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The hidden reason we find carer admin so hard

Picture this: It’s a Monday morning, and there’s an important assessment form to fill out.

At first glance, it seems like a straightforward task. But before we can fill out the form, we need to locate our unique reference number. Easy enough, right? 

Except the original letter containing the crucial number seems to have disappeared into thin air, and we’ve been stuck on hold trying to speak to a human for hours. 

Confronted by the frustration of the process, we eventually give up.

Sound familiar? This is what's known as 'sludge theory' - a genuine psychological phenomenon that suggests some administrative or bureaucratic processes are more difficult than necessary. Whether it's done intentionally or not, sludge is a common aspect of carer admin - and one that causes no end of stress, frustration and anxiety. 

For those of us curious to learn more about sludge theory and, more importantly, how to navigate those 'round-in-circle’ admin tasks without resorting to screaming into a pillow, keep reading for valuable insights. 

What the heck is sludge?

In its most basic terms, ‘sludge’ is the artificial barriers that are put in place to make it difficult for, or even prevent, people from doing what they want to do.

Sludge is essentially the opposite of a nudge. While nudges push us to sign up, subscribe and take action with relative ease, sludges are all about added friction for the customer so we struggle to complete an action in full. Or, don’t even want to try to start it.

A good example of sludge theory in practice is TV subscription services such as Netflix or Amazon Prime. Often it’s very easy to sign-up, but it’s a complicated and tedious process to cancel and leave. So much so, that many give up and continue paying month after month.

The term ‘sludge’ was first coined by a legal scholar called Cass Sunstein in his New York Times bestselling book of the same name, which looked at why some people struggle to complete seemingly basic admin tasks. 

The short conclusion he came to was this: It’s the terribleness of the processes that are the problem, not us. 

Often, admin tasks are designed to be unnecessarily complex, burdensome, or time-consuming.

These tasks may make us feel 'stupid' or 'incompetent,' but the reality is that these seemingly simple processes are anything but.

This kind of procedural red tape is a big nuisance, but it’s worth noting here that sludge theory does not necessarily imply bad intentions. Not all instances are deliberate, and sometimes obstacles arise due to outdated systems, lack of streamlined processes, or a basic lack of staff or funding to support well-intentioned policies. 

Unfortunately, whether intentional or not, the result for us as carers remains unchanged. We either struggle to start, or give up, and miss out on crucial opportunities for respite, assistance, or financial aid.

“I get overwhelmed by the responsibility of looking after someone else. I've filed every piece of paperwork and kept all receipts in a box. I’ve started to try and put it all in order but I can't catch up with it so I just keep filing and stuffing receipts in the box”

What does sludge look like for carers?

If we’re feeling angry or frustrated by the systems in place, rest assured that we are not alone. Fighting our way through administrative sludge is something that every carer will come up against in our caring journey. And it can be helpful to realise it’s not our fault. It feels hard, because it is! 

It’s easy to see how sludge can become a source of stress and worry too, even for the most organised among us.

Some of the most common types of carer sludge include:

  • Endless paperwork and forms that have unclear or hard to define requirements

  • Complex and lengthy application processes

  • Repetitive tasks, like routinely providing the same pieces of documentation or information to prove our eligibility for services and benefits

  • A lack of clear information about where to access help or support

  • Long wait times, on the phone or in-person

  • Online chatbots that can’t understand the complexity of our inquiries

  • Fragmented or unclear channels of communication, causing us to go round in circles on calls and via letters

Why does admin feel so hard?

On top of complicated systems, there can be other reasons why admin feels hard for us. Juggling lots of responsibilities often leads to ‘errand paralysis’, where the overwhelming workload puts us in freeze mode, causing us to stall on basic tasks.

“I have periods of time where I simply can’t open my emails. It all starts stacking up and I feel incompetent.”

Added to this, there's an emotional weight to completing seemingly 'basic paperwork.' For some, it involves confronting the gravity of a major health issue, while others may actively avoid discussing deeply personal situations with strangers over the phone.

Plus, let’s not overlook the fact that statistics show that carers experience higher levels of depression. Classified as a disability, depression can make it difficult to concentrate, remember information, or find the motivation to follow through on multi-stage tasks. If this sounds familiar, you can read more support for looking after ourselves while caring alongside depression.

When we add up all of these colliding factors, it’s easy to see how it’s these impossible admin tasks, and ironically not the physical aspects of caring, that can be one of the most challenging aspects of a carer's job.

“There was a day in this house when I was upstairs filling in the Blue Badge application form while my loved one was downstairs with a friend chatting and giggling over tea and cake… I felt so resentful.“

What can we do to overcome admin sludge?

We could talk all day about how annoying ‘getting sludged’ is, but let’s focus on the important stuff that we can do to navigate it, and save our sanity at the same time.

We’ve gathered 12 helpful tips for de-sludging the admin side of caring. Plus, steps we can take to regain our zen when a frozen website page threatens to tip us into anger. There will be no phones or laptops hurled out the window in frustration here! In addition to this, our community of carers have shared their top tips on what helps to get through the endless admin. 

1. Download a tool to remember every password

There’s nothing worse than signing up to a website with a clever password, and then needing to reset our login every time we want to get back in. 

Illustration of iPad

Password manager tools like KeePass take the stress out of getting in and out of our profiles. They not only keep our passwords safe and secure but also automatically fill in our username and password when we revisit a website or application from our device. This reduces the need for us to remember or type in our logins manually.

2. Have one central place for notes

Many admin tasks require us to stay organised, keep track of numerous to-dos, and stay on deadline. 

One way to streamline the process is to have one place for notes where we log actions and information. This means we’re not spending hours trying to remember the contents of our last phone call.

We can use the notes function on our phones, or start a Google doc and save it online which will allow us to share a link with anyone who may need it. Of course, there's always the classic pen and paper option for those who prefer it.

“I have so much jotted down everywhere that I lose track.”

3. Utilise Siri and Alexa 

Using Siri and Alexa to help us is like having a virtual assistant in our pocket. These voice-activated technologies can perform various tasks, from scheduling diary entries and sending messages, to answering questions and controlling smart home devices. 

By using Siri on Apple devices or Alexa on Amazon devices, we can save time on typing out appointments and texts manually, and access the information we need hands-free. We can read up more on the pros and cons of having a smart-enabled device around the home in our digital skills for carers guide here.

Illustration of a calendar

4. Adopt the ‘one thing each day’ rule

The ‘one thing each day’ rule is a surprisingly effective productivity hack. Rather than trying to do everything at once, choose one important task to focus on and complete each day. 

By concentrating on just one thing, it helps us to avoid feeling overwhelmed, reduces stress, and increases the chances of accomplishing a significant goal daily.

Plus, the buzz we get from achieving our daily goal can give us a much-needed boost to keep pushing forward with those less-exciting tasks. 

“I just have to accept I can usually only do things in small doses, and not always at once. Things get rescheduled!”

5. Habit stack 

Habit stacking is a trick where we add a new habit to something we already do regularly. The idea is to link the new behaviour to something we always do, making it easier to pick up.

Behavioural scientists have found that habit stacking works best when we pair a habit we don't like with one we enjoy. So, if there's an admin task we need to do, we can try connecting it to something fun, like having a relaxing bath or grabbing a coffee at our favourite spot. 

6. Eat the frog

Not literally. 😉 No one likes a big task looming over their day, right? That's where ‘eating the frog’ comes in. The 'frog' is that one crucial task - the most important and impactful - that we need to tackle head-on.

Illustration of a frog

Often, we find ourselves engaging in ‘productive procrastination’ to get through some of the less urgent, but less daunting tasks first. The key is to prioritise the task that truly needs doing first. This will prevent it from filling us with dread all day, and the sense of accomplishment can then motivate us to tackle the rest of our todos if we want to. 

7. Get it done

When it comes to admin, try to ‘handle it in real time’ and finish the task to the furthest point of completion. Instead of shooting off an email saying we'll fill out a form, seize the moment and complete the form right then and there. 

Send it off instantly, ensuring that the task is not just started but finished to the furthest point possible. This approach not only clears the slate but also stops uncompleted tasks from stacking up and weighing down on us. 

8. Find apps that take some of the work off us

We can make things easy on ourselves by automating as much as we can. There are helpful apps, such as Livi which we can use for booking GP appointments or for simple medical queries.

Or Lloyds Direct which will liaise with our GP to send prescriptions straight to our door. It will even remind us when we need to put the next request through. 

9. Make our environment relaxing 

Transform a daunting task into a more pleasant experience by creating a cosy and comfortable environment. Clear a desk, light a candle, and play a soothing playlist. Start the kettle, grab some blankets.

It’s surprising how the smallest adjustments to our surroundings can impact our productivity and help to keep our stress levels down.

10. Put notifications on silent

Smartphones can be major distractions from hard tasks, so consider putting it on 'do not disturb' mode and resist the urge to scroll.

Illustration of piles of paper

If we struggle with the habit of constantly checking our phones, try downloading the Forest productivity app. Simply set a timer, and the app will plant a virtual tree on our phone screen — the longer we leave it, the bigger the tree grows. 

While there's a cost to download the app on iPhone, it’s free on Android. The developers also allocate some of the profits to plant real trees, meaning our distraction-free admin time could actually help the environment too.

11. Do an emotional check-in

Take an emotional check-in by examining the to-do list closely and asking: Why haven't we tackled it yet? What's causing the difficulty?

Once we've worked out how a task makes us feel, we can start to understand what's stopping us from taking action. The act of simply naming the emotion might be all we need to overcome the blockage and get it done.

We explore this tip in further detail in our video, Mobilise: LIVE on Carer Admin Chaos.

12. Step away

As much as it is good to just get these things done, if a particularly difficult task is really getting to us it’s best to step away. Fresh air, a good night’s sleep, or watching an episode of our favourite TV show — these are all simple things that can calm us down when a frustrating task pushes our buttons.

If we feel ourselves getting angry, it can help to step away and detach from the task completely, allowing our feelings to subside. Once we have some distance from a problem, we’ll often find that approaching it again with fresh eyes allows us to better solve the issue.

And finally, celebrate the little wins…

As we’ve explored in this blog post, getting to the end of an admin task is no easy feat. Once we start recognising the power of every successful phone call, completed form or collected prescription, we can shift our mindset to one of positivity and kindness towards ourselves and our efforts. 

For those of us who found this helpful, we may also want to take a look at top tips for coping with draining carer interactions

Share your tips with carers in the Mobilise Hub

Do you have any other tips on ways to push carer sludge into nudge mode? If so, head over to our Mobilise Hub and share them with other carers in the community.


Elaine Hollins
Elaine Hollins
Jan 31

I’ve been inundated with phone calls, emails and forms and appointments lately. All of hubbys appointments on phone or in London. I’ve been rescheduling things since October for us to attend his appointments. Now I have a date for my total knee replacement on Saturday and all his things have to be cancelled until I’m physically fit enough to go with him. Nightmare!


lekor adams
lekor adams
Jan 29

The challenge of handling caregiver administration often stems from the hidden complexities within the tasks. Amidst these demands, the need for efficient document management becomes apparent. This is where IMR Digital steps in, offering comprehensive transformation solutions—from wide-format scanning to document and file scanning, including specialized scanning services. Operating out of a modern 25,000-square-foot facility in West Hazleton, Pennsylvania, IMR Digital is at the forefront of technological advancements in conversion and scanning. Fully equipped to process all types of documents, their commitment to cutting-edge solutions makes them an invaluable partner in simplifying the intricacies of caregiver administration, providing a streamlined approach to document handling.


Jan 29

Brilliant advice- I'm beginning to wonder if the team at Mobilise are physic- the timing of reading this email is just perfect, as I prepare for another week of checking my to do lists that always feel like Groundhog day. Thank you.

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