The Administrative Professional's Ultimate Time Wasters

Wasting time is like watching the clock.
The typical workday is filled with distractions, interruptions, and routine tasks. Researchers have found that the average employee does just four hours of productive work a day. The remaining four hours are spent fielding phone calls and emails, or wasting time by surfing the Internet and gossiping (2008). Here are three time wasters that the administrative professional has to face in any given day:

1. Recording a meeting and using the recording to compile minutes. If you are the designated note taker and you use a recorder to document the actions and then later use the recorder to put the actions in print, you are wasting valuable time and energy. It can take up to 3 hours to complete the minutes and that includes the time it takes to proofread the document for grammar and spelling errors. It can take longer periods of time to compile the minutes because now you are susceptible to interruptions and distractions while you are listening to the audio playback.

Remedy: Pay attention in the meeting and jot down main ideas, motions, important facts, and information related to specifics such as, dollar amounts and dates.  Compile the minutes immediately after the meeting while the information is still fresh in your mind and then send them to someone else who attended the meeting for proofreading.  This will save you a lot of time and energy, plus this will be one task out of the way.

2. Multi-tasking. The thought of multi-tasking sounds good- getting more things done at one time, and eliminating tasks quickly because you are working on different things; however, it can take up to 45 minutes to shift focus from one task to the next. Answering phones, reviewing a document, reading email, and performing other tasks at the same time allows more room for margin of error. The margin of error is higher because you are not providing full attention to the task at hand. Then as you attempt to go between tasks, you must “pick up where you left off” which means adding more time to re-focus. Secondly, if you have to go back and redo, review, and resubmit information due to an error, this is extra time taken, when the task could have been completed correctly the first time.

Remedy: Focus on one task at a time. If you must answer the phone while in the middle of a task, stop and pay attention to the caller so that the details are not missed or misunderstood. If you are alerted every time you get an email and you must stop to read its content, make the decision to respond at that time or wait until you have completed the first task. The idea is to focus on one job at a time to reduce the margin of error factor. Remember, if you don't have time to complete the task the first time, how will you find time to complete it a second time.

3. The Inability to say, ‘No.’  We all have difficulty saying, ‘No’ at times, whether its declining an invitation, telling someone we are busy and can’t talk, or telling people we can’t take on new projects. This is a big problem because we don’t have much time during the day anyway and taking on new tasks adds to our workload and takes us away from our own duties. Saying ‘no’ is difficult because we don’t want to hurt people’s feelings, give people the idea that we are incompetent, or sound mean, but the fact is there are times when ‘no’ is appropriate, especially when we are talking about self-management.(aka time management). For ways on how to say, ‘no,’ review this article

So if we really only have four hours in a work day, and we spend three hours compiling minutes, 45 minutes shifting through tasks we are trying to complete, and doing work that is not in our daily tasks, that leaves about 15 minutes or less to be productive. Do you see why people stay late, come in early, and take work home? If you can get out of the three habits mentioned above, you can utilize your four hour work day more effectively.

n.a. (2008). Email time bandits: Office staff do just FOUR hours' work a day because of the avalanche of messages. Retrieved from

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