Those little administrative tasks that eat your time (or do they?)

photo-412Were I not tracking my time, my story of yesterday would go like this: I did almost no real work. Instead, household administrative tasks ate my time. I addressed and stamped 20 kid thank you notes (I still have 6 to go, but the elementary school directory hasn’t come out yet, and these are kindergarten families, so last year’s isn’t helpful). I also spent gobs of time writing checks to the US Treasury and the PA Department of Revenue, and then addressing and stamping those envelopes. Add in repeated attempts to purchase a train ticket while Amtrak’s site was down and it sounds like a frustrating day.

I am tracking my time, though, and so looking over the day helps me keep these things in perspective. Yes, the administrative stuff did take time, but it was 2.5 hours, total. That’s not nothing, but it’s not the 10 hours it felt like, either. I also did a reasonable quantity of higher value work. I spent an hour writing fiction (that’s the speculative/skill-building component of the perfect 40 hour workweek) and I practiced my “Edison Talk” twice. I’m trying to become a better, more confident public speaker, and so time invested in building those skills is one of my top priorities.
I also spent a reasonable amount of time on higher-value personal matters. I chaperoned my kindergartner’s field trip. He was happy to see me, and snuggly too, holding my hand as we walked with his class. We went to a local nature preserve, where the colors were beautiful and the sky was perfectly blue. What a day to be outside!

I cooked family dinner and got my kids to eat chicken and rice (this counts as a victory in my house). I chatted with my 8-year-old in the car from swim practice, and for a few minutes before bed. I read my 4-year-old a story and we baked banana bread. I even came up with a new morning routine that is about making the most of my current sleep-deprived, baby-crawling-everywhere situation. He’s up around 5:30. I feed him, then make coffee, and take a mug and a book up to his room. His room is largely babyproofed, so I can let him crawl around and play independently while I read and caffeinate. It’s interrupted, but it’s also generally at least 40 minutes of found reading time before I hand him over to my husband so I can shower.

In other words, yes, the administrative tasks ate time, but they did not eat all my time. They felt like it because they were kind of unpleasant, but even then, perspective is helpful. How wonderful that so many families care enough about my kids to come to their parties! Writing large checks to the various tax authorities is painful but stems from earning a larger amount of money — not exactly a bad thing. I’m not sure what perspective to bring to the Amtrak situation, but at least they had a skeletal version of the site working this morning.

I am sure there are various ways to minimize administrative tasks. More efficient people than me probably figure out how to outsource them to personal assistants and the like. But keeping track of my time is forcing me to stop telling stories that aren’t really true. Sometimes tracking unpleasant activities is all that’s needed to see what they are, and what they aren’t.

In other news: I’m over at Fast Company writing about “How to craft a perfect, productive 40-hour workweek” — as part of their Most Productive People package (which is a fascinating series).

Photo: Spotted on the field trip…

15 thoughts on “Those little administrative tasks that eat your time (or do they?)

  1. I enjoyed the article at Fast Company! I really think you’ve hit the sweet spot between realism and idealism when it comes to time management advice. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I should go back to tracking my time (I did it this summer to get a baseline, but the school year has changed my post-work schedule). I will often write off the whole day as having been consumed by bill paying, etc., but of course that’s not accurate. Very helpful insight.

  3. 2.5h IS a lot of time when you have <30 minutes of free time per day (excluding your 1 day off per week). It's a huge amount of time, in fact. Be happy you have so much.

    1. @omdg- I think part of what frustrated me about it is that it all happened during what could have been work time (during day, and then during my “split shift” time). Since I feel like my work hours are more limited now than I liked, I was particularly aware of how much time was passing.

      1. Yeah, that would have frustrated me too back when I was working from home. 2.5 is not 10, but it is still a lot. I almost feel like had it taken 10 it might have been easier because you could have written off the whole day.

        Now — If you can help me figure out a way to outsource thank you note writing, then my life might just be perfect.

  4. Great post. You really make a good case for time tracking. I was actually thinking of starting today. I know I waste a good bit of time; I think I am nervous to see how much I actually do waste! But that brings me to your second point of perspective. I could benefit from tracking my time so that I can get more out of my day in all areas; work, family, and personal. Especially personal. I feel like I have very little personal time ( and also why I feel reluctant to track my time, it ‘feels’ like it would detract from personal time).
    As always, thank you for sharing!

    1. @Angela – everyone wastes time. I know I do! Time tracking reveals that, but I think the more profound thing it does is keeping us from telling stories that aren’t true. That’s what I noted from my 2.5 hours of administrative stuff – it was just that, and lots of other things happened that day too.

  5. Sounds good — on Amtrak, perhaps the perspective is that you’re fortunate to live somewhere (in the US) where taking the train is a plausible option at all 🙂 .

    Not at this level (not so many time-consuming tasks all in this manner), but I do often find myself taking on small administrative tasks while e.g. waiting for annoying software to load. Indeed (not that commenting here is an annoying administrative task), I’m, er, unfolding an NVivo project as I type.

  6. I keep our local property tax database bookmarked to find addresses for thank you notes/invitations since not all parents choose to be in our school directory but nearly all are homeowners.

  7. Ha – I think this post might have been in response to my comment on administrative time being absent from many reported time log summaries. So thank you! To be honest, 2.5 hours is a lot of time during a workday (I’m with omdg on this one), so I still stand by my comment to an earlier post: We tend to think a lot about work, self-care, family in terms of categories. But addressing, stamping and mailing thank you notes is an important family errand that doesn’t easily fall in either of these categories (or maybe it does, but isn’t considered as value-added). So, I think that when we think about our 168 hours, we have to build in time for these activities as well as for transition times (e.g., driving to your son’s school for the field trip). If we don’t plan for that, we are bound to be disappointed. And it not an inconsequential amount of time.

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