The Optimized Doctor

The work after work


Across the country, taxes unite us. Not that we all share the same, rather that we all have to do them. It was recently tax weekend in our house: The Saturday and Sunday that cap off weeks of hunting and gathering faded receipts and sorting through reams of credit card bills to find all the dollars we spent on work. The task is more tedious than all the Wednesdays of taking out trash bins combined, and equally as exciting. But wait, that’s not all.

This weekend I’ve been chatting with bots from a solar company trying to solve our drop in energy production and sat on terminal hold with apparently one person who answers the phone for Amazon. There’s also an homeowner’s association meeting to prepare for and research to be done on ceiling fans.

Dr. Jeffrey Benabio, director of Healthcare Transformation and chief of dermatology at Kaiser Permanente San Diego.

Dr. Jeffrey Benabio

“Life admin” is a crisp phrase coined by Elizabeth Emens, JD, PhD, that captures the never-ending to-do list that comes with running a household. An accomplished law professor at Columbia University, New York, Dr. Emens noticed the negative impact this life admin has on our quality of life. Reading her book, “Life Admin: How I Learned to Do Less, Do Better, and Live More” (New York: HarperOne, 2019), your eyes widen as she magically makes salient all this hidden work that is stealing our time. Life admin, kidmin, mom and dadmin, just rattling them off feels like donning x-ray glasses allowing us to see how much work we do outside of our work. As doctors, I would add “family house calls,” as a contributing factor: Random family and friends who want to talk for a minute about their knee replacement or what drug the ICU should give Uncle Larry who is fighting COVID. (I only know ivermectin, but it would only help if he just had scabies).

By all accounts, the amount of life admin is growing insidiously, worsened by the great pandemic. There are events to plan and reply to, more DIY customer service to fix your own problems, more work to find a VRBO for a weekend getaway at the beach. (There are none on the entire coast of California this summer, so I just saved you time there. You’re welcome.)

There is no good time to do this work and combined with the heavy burden of our responsibilities as physicians, it can feel like fuel feeding the burnout fire.

Dr. Emens has some top tips to help. First up, know your admin type. Are you a super doer, reluctant doer, admin denier, or admin avoider? I’m mostly in the avoider quadrant, dropping into reluctant doer when consequences loom. Next, choose strategies that fit you. Instead of avoiding, there are some things I might deflect. For example, When your aunt in Peoria asks where she can get a COVID test, you can use to generate a link that will show them how to use Google to help with their question. Dr. Emens is joking, but the point rang true. We can lighten the load a bit if we delegate or push back the excessive or undue requests. For some tasks, we’d be better off paying someone to take it over. Last tip here, try doing life admin with a partner, be it spouse, friend, or colleague. This is particularly useful when your partner is a super doer, as mine is. Not only can they make the work lighter, but also less dreary.

We physicians are focused on fixing physician burnout. Maybe we should also be looking at what happens in the “second shift” at home. Tax season is over, but will be back soon.

Dr. Benabio is director of Healthcare Transformation and chief of dermatology at Kaiser Permanente San Diego. The opinions expressed in this column are his own and do not represent those of Kaiser Permanente. Dr. Benabio is @Dermdoc on Twitter. Write to him at

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