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Where the time goes: monthly admin

I have recently been planning a new phase of work, and one of the issues I had to consider was how much work (if any) I could assign to myself. So I have been doing some analysis of how I actually spend my time, compared to what is in the project plan.

After email, the next big killer of time is the weekly and monthly status reporting cycle. As a development project for a consultancy firm, this comes in two separate streams of work; weekly status meetings and updates for the client, and monthly project reporting to my management. On top of that there are some routine administrative tasks that have to be carried out each month.

Weekly status reporting

I have two separate weekly meetings, one with my own project team, and a wider client project team meeting. Both take at least an hour, and also I always need some preparation time for my own team meeting and to send out minutes at the end, which usually means 4 hours per week for both.

I have to provide a weekly report to the client PM; this is very simple and takes only about half an hour, additionally I need to keep the plan up to date, review risks/issues and if I keep on top of it I can do that in an hour.

The other thing I have to do weekly is complete a timesheet recording how I have spent my time, to justify to the client how they are spending their money (if it is a time and materials contract) which takes me a few minutes a day if I record it as I go along, so perhaps 30 minutes per week.

This is a total of 6 hours per week.

Monthly status reporting

Monthly reporting is aimed at my management, written reports around month end followed by a review meeting a week or so later.

I have to write a monthly status report, which although not too arduous involves reviewing and updating quite a lengthy document due to the size of my project historically. This usually takes about an hour and a half. More importantly, I have to complete a financial report; luckily most of the work is done for me (when I used to do it in the past it used to take me a couple of days spread through the month) so all I have to do is check it and deal with any discrepancies and anomalies, and this takes me about two hours.

Finally there is the review meeting itself; with preparation this takes me about an hour and a half. Of course I usually get some actions following the meeting, and I’m not even counting the time spent on those.

That’s 5 hours per month altogether.

Company administration

There are a number of personal or project-related admin tasks that I have to do throughout the month.

Of these the most significant is raising invoices, which can be time-consuming to ensure it is correct and requires reconciliation against timesheets and leave bookings to make sure they are all in line. Surprisingly this takes 2.5 hours, even though someone else actually does some of the routine work.

Then there are the other bits of routine administration that can pop up any time but especially around month end – approval of other people’s expenses and overtime, leave requests, payment of invoices. None of this takes very long, but it still takes a few minutes to log on to the right system and press a button, perhaps an hour in total.

Finally there is personal administration, which again tends to follow a monthly cycle. This involves entering time and expenses into separate systems. Surprisingly, the most time-consuming task is dealing with mobile phone expenses, as it has to be itemised between work and personal use, and is more time-consuming than it might be. Altogether this works out at 1.5 hours per month. Of course my employer seems to think that I should do all this on my own time!

So that all takes about 5 hours per month

Summary

At an average of 6 hours per week, and 10 hours per month, that means that 34 hours per month is taken up with routine reporting and paperwork; as close to a week as makes no difference. As I also worked out in an earlier post that just processing email took a further 6 hours per week, in practice this means (at best) I have only 3 working days per week for more productive work.

I have worked on some projects where routine reporting and paperwork took up a much higher proportion of my time. I think that my current weekly and monthly overhead is about as low as it can be, and could easily double. The only way I can reduce the amount of time I spend on things like this is by finding a project administrator to take over some of the remaining routine tasks.

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