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The Wasted Workday

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Kjetil Kolbjornsrud/Shutterstock.com

We know Americans spend a lot of time at the office. According to the American Time Use Survey, we spend 8.7 hours at work on an average work day. Each year, we work roughly 1,790 hours, which is just slightly higher than the OECD average.

But what happens during the nine hours we spend in the office? While every job includes some tasks that are not part of the job description, there's a discrepancy between our titles and what we spend our time doing at the office. How much time do we spend at meetings or writing emails, and how much doing what we perceive to be our actual jobs?

new survey from AtTask conducted by Harris Poll found that U.S. employees at large-sized companies (1,000 employees or more) only spend 45 percent of their time on primary job duties. So what about the other 55 percent of the time? Their respondents reported spending 14 percent of their workweek on email (which is believable, as 91 percent reported that they use email to communicate with their team). The other 40 percent of their working hours were spent on meetings, administrative tasks, and "interruptions." So the most frustrating workdays are when all of the above prevent a worker from doing their jobs—and nothing gets done.

And that's not to mention the time spent not working at work: one survey reported that the average time spend doing private activities is 1.5 to three hours a day. ComScore reported that this Cyber Monday—despite it being a workday—was the heaviest online spending day in history at $2 billion. According to IBM Digital Analytics, 46 percent of Cyber Monday sales happened between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET.


Cyber Monday 2014 Sales by Hour

IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark

But is 100 percent productivity even possible, or healthy? The answer is probably no. Research shows that taking regular breaks from work improves creativity and productivity. A nap can also help. And meetings and emails? Inevitable, though better email and meeting habits could help. 59 percent of those surveyed by AtTask reported that they thought meetings were the most wasteful parts of their workday—but standing meetings and data mining are here to help. Now if we can just make the right incentive scheme for those who email the entire company to stop, we'd waste less time on that too. Perhaps what we need is a position that exclusively involves email: someone or something (software) to call out email abusers and keep everyone else in line too.

(Image via Kjetil Kolbjornsrud/Shutterstock.com)

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