you can stop fretting about wasting money.

    Mia and her tipping point

    Hanging out the laundry at 11 pm in the dark. Panicking every afternoon about what’s for dinner. Trying to work out when in the week I could exercise. Socialising separately from my then-partner, because it was too hard to find a night when we were both free. Taking part-time and contract work so I could juggle primary care and life admin and not burn out . . . sound familiar?

    I’m separated from my husband and now coparent our two primary school–aged children. I experience the same life admin challenges and frustrations you do; I share the same organisational responsibilities and know what it’s like to manage the admin on top of my professional and personal lives.

    My career in user-experience design and market research is all about understanding people’s goals, behaviours and tasks, then solving their problems and making their experiences efficient and elegant. Time to put some of those skills to work to help people free themselves from the burden of life admin and drop that mental load!

    Dinah and her tipping point

    I stored all our bills and statements in folders, and one day found myself filing items that were more than two years old. I had a crammed paper calendar on the wall but forgot to add an invitation, so my son missed a close friend’s birthday party. I found myself calling my husband to see if I could go out with my friends, because I had no idea if I was actually free. I left my full-time job because I couldn’t handle the mental load of the house, the kids and our social life. My husband was used to me doing everything. Enough!

    Married with two children, with lots of sport, socialising and a busy professional career, I know what it is like to find yourself somehow doing it all without any systematic approach and watching things fall through the cracks.

    I have an accounting background, with a love of spreadsheets and a keen interest in developing seamless processes and habits. I had an epiphany that I needed a new approach. This motivated me to apply my knowledge to solving the life admin challenge and figuring out how to share the load.

    * * *

    Picture it: old school friends having a girls’ weekend away. Many wines, much ranting about how life admin was out of control, and, an hour later, a project was born. First came a podcast and now this book. Our mission is to minimise life admin – to automate it, share it and delegate it. We’ve trialled the tech; adopted the best practices; researched the what, why, how and when; and marshalled our professional expertise in design thinking, innovation, finance and operations to solve these problems for you.

    Get on top of your life admin, once and for all. We’re determined to make you an efficient life admin machine, so you can put your time and energy into life’s more important things. Which, let’s face it, is just about everything else.

    How to use this book

    Pretty organised already and just want tips to take you to the next level? Scan the chapters to pinpoint what you could optimise. You’ll find the latest plan features, apps and market changes that will help you tweak your approach.

    Have a major problem in a particular area of life admin? Dive into a specific chapter to troubleshoot. We’ll focus you on the most important aspects to transform and provide immediate relief. The Summary of Steps (SOS) Lists at the end of each chapter serve as a quick reminder of how to work through the process.

    Need a total life admin makeover? Work through the book systematically, section by section. You’ll set up some game-changing tools as you are guided through creating a sustainable life admin system.

    This book is a map, not a bible. It offers you ways to navigate life admin rather than strict rules to follow. There’s no one right way for everyone, and depending on whether you’re single, partnered, have kids or not, coparent, are a household of one, or live with friends or family, please adapt this advice to what makes sense for you.

    In each chapter, we’ll let you know the time investment needed and the payoff when you’re done. Look out for the symbols throughout the book that rate the impact of an upgraded approach:

    time you’ll save

    peace of mind

    household harmony

    money you’ll save.




    = small effect



    = medium effect



    = large effect

    $$ = tens of dollars per year

    $$$ = hundreds of dollars per year

    $,$$$ = thousands of dollars per year

    $$,$$$ = tens of thousands of dollars per year

    Also, note that you can download editable templates of the sample checklists and comparison tables found throughout the book by visiting lifeadminlifehacks.com/resources or scanning this QR code. Use the templates as a shortcut for your own scenarios.

    Life admin is never finished or perfect, but you can definitely reduce, tame and share it to take up less of your precious energy. Let’s do this.


    Set yourself up for success

    ‘Self-awareness is a key to self-mastery.’

    – Gretchen Rubin

    If this book is in your hands, it’s fair to say that you know you could improve your life admin and you’ve accepted that you need help. You’re ready to take action, and yet this is where things get tricky.

    Mindset and motivation

    There are things we know we should do, but can’t be bothered. Flossing. Exercising more. Finding a way to enjoy kale. Maybe we’re not confident about our ability to do it, or maybe we don’t know where to start. Life admin is one of those things. Changing how we approach life admin takes new tools, processes and possibly collaborating with another person. Jeez, is that all? We know, intellectually, that improving life admin makes sense, but knowing this doesn’t make it an easy ask.

    On the surface, this book is a useful guide, but, behind the scenes, behavioural science is driving every word. When you take a small step towards a goal and experience success, you realise you have agency. Momentum builds and this helps you to persist.

    The big-picture inspiration for change, however – the ‘why’ – that’s got to come from you. Give yourself the best opportunity to achieve the changes you want to make by taking a moment to know yourself better.

    Values and goals

    Creating the conditions for change not only takes awareness and action, but also acceptance and self-compassion. When we get to know ourselves better, we are more likely to be kinder to ourselves. This is no time to judge or criticise ourselves, but rather to acknowledge all the factors influencing our particular circumstances. When we know how we’re wired and what fires us up, we can make skilful choices to set ourselves up for success.

    So step back from the chaos of daily life and reflect on why you want to change your life admin. Why do you want to shift your approach? On one level, you may wish for more time or fewer headaches, or maybe you just want to honour your identity as an organised adult who has their act together.

    But let’s go deeper. Why do you want to save money or time, or foster a certain dynamic at home? What values underpin these objectives? Is your family’s wellbeing most important to you? Or perhaps the responsible use of resources? Perhaps you have life goals you’re working towards. What’s inspiring you?

    Anchoring change to your desired future state helps you stay a steady course, instead of reacting and ricocheting from one thing to the next.

    You can come up with goals, resolutions or intentions in many ways. You may be drawn to formal goal-setting frameworks that cover different aspects of your life, or find value in choosing a few things you want to do, have or be. Find the approach that best suits your mindset and scale of life admin transformation.

    Goal setting

    Consider these different goal-setting techniques:

    •  One word for the year Use this as your mantra to focus on day to day, and as a filter to decide courses of action (e.g. Nurture, Composure, Rekindle).

    •  One personal goal This statement embraces a theme. Use it as a litmus test to decide how to direct your time and energy (e.g. to slow down and make more time for quality family connections).

    •  SMARTER goals Borrowed from the management domain, these are objectives that are Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, Time-related, Evaluated and Reviewed (e.g. I will save at least $1,000 through comparison shopping all my regular bills by the end of this financial year).

    •  Goals with soul These specify how you want to feel in certain areas of your life, rather than what you want to do or be, since the ultimate aim of traditional goals is to lead you towards a particular mood or state of being (e.g. feel confident, feel calm and unrushed, feel more connected to my friends).

    We can’t rely on willpower to make lasting change. Aligning ourselves with our values and goals, and tapping into inspiration, however, help us bounce back from obstacles and stay determined.

    Make optimising your life admin part of something bigger and more emotionally rewarding than the immediate task that needs doing.

    Standards and satisficing

    In most areas of life admin, you don’t need to find the optimal solution. You need to find an approach that will give you an acceptable result as fast as possible. It’s all about ‘satisficing’: finding something that will satisfy you and be sufficient.

    When you are clear on your values and goals, setting an acceptable standard and sticking to it is much easier.

    This can also help you understand what areas of life admin you can relinquish. For example, if saving $100 per year on your mobile phone plan isn’t important . . . let it go. Cross it off your to-do list and decide you won’t feel regret or guilt about the cost.

    If you have a partner, coming to terms with each other’s standards for life admin is particularly important, so you can share responsibilities. If they don’t do it like you would, you have a choice: decide whether you care more about the quality of the task or the fact that you have one less thing to do. Have the discussion about what the minimum acceptable standard is and find a compromise . . . beyond that, don’t give it another thought.

    Don’t let little things get in the way of taking something big off your plate.

    Sharing within an equal partnership

    If you have a partner or coparent, then life admin is something to share. Aim for a conscious collaboration. Even if one of you is working part-time or not in paid work, it is a significant amount of responsibility and time – and too bloody tedious – for one person to do it all. Unlike paid work, life admin doesn’t accrue annual leave or have a knock-off time. In fact, holidays and social lives contribute to the life admin burden. It’s not for us to say how you should split duties between you, but we do know you should both feel happy about it and consider it fair. Ha! Did you just snort?

    How do you get to this nirvana? Two things need to happen.

    First, it helps to be aware of patterns of over-functioning and under-functioning in your relationship. When it comes to life admin, one person in a relationship may over-function by leaping to make decisions and taking control of tasks for the both of you. The under-functioning person may zone out when decisions or tasks are at hand, and adopt a lazy or incompetent stance. These roles may suit one person in the relationship, while the other quietly – or not so quietly! – fumes. This way of relating can cause negative emotions for both parties: the over-functioner may feel exasperated and exhausted, and consider things to be unfair, while the under-functioner may feel unheard and railroaded, their opinions dismissed. You might both chafe against this pattern but be unsure how to break it.

    In her bestselling book The Dance of Anger, Harriet Lerner states you need to face up to the idea that you are responsible for any feelings of anger or resentment you experience. Likewise, if your partner is angry or resentful about the split of life admin duties, you are not to blame for those feelings. We are each accountable for our own behaviour and none of us is responsible for other people’s thoughts and reactions to our choices.

    What is in our control is our own response to a situation. Lerner claims that if you have a problem with the status quo and want to change it, you need to start with yourself. If you’re the over-functioner, for example, you can decide to stop over-functioning, and put your time and energy into other things as a service to yourself, so that you can be free of anger. You need to set boundaries for your own actions and contributions that will solve your problem, and let go of attempting to control or change your partner. In this way, relationship patterns can recalibrate.

    Second, you talk with your partner or coparent. You have explicit conversations about the logistics of your household on a regular basis. Life admin may be that silent elephant in the room, lurking but never acknowledged. Instead, embrace it as your new family pet and take it for walks together.

    Develop a shared understanding about:

    your household’s weekly schedule

    the life admin tasks that need to take place and how much time they take

    who likes doing what and who is good at what

    the systems and tools you’ll use to keep bedlam at bay

    your standards – what ‘good enough’ looks like and how to contain your control-freak expectations.

    Acknowledge each other’s feelings, stress levels and respective amounts of spare time. Listen to and validate each other.

    Once you start introducing changes to your life admin, it will take some change management before everyone is on board. Change can be uncomfortable. Don’t expect them to get it immediately. Take the time to explain the steps and benefits, as you see them. Be patient and encouraging while they adjust. Resist the urge to rescue under-functioners and let go of control to make room for change. Play the long game – keep your eyes on the prize of clarity, calm and convenience for you all.

    We’ll help you to establish a regular rhythm with your partner to talk about and share life admin. For immediate and sustained results, schedule a regular time – paired with something enjoyable like dinner, wine time or morning coffee. Investing this time pays you back one hundredfold, and associating life admin time with a pleasant activity gives you the best chance of doing it more than once.

    Finding and making the time

    If you feel like you don’t have time to do life admin, let alone reinvent your approach to it, this book will be your circuit breaker.

    We’ll help you:

    Be more efficient and intentional in the way you approach your schedule.

    Build your skills and take shortcuts to do life admin tasks faster.

    Set limits on how long life admin tasks should take – some tasks have diminishing returns when we spend too long on them.

    It’s completely normal to procrastinate about and resist doing tedious or overwhelming tasks. You’ll learn how to allocate a task to the Hour of Power, Ten Minute Time Killer or Two Minutes Too Easy categories introduced in Chapter 2, and feel confident that everything needing to get done will get done.

    When you master your life admin system, you’ll have more time, money and energy to devote to things that matter to you.

    The things that matter to you are the reason to sort out your life admin, not the excuse for why it’s in disarray. Prioritise this time, this year, to take it on.

    * * *

    Instead of hoping, wishing or feeling regret, you are now equipped to seize the reins. You’ve decided to prioritise this short-term time investment for the long-term gain. You have a higher goal, a guiding light, to keep you on track. You’re not going for perfection, but rather completion. And if you have a partner, you’re going to talk about it so things feel fair. Get set for an exhilarating series of small changes that will make you feel more accomplished, confident and like an A-grade adult.

    PART 1

    Lay the Foundations

    These are the game-changers.

    Here, we present the tools and processes that make the biggest impact on both reducing life admin and making all other life admin tasks easier.



    ‘A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days.’

    – Annie Dillard

    Reality check

    Scheduling embraces the idea that, if it’s on the calendar, it gets done. We’re not just talking about scheduling events – these are a given. We’re talking about allocating time for important tasks and recurring activities to support your household and personal life. The reflex to schedule things for work comes pretty naturally. But do you have a regular timeslot for doing your shopping, yoga practice or reviewing household bills? Why doesn’t everyone in your household know when book club, netball training and soccer practice are? When you see the blank space of a Sunday in your diary, does it reflect the truth of what that day holds?

    For many of us, the timetable of our personal lives is in our heads, where it’s subject to the whims of memory and motivation, and competes with the drama of the day.

    Notes about events and activities can pop up around your home like mushrooms. It’s exasperating when there’s no single source of truth, which captures all the things needing your time. Perhaps your partner is oblivious to the household’s weekly rhythm and neither of you have a complete view.

    Allocating time to the wider set of tasks that set a great foundation for our lives means less worry that we should be making better use of our time. You can relax, knowing you’ve built the important stuff into your day. Scheduling can also help you realise you’re trying to pack too much in, that it’s time to rethink the numerous commitments you’ve said ‘yes’ to. Does your calendar look like a well-played game of Tetris or emptier than a COVID exposure site?

    In this chapter, we’ll help you consolidate your personal and household diaries into a convenient digital calendar. Then we’ll introduce you to the categories of activities that belong in your schedule, as well as show you how to carve out time for life admin and the actual fun stuff. Scheduling is the first pillar of your life admin system.


    Your calendar reflects your life’s obligations and priorities. Use it to schedule external events, household and to-do list tasks, family commitments, and personal activities to support not just the important stuff, but the fun stuff too. Your calendar forces you to make choices about how best to spend your time.


    gives you peace of mind, knowing the important tasks will get done and there’s time for leisure

    supports new habits by offering visibility, consistency and repetition

    helps you fight procrastination and promotes productivity

    enables you to be proactive about life admin

    provides transparency about whether you are over-committed.

    To schedule effectively, you need a digital calendar you can access on the go. If you have a partner or family, it’s a good idea to set up a shared digital calendar that everyone can see and add events to. If you already have individual digital calendars and an established process of adding each other to events, then this can achieve the same level of visibility and convenience as a shared calendar.

    Setting up one digital calendar – rather than using paper wall calendars, whiteboard weekly schedules, work calendars, datebooks or diaries – gives

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