I've noticed that there are many cases where more time is spent on preparation and other things around the actual work that's intended to be done. For example, at school, very little time is spent learning - most of it is spent commuting, going from class to class, doing homework, waiting for the teacher, etc.

Similarly, as a web developer, I don't spend very much time actually writing code. I end up spending most of my time compiling projects, looking for bugs with our bug tracking system, updating the status of those bugs, etc.

What do we call these activities that aren't the focus of our time, but end up taking up a lot of it anyway?

edit: The word "peripheral" came to mind. I'm not sure if this is what I'm looking for though.

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    In the Writing Biz it's called staring at the screen (formerly the page) or not writing and it's billed as research. Nov 27, 2012 at 8:40
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    If you aren't learning by doing school homework assignments, then your teacher is almost certainly doing something wrong.
    – user
    Nov 27, 2012 at 10:37

5 Answers 5


Administrative tasks, housekeeping, documentation - they are all ancillary duties that are expected from you in addition to primary duties.

an·cil·lar·y   /ˈansəˌlerē/

Adjective Providing necessary support to the primary activities or operation of an organization, institution, industry, or system.

From http://www.google.com/search?q=ancillary+definition&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&hl=en&client=safari)

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    Mmm, I've never heard of ancillary before, but I think it fits. Also makes me think of auxiliary, which might also work.
    – mowwwalker
    Nov 27, 2012 at 5:41
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    I also like ancillary for the purpose and also, it will be more suitable than auxiliary since it pertains to the "necessary support" and not just any "additional support".
    – Mohit
    Nov 27, 2012 at 6:09
  • Interesting word, "ancillary." Derived from the Latin for slave, I believe. (This would be with reference to the e.g. administrative "duties," in relation to the main task.)
    – Tom Au
    Jun 11, 2014 at 22:20

The terms maintenance (“Actions performed to keep some machine or system functioning or in service”) and preparation (“The act of preparing or getting ready”), while perhaps prosaic are still quite suitable terms for what you refer to. Of course, some of what you refer to is just interruptions or busy work (“routine work of low priority undertaken for the sake of avoiding idleness”).

Idiomatic terms for the actions of dealing with items like you refer to include sharpening the saw, popularized in Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw) and winding the clock, a term that often appears in Le Carre's novels.


I usually just call it overhead.


You might call these activities peripheral.


In the strictest sense, these are all part of the work, not alien to it.

Sometimes they may appear less important, less visible, less contributive to success or consume less effort. They are sometimes called enabling tasks, appurtenant tasks or non-core tasks.

Non-core tasks is the most meaningful and appropriate as it shows inclusivity while at the same time differentiating from the core-task.

In a well-organized system, "commuting, going from class to class, doing homework, waiting for the teacher, etc." all contribute to "education" along with conventional "learning."

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