How much time do we actually spend on recurring tasks? (Study 2021)
Current research shows that as much as 90% of employees are frequently burdened with boring, recurring tasks. Here’s how much time employees spend on these repetitive tasks, how much money companies lose because of it, and what you can do to fix that.
What are recurring tasks?
Recurring tasks (also known as repetitive or routine tasks) are activities that have a tendency to repeat on a certain basis, either in their entirety or to a varying degree.
Some recurring tasks occur at regular time intervals.
As such, they may repeat on an hourly, daily, weekly, or monthly basis. For example, you may check your inbox and reply to emails on a daily basis, and attend meetings with your team or department on a weekly basis.
Other recurring tasks are more likely to require repetition on a “when needed” basis.
For example, your HR department will need to repeat the employee onboarding process each time your company welcomes a new hire. Moreover, your customer support team will often need to reply to the same or similar user questions and requests.
Some recurring tasks may also be tied to certain types of activities and assignments. For example, each new project may require a similar pattern of data manipulation, including data entry, searching for data, and combining data from multiple sources.
There is one more subcategory of repetitive tasks — duplicate tasks, i.e. tasks someone has already completed. The duplication of tasks often happens due to a lack of clarity on who in your team is supposed to work on what.
Repetitive tasks are often regarded as monotonous, low-level tasks that could be better organized in order to leave more time for tasks of higher value.
How much time do you spend on recurring tasks?
According to Asana's report, The Anatomy of Work Index, people spend about 60% of their time at the workplace on “work about work” that involves:
- Replying to a constant string of emails or messaging pings
- Attending unnecessary meetings
- Chasing colleagues for input
- Waiting for feedback and approvals
- Searching for files and documents
- Duplicating efforts
In total, repeated tasks are costing businesses as much as 19 working days per year — and that's the number for just one employee.
Interestingly, Asana's report shows that people think the time they spend on these repetitive tasks is almost twice as short, taking a share of only 35% of their time.
Now, these are just global averages. The results further show that the time people across countries think they spend on repetitive, low-value tasks ranges from 41% in Australia and New Zealand to 28% in Japan.
In contrast to the 60% of time spent on “work about work”, the respondents of the Asana research claimed they spend only 27% of their time on tasks they were trained for and hired to do in the first place.
The average global time people spend on duplicate tasks per week is 4 hours and 38 minutes, which amounts to about 10% of people's time at work. This may not seem like a lot of time when viewed in isolation, but, it eventually does build up to 219 hours lost per year to pursuing tasks someone has already completed.
Across the world, these numbers range from 5 hours and 9 minutes per week in Germany to 2 hours and 56 minutes per week in Japan.
How much money do companies lose because of duplicate tasks?
Now, let's put a price tag to this lost time.
Let's start with a US employee who earns the minimum wage in a Californian company that employs at least 26 workers ($13).
This employee loses 227,5 hours per year on duplicate tasks (4 hours and 55 minutes per 50 weeks, not counting 2 weeks of holiday).
That's a $2,957.5 loss per year.
Now, once again, this amount may not seem that high.
But, if this company employs 500 people earning minimum wage, this number quickly builds up to nearly $1.48 million of unnecessary losses per year.
And, these are just the numbers for one company, and for duplicate tasks only.
One research shows that the US economy, on the whole, loses as much as $1.8 trillion on different types of repeated tasks on a yearly basis.
Here's how these numbers stack up in other countries, for companies that employ 500 employees, if we take into account the minimum hourly wages per country and their expected number of workweeks:
|Country||Expected number of workweeks per year||Minimum hourly wage|
As our calculations show, an Australian company that employs 500 employees loses nearly $1.65 million on an annual basis, while an equally-staffed New Zealand company loses a little more than $1.5 million on duplicate tasks alone.
Even on the lower end of the scale, this loss is still $457,600 in Japan and around $1.28 million in the UK.
And that's just for the employees working minimum wage.
The numbers are projected to go much higher for other compensation plans and other types of repetitive tasks.
How much time (and money) do you lose on repetitive emails and unnecessary meetings?
For a lot of professionals, emails and meetings are the most common types of routine tasks.
According to a McKinsey & Company analysis, you spend 28% of your time at work reading, writing, and replying to emails. This translates to around 2.5 hours or 200 emails per day, as stated in a research cited by Forbes. Ultimately, these numbers amount to 625 hours per year you spend on inbox management alone.
Of course, some of this email correspondence is necessary.
But, the same research cited by Forbes shows that 144 out of the 200 emails are repeat CCs and BCCs. This translates to 1.8 hours per day, and 450 hours per year you spend on unnecessary correspondence (72%).
For an average American who earns $27.16 per hour, that's $12,222 wasted on repeat emails. In a company that employs 500 such workers, this figure rises to a little over $6.1 million per year.
When it comes to meetings, an infographic by AskCody shows that people spend 5 hours and 3 minutes per week attending them, and 4 hours and 15 minutes per week preparing for them.
Of course, some of this time is well spent on productive meetings. Yet, the US economy still loses about $37 billion per year on unnecessary and unproductive meetings, which take up almost 23 hours per month (37%). For the same average hourly wage, that amounts to $7,496.16 for one employee, and nearly $3.75 million per 500 of them, per year.
In the end, these numbers may still vary significantly — although as much as 63% of meeting attendees track their meeting time, only about 33% track the time they spend on inbox management. This leaves a lot of potentially unrecorded time.
How much time (and money) do you lose on data manipulation?
When it comes to data manipulation, the Kiite's Sales Productivity Survey from 2018 shows that sales representatives alone waste about 52% of their time looking for information. This time delay stems from the fact that the different data they need is often:
- Scattered across multiple places
- Inconsistent in one way or another
- Simply incorrect
In addition, as much as half of the companies who responded to Kiite's survey admitted they use multiple document repositories, which is likely to lead to increased search time. Or, they simply share the content needed via email, each time someone needs it — which ultimately translates to a lot of time spent manipulating the same set of documents over and over again.
In 2018, Nintex created The Definitive Guide to America's Most Broken Processes, which surveyed 1,000 full-time employees from the US across several different industries and industry departments about their experience with data manipulation. According to this guide, employees have trouble with:
- Locating documents - 49%
- Getting approval requests and shared documents - 43%
- Pulling and finding data on sales - 41%
Moreover, one 2012 IDC white paper that surveyed 1,200 IT professionals and information workers found they spend 4.5 hours per week on average, just looking for documents. In cases they don't find what they're looking for, these professionals still need to recreate data that already exists somewhere within the system.
The 2012 McKinsey report showed that employees spend 1.8 hours per day searching and gathering information. This time translates to 9 hours per week or 450 hours per year. For a company that employs 500 employees with an average salary of $75,000, that's almost $16.9 billion per year lost just on searching and gathering information — which could have been avoided by implementing a better data system.
Other ways repetitive work makes companies lose money
The correlation between routine tasks and losing money goes beyond the clean time you lose doing the same set of tasks over and over again. Namely, repetition also makes companies indirectly lose money by leading to problems in everyday workflows.
It stifles creativity, productivity, and motivation
Routine tasks often make employees feel bored, constricted, frustrated, and even burnt-out, while also stifling their creative drive in the process. Such problems may make it difficult for employees to find and create meaningful value from their work.
According to Julio Sevilla, the marketing professor at the University of Georgia, tasks don't necessarily have to be especially repetitive and boring to have this effect. Namely, the mere thought of having to do a present task in the future is enough to make you feel satiated with the said task in the present. This is likely to make our productivity and motivation levels plunge right from the start.
It increases the chance for human error
A research article about the Effects of Stress, Repetition, Fatigue, and Work Environment on Human Error in Manufacturing Industries shows that the repetition of the same movements over a longer time period (ones you may find in an assembly line) can cause employees to feel tired.
- Lose their concentration quicker
- Make errors easier
- Cause as much as 90% of accidents in the workplace, which may even lead to serious injuries and further compensation costs
This tiredness, in turn, leads employees to:
According to a pilot study by Armstrong et al., even manufacturing workers who are accustomed to performing tasks that require repetitive movements are still prone to making mistakes when their managers urge them to achieve their tasks faster.
Moreover, when employees have to perform the same task over and over again, their thoughts eventually drift, and they start performing work without even thinking about what they're doing.
As a result of their desire to finish faster and move on to more challenging tasks that will require them to use their problem-solving skills, employees may fail to double-check their routine work — which increases the risk of compliance problems.
It increases employees disengagement and dissatisfaction
Repetitive tasks may lead to lower employee satisfaction and engagement.
According to Gallup, such disengaged and dissatisfied employees have:
- 37% higher absenteeism
- 18% lower productivity
- 15% lower profitability
In the end, these percentages translate to 34% of the annual salary one employee makes. For example, an employee with an annual salary of $75,000 will cost a company $25,500 per year ($75,000 x 0.34).
For a company with 500 employees, that's $12.5 million per year.
What's worse, disengaged and dissatisfied employees are more likely to leave their job posts, which leads to more costs triggered by the frequent need for new hires.
It leads to poorer work quality
This point is tied directly to the previous ones.
Overall, we can conclude that a decrease in employee productivity, motivation, and creativity is likely to lead to a decrease in engagement and satisfaction, as well as the increase in human error.
In the end, they will inevitably lead to poorer performance and work quality, which are likely to lead to dissatisfied clients and customers, and maybe even a loss of company reputation.
How to handle repetitive tasks?
The problem with repetitive tasks mostly stems from disorganization and the boredom that comes with doing the same set of tasks over and over again. And that's where you should start when tackling the problem.
One of the biggest causes for repeated tasks is the question of task ownership and deadlines.
When your team members aren't sure what exact tasks each of them should be working on, several may take on the same tasks, and create duplicate efforts on some tasks, while neglecting other tasks.
So, it's best for managers and team leaders to make sure you always clarify who should work on what and when the tasks should be completed.
This simple prelude to each project and set of tasks will make your team understand their duties and obligations, as well as the time frame they have to carry them out. In turn, this will greatly contribute to better task organization and maximization of resources.
Maximize collaboration and communication
Of course, it may be the manager who fails to assign tasks to team members, but it's the team's inability to properly communicate and collaborate which ultimately leads to duplicate tasks.
After all, the team members that communicate more are more likely to realize when they are working on the same task.
The key to maximizing collaboration lies in:
Don't assume tasks will repeat
Shankar Vedantam, NPR's social science correspondent, analyzed professor Sevilla's experiment on how believing you will have to repeat present tasks in the future makes you satiated with the said tasks more quickly.
He made a valuable suggestion on the subject.
Namely, imagining that the perceived repeat tasks are NOT going to repeat in the future (even if this isn't true) is enough to make you feel less satiated about the said tasks in the present.
A great illustration of this idea is being a mother who has to read the same bedtime story to a daughter each night. Simply imagining that you will convince your daughter to listen to a different bedtime story tomorrow is enough to make the story less boring for you, despite having to read it for the 50th time at the present.
The same can apply to repeat tasks at the workplace. If you have a mountain of follow-up emails to write today, refrain from thinking about how you may need to write the same amount of follow-up emails tomorrow. Just take it one day at a time.
Eliminate what you can
We already talked about how emails, meetings, and data manipulation are sometimes recurring tasks that are simply unnecessary.
Several useful tips by the Harvard Business Review can help you stop email overload:
When it comes to meetings, the management team can evaluate whether all regular meetings are necessary and whether all regular attendees are really vital to attend.
As a result of this evaluation, perhaps you'll find that your junior designers can provide little meaningful contribution to the daily meetings of the development team, and should be engaged otherwise instead.
Or, perhaps you'll find that your sales team has no need for regular daily meetings, and could instead do with a weekly arrangement.
When it comes to the time people lose while searching for information, the answer is simple. Just limit the number of document repositories to only 1 or 2 in order to avoid misplacing or having important documents scattered across multiple places.
Implement shortcuts in your work
When there is no way to bypass repeated work, the best way to handle is to use shortcuts as much as you can.
Keyboard shortcuts are great to reduce repetitive strain injury that comes from repetitive mouse clicking.
Check out what types of keyboard shortcuts you can use to track time with Clockify even faster
Various templates, such as time blocking templates and to-do list templates are a great solution to help you organize your work faster and easier.
You can also streamline your mandatory emailing by relying on ready-made email prompts. Some professions, such as customer support specialists, can benefit from creating their own email templates and problem-solving repositories, considering that a lot of user requests are likely to repeat.
Automate the repetitive tasks you can
According to another McKinsey & Company research, about 60% of all occupations have at least 30% of activities that could be automated.
And, according to one Statista overview, people connect automation with various operational benefits, including:
- Better quality of operations overall (52%)
- Superior data accuracy (48%)
- Better visibility, auditability, and compliance (38%)
- Improved employee motivation (37%)
- More time to focus on customers and clients (31%)
But, despite its benefits, the automation initiative comes with controversy — the fear of unemployment.
And, in truth, a recent job analysis by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that around 1.5 million jobs in England alone are at high risk of being transferred from humans to AI.
Yet, economy experts have often pointed out that automation hasn't triggered mass unemployment in the past (from the Industrial Revolution, when this concern first rose, onwards) — and, is not likely to trigger it in the future.
Moreover, an Economic Policy Institute report proposed that automation and new technology can help create new jobs and opportunities in several connected ways:
- Automating routine tasks may make some jobs obsolete, but, in the long run, it will create other new jobs, industries, and industries branches — as all new technology will require a new workforce who will design, build, and maintain it.
- Companies with higher automation will be able to lower their prices collectively and still stay competitive. With such lower prices, customers will be able to buy more, which will, in turn, increase product demand, and, consequently, labor demand.
- Companies will be able to do more with less and expand their businesses into new directions — for example, introduce new products and open offices in new locations.
How you can automate repetitive tasks with Clockify
Clockify is a free time tracker for teams with features that can greatly help you keep track of, identify, but also automate your repetitive tasks, and save time and money in the process.
Keep track of recurring tasks
When it comes to keeping track of recurring tasks with Clockify, you'll be able to perform it by:
- Tracking time as you work, with a timer
- Adding time manually, for backdated or future assignments
- Adding time in a simple timesheet
To identify the exact hours and minutes you spend on repeated tasks, simply track time on them with one of the suggested methods.
When you want to analyze your results at the end of the day, week, month, or any other time period, simply go over to the Reports section of the app.
Once there, you'll be able to analyze, customize, and share your time tracking data, as well as pinpoint the exact time you're currently spending on unnecessary repetitive work, but could be allocating to higher-value work in the future.
Eliminate duplicate work from your workflow
You'll also be able to eliminate duplicate work in your team through a clear task assignment system that allows team members to track time (e.i., effectively work on) only on tasks assigned to them.
You also have the option to have the entire team see at a glance who is currently working on what in the Dashboard section of the app.
Facilitate work schedules
Apart from the question of task ownership, Clockify can also help you with another clarity issue that leads employees to procrastinate with unnecessary repetitive tasks instead of focusing attention on high-value work — deadlines.
You can set an estimate for each project and its individual tasks, and then track whether the team is progressing as planned, by comparing the estimated time with the actual time tracked thus far.
This way, the team members can decide whether they are on schedule or need to speed up. Moreover, the team manager can decide whether the deadline needs to be pushed back.
Make approvals easier
Once the team is done working on a project for a certain time period, there's no need to wait for approvals for the tasks they tracked time and worked on. The team members can just submit their completed timesheets for approval, and the admin can approve them immediately with one click.
Speed up work through templates
If you work on projects that always require the same type of tasks (e.g. development, design, content, administration, research), you can create one project with the said set of tasks and then set that project as a template.
Later, you can implement the said project template for future projects and always have the same set of tasks to work and track time on, thus saving yourself from complex set-up time.
The same goes for timesheets — if you work on the same projects and tasks over the course of several weeks, you can create a timesheet template with the said projects and tasks.
Then, you'll be able to easily activate the timesheet template for each new week, and fill it out for as many weeks as you need.
Automate time tracking
Mac users will be able to see how much time they spend across different apps and websites, through Clockify's automatic time tracking.
Later on, you'll be able to analyze your time in a visual productivity timeline that shows what apps and websites take most of your time.