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Administration – A Time Hog for Managers

All, Research Reports

Administrative activities are a massive time hog for managers. Prior to conducting our time studies, we ask managers in a questionnaire, “What are the most important things you need to do in your job?”. Their responses show that paperwork and administrative tasks are well down the list of managerial priorities cited. Typically, these activities are mentioned as a main priority by only 6% of managers. Clearly, handling paperwork is not what they perceive their job to be. Yet based on our work measurement studies, administration is the largest category of activities that a manager is engaged in.

Administrative tasks are not acknowledged in other analyses of managerial time, but are an unavoidable reality of work. In our time study consulting, we define administrative tasks as those that do not advance work toward achieving major objectives.. Instead, they are necessary requirements of the job. They might support the operations of the organization, such as filling out time sheets, reports, and paperwork. They might support the dissemination of information, through internal, non-planning meetings. Or they might support other workers, providing assistance by answering questions or filling in for others. Or they might be activities that could be delegated entirely to an assistant, to another department or to technology, with no changes to the manager’s performance.

In one of our questionnaires, managers are also asked “What things, outside of your control get in the way of your productivity?” Since we began asking the question in 1990, the issue of paperwork and administrative tasks continues to lead the responses to this question across all job categories. For managers and non-managers alike, the percentage is the same.  20% of respondents cite administration as an impediment. See Table 4 below for responses to the second open-ended question cited by more than 4% of managers.

What things outside of your control get in the way of your productivity? 
Paperwork / administrative tasks20%
Customer requests -service / problems / complaints18%
Computer / system / equipment problems14%
Changing priorities / ad hoc / unplanned projects13%
Staffing / HR issues / changes / people absent12%
Phone calls / phone interruptions / inquiries11%
Meetings – too many / too long / unnecessary9%
Other depts. inefficient / make mistakes7%
Volume of e-mail6%
Fire fighting / emergencies5%
Volume of work / not enough time4%
Customers without appointments / walk-ins4%
Central office visits, interruptions, requests4%

The irony is that since 1990, computers and new software programs continue to proliferate; yet there is no reduction in administrative tasks. This is because for the manager, the computer is not an automation tool; it is an information-processing tool. With the increasing number of tools, or programs available, from word processing to spreadsheet analysis and presentation software, the options have also increased. Now, more scenarios can be checked out, more reports can be printed for review, more data needs to be inputted. It is no surprise then that the issue of paperwork and administrative tasks is seen as a huge impediment to productivity.

As shown in the table below, the administrative burden is massive and takes up 11.6 hours of the manager’s work week. This is 25% of his or her time. The activities in this category are also very interruptive; 43 of them occur each week lasting 16 minutes each.

Administration is also an area where managers would like to spend considerably less time than they do. Actual hours spent versus ideal expectations are the most dramatically different for this category compared to others. Managers spend 11.6 hours in administration time, but would ideally only like to spend 7.3 hours doing these activities. No one likes doing paperwork.

Administration time increases as one moves higher in the organization (see table below). Some of the time in this category is simply staying in touch through networking, writing and responding to e-mails or communicating with head office. Nonetheless, even when communication activities are excluded (some of which are routine and some of which are people management), administration for presidents is still 11.7 hours per week or 18% of the time.

  Hours per week  Occasions  Duration in minutes  Ideal Hours  Difference vs. Ideal 
  Middle Manager    9.839157.6+2.2
 Senior Manager   13.646189.8+3.8
Sales Manager10.937186.2+4.7
All Managers11.643167.3+4.3

How do employees spend their time in your organization. Conducting a time and motion study is a powerful diagnostic tool to identify productivity hurdles on your way to increasing effectiviness, gettting more done, and increasing profits. 


  1. You seems to have a great concept and product. Administration is a time hog for managers. It reduces productivity and increase more stress to managers. I think work delegation is the hope to improve productivity. If the manager can delegate administration stuff like letter drafting, paper works, productivity can be improved a lot.

  2. I agree with Mark. When people climb their career ladder they spend more and more time for administration. It’s very difficult to evaluate the productivity of it. A company can easily identify whether their sales team is productive or not. They can easily find that by checking sales figures. But administration productivity is not easily identified.

    So I think time study for administration will give us great insights to understand how administration really helps and what areas needs attention.

  3. I agree with Mark. I am a senior manager and spend most of my time on checking emails and paper works. I spend very less time on planning. I don’t think I am productive. But unfortunately I didn’t have enough motivation and energy to change my attitude.

  4. I agree with Ryan’s comments. It’s not easy to evaluate the productivity of managers time. If we can identify productivity hurdles, we could easily improve overall productivity of the company to a top level.

    I hope the time-coder device helps.

  5. I am in the same boat with Ryan. I have lot of goals and tasks towards more productive job. But I don’t get time for those. I spend considerable amount of time for meetings. Also I need to check my emails and respond to emails. Then I spend 1-2 hours with my staff helping them with their day-today issues. When I try to focus on more important tasks my 8 hour work day is almost gone. I think I need this type of analysis to solve my mystery.

  6. One of the best methods of reducing administrative time is hiring a virtual assistant. You can easily find someone through Upworks or other similar freelancer websites. The cost is minimum if you hire someone from Asia.

    A reliable virtual assistant can bring light to your productivity. A virtual assistant can handle your email inquiries, writing work, client research, invoicing and more.

  7. Administrative time is a blind area. I agree with Mark regarding time and motion study. It’s a great way to identify productivity hurdles and improve productivity.

  8. I think time and motion study comes handy here. If we can do a study we could understand our weak areas and improve.

  9. Very useful research results. As a human resources manager I have struggled a lot to manage my time. We have done a time study a year back to identify productivity hurdles of top manager roles. The results motivated me to get an assistant to delegate my paper work. I think it improved my productivity a lot.

  10. Agree with Jesse. Doing a time study is the best method to identify productivity hurdles.

  11. We had a huge productivity gap in our company. We did a time study and it worked well for us. I strongly recommend time study for any medium or large scale company.

  12. Some employees may think that time and motion study concerns that they are not doing work well. But in reality time study measures how long tings take. It’s not going to find how fast an employee works. It’s a great opportunity for both employer and employee to improve personal and business productivity. Administration time is a potential area to explore.

  13. Thanks for sharing great info. Keep up the good work.

  14. Great stuff . Thanks

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