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The Administrative Time Hog

All, Research Reports

Managers spend much of their time doing everything but managing. With all of the daily crises, pressures, and trivial tasks that are thrown at them, it is tough for the typical manager to stay focused on the things that are important. So it is not surprising that administrative tasks are a massive time hog.

The classical definition of the organizational manager is one who plans, organizes, coordinates and controls. However, the reality is that there are numerous, mundane activities that take up a manager’s time – some of which actually impede his or her productivity. Many of these non-priority tasks are unavoidable; they come with the job, but are never written in the job description. Managers try to focus on their priorities, but often get bogged down in the requirements of the job.

Administrative tasks are an unavoidable reality of work. In our time and motion study consulting projects, we define administrative tasks as those that don’t necessarily advance work toward achieving its major objectives, nor directly support these activities. 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.

The irony is that since we began conducting our time studies using the TimeCorder device in 1990, technology continues 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, options have also increased. Now, more scenarios can be checked, more reports can be printed, and more data needs to be inputted.

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. 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 weekOccasionsDuration in minutesIdeal HoursDifference vs. Ideal
Middle Manager9.839157.6+2.2
Senior Manager13.646189.8+3.8
Sales Manager10.937186.2+4.7
All Managers11.643167.3+4.3

Mark Ellwood is president of Pace Productivity, an international consulting firm that specializes in improving corporate productivity. His passionate mission is to improve people and processes through consulting and training. 


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