A Different way to Classify Work

We work for 8 hours every day. Here is a different way of classifying the work we do.

Work classification by Dr. Nitin Paranjape

Efficiency improvement must happen with both types of work.

Estimated reading time 5 min

Why do we need this classification?

My aim in life is to make the world a more efficient place. But in that context, the domain of optimization needs to be identified clearly. Hence this classification becomes necessary.

Two types of work happens : Structured and Unstructured.

What is structured work?

Core business related work is structured. It is well documented, there are experienced people in the organization who can guide others. There are policies, procedures and guidelines for how to get it done.

Another synonym is Transactional Work. For a bank, the base business of lending money, deposits, treasury, mortgages, etc. is the structured part of work.

How to optimize structured work?

Because it is important to business success and sustenance, lot of attention is paid to this type of work. Finally, there are three different things which are done to improve its reliability and quality:

  1. Automate
  2. Outsource
  3. Optimize

If there is no human intervention required, automation is done. Whether it is shop floor or business processes, most of it is optimized already.

Not so important activities which must be performed are outsourced – to someone who knows that subject well.

Finally, there remain business activities which require human intervention but cannot be automated or outsourced.

Those are analyzed, reviewed, optimized, crunched, and finally made as efficient as possible. All these three are very big industries. All good.

What is unstructured work?

Anything which is not structured work but must be done is called unstructured work.

Meetings as an activity is unstructured. Managing the invitations, collaterals, minutes of meetings, action points, monitoring execution … all these are required but there is no structure. Different people do it in different ways.

Here are some examples of unstructured work.

  1. Replying to mails
  2. Meetings
  3. Creating presentations
  4. Creating documents
  5. Reviewing documents
  6. Capturing ad-hoc data
  7. Getting and cleaning data
  8. Creating reports
  9. Submitting reports
  10. and so on…

This list is not specific to a particular industry. It is a universal list. It applies to a one-man-show outfit and also applies to a large, multi-national organization.

Synonyms for Unstructured Work

  1. Non-Core Work
  2. Non-transactional work
  3. Ad-hoc work

How much time is spent on unstructured work?

You can think of yourself and your colleagues to answer the question.

On an average we spend 4 to 5 hours a day on performing unstructured work. In percentage terms it is around 50%.

What does that mean? 50% of business outcome is related to it.

Unstructured Work happens using Office

Yes. That is true. This product is indispensible – and has been so for 25 years. Everyone uses it. Let us not bother about market share and versions right now.

The important thing is to realize that the entire world spends half a day every day on this product.

Has unstructured work been noticed and improved?

The answer is “NO”.

Nobody notices it. Nobody understands its importance. Nobody cares – as long as work is getting done. Nobody escalates it to anybody. Nobody even attempts it at an individual level. Nobody does anything. Period.

It is under the radar. Irrelevant, unnoticed and faceless.

Surprising – is it not?

How is unstructured work optimized?

It is NOT optimized. But let us try our existing methods.

Automation is not possible because unstructured work has no structure – automation requires a well defined repeatable process.

Here there is no repeatable process. Human intervention is required at every stage. Therefore, it is impossible to automate it.

Outsourcing is also impossible. I cannot ask my mails to be created by someone else. I have to create my own documents and reports. I have to create my own presentations. (Existing presentations can be polished by external agencies. But they cannot create them – that too for every employee who needs a presentation!

Optimization like Business Process Re-engineering is never done. Because to optimize a process we need a process – not just in the mind – but a well documented one.

Unstructured work is never documented. So all these methods fail miserably.

That is the scary reality of Unstructured Work.

What is the result?

You don’t need to be an economist or optimization expert. It is obvious.

50% of human potential is not yet fully realized!

Half hour working life is completely chaotic and inefficient – and nobody seems to be disturbed, distressed or depressed about it.

Think about it.

What next

Now that we understand the importance of unstructured work, we will explore what we can do to change the game and make the world a better place.

I will write many articles about this subject in near future. However, this article is the fundamental basis upon which everything else builds up.



It is not even noticed as an important area of improving efficiency. So the question of optimizing it does not even arise.

Ha ha. What?

Unstructured Work : Unnoticed inefficiency

Unstructured work usually gets done using Office related tools.

Queries | Comments | Suggestions | Wish list