I often prefer to work on projects alone, instead of as part of a group or with a partner. Working alone seems efficient and clear, because I only need to agree with myself. Many jobs are best done by one person working independently (ever hold a nail for someone else with the hammer?), but lots of our work requires some collaborative aspect if we are to transcend the limitations of merely our abilities. Despite the efficiencies of working at things that we can accomplish individually, there are several good reasons why we can do better work by sharing it with other collaborators to benefit from their expertise. Particularly, the collaboration of people working in administrative roles have a much larger contribution than merely completing tasks so that others do not have to do them.

Sometimes, work is work, no matter who does it, but this is not the case for work that can have a destructive effect on workers who must make some creative output. By creative output, I mean envisioning and composing sermons, lectures, articles, and books. Many people have jobs with a variety of tasks, including managing budgets and dreaming about new products or processes. In the academy and the church, faculty and pastors often do lots of work that is in both the administrative and creative realm. Collaboration with administrative staff has a greater value than simply getting other people to help with completing some set of responsibilities.

I have always been aware that administrative staff do much to carry the load for my work as a professor. What came to my attention recently is that the collaboration of administrative staff carrying lots of work on tasks does more than simply relieving me of work that relates to my responsibilities as a faculty member. Not only are staff usually more efficient at tasks with numbers and scheduling than I am, but there is a much larger contribution to me when they do these tasks instead of when I try to do them myself.

When a person with creative capacity is heavily tasked with administrative work, the remaining energy to be creatively productive is nearly destroyed if not heavily diminished. A one-hour dive into administrative tasks can be disabling for a faculty member who then attempts some creative task of writing. Of course there are exceptions (not everyone gets drained by administrative work), and task-switching works well for some people at some times. This is not to say that administrative responsibilities are somehow lesser value than creative projects, just that it can be hard to get both done as one person working in both realms.

For example, I have had a tremendous relief in designing a new course by the careful work of an instructional design team doing all the formatting and arrangement of course details for an online platform. I was able to focus on the overall structure and specific assignments without having to do all the coding for due dates and other protocols necessary for the class.

Normal for creative people is to work on things continually, like percolating coffee in the back of our minds, all during the day (and even while asleep!), along with focused moments of meditation and flurries of expressing vision. When we have heavy administrative tasks to fulfill, that responsibility eclipses the unconscious ferment of creative capacities. We might have the time and energy to think alongside of doing administration, but we find that our ability to engage creatively has been sapped by doing administrative jobs.

Obviously, we all must be adaptable to many sorts of work and complete tasks that we are not good at and that we do not enjoy doing (who really enjoys washing dishes, folding laundry, grading papers, scrubbing toilets, or dusting?). Specialization leads to better productivity in many ways, and pulls us into the interdependence necessary for many jobs that are much larger than what one person can accomplish alone.

The great value of administrative support is not simply for other people to share the work by doing some things that I am responsible for, and so spreading the load to many hands. While true, and many hands do make light work, the benefit for creative capacity is much more when administrative staff carry off those tasks of numbers and schedules that intrude in a toxic way on the creative process of a faculty member or pastor. Administrative staff are an enhancement to facilitate creative work that otherwise can wither, so administrative work is like irrigation for orchards—providing what is necessary as the context for creative work.