Meetings get a bad rap, but it turns out they're far from the biggest time sink in the modern office. Data entry and covering for coworkers take up more time for most knowledge workers.
That's according to a Zapier survey of 1,000 people who work at or own small and medium-sized businesses. We asked these knowledge workers for a detailed breakdown of their workdays and learned all sorts of surprising things.
Ideally people would spend their time on the projects and tasks that matter most—the ones that make a big impact. But that's seldom the case.
Most time at work isn't spent on impactful tasks
Much of the time people are at work is spent on tasks that aren't core to their job function, drastically reducing their ability to do impactful work.
Workers spend four to five hours a day on core job functions. The plurality of people (29 percent) say they spend 4-5 hours a day on their core functions. An alarming 18 percent said they only spend an hour or so each day on those core job functions.
The majority of workers spend less than three hours a day on impactful work. 81 percent of workers say they spend less than 3 hours a day on creative work, and 76 percent spend less than 3 hours a week on strategic work.
Workers spend a lot of time doing work outside their role. 83 percent of workers said they spend 1-3 hours a day covering for or making up work for a colleague.
Almost all workers spend a massive amount of time in chat apps. 90 percent of workers spend up to 5 hours a day checking work messenger apps like Slack or Microsoft Teams.
The biggest time sinks
Most of the things that pull people from impactful work are tasks that a robot could be doing for them, like data entry and looking for documents.
Human error is a huge time sink. 83 percent of workers said they spend 1-3 hours a day fixing errors.
The data entry struggle is real. 76 percent of respondents said they spend 1-3 hours a day simply moving data from one place to another. Additionally, 73 percent of workers spend 1-3 hours just trying to find information or a particular document.
Meetings and procrastination aren't major problems
We tend to think of meetings and procrastination as major time traps. But, as it turns out, most people aren't spending all that much time in meetings or putting off work.
Meetings aren't the biggest issue. 45 percent of respondents said that meetings take up 1 hour of their workday; 38 percent said they spend 2-3 hours in meetings every day.
Most workers say they spend less than an hour each day procrastinating. 69 percent of respondents said they spend less than an hour a day procrastinating.
The biggest productivity blockers
So what are the biggest barriers to productivity? Here are the most common responses.
Burnout: 38 percent
Time management: 35 percent
Multitasking: 31 percent
Manual or repetitive work: 30 percent
Unnecessary meetings: 30 percent
Zapier surveyed 1,000 U.S. knowledge workers from small and medium businesses (fewer than 250 total employees). This survey was completed online using OnePoll in June 2021 and responses were random, voluntary, and completely anonymous.