Pick up just about any time management book and you’ll find a common piece of advice somewhere near the beginning. “Conduct a time study on all of your activities for a week”. This will be accompanied by a nifty table with snappy rows and impressive columns all nicely laid out for you to fill in. The text goes on to ask you to analyze the results of your time study, doesn’t give much more perspective than that.
Indeed understanding time use can be a useful diagnostic tool for understanding productivity. I’ve been running a time study consulting business since 1990, using the innovative TimeCorder device that I invented and launched in 1989. Whether you use a TimeCorder, or an app, or the back of an envelope, or a form from a time management book, understanding something about your time usage can be useful. Only when you measure your productivity can you improve it.
But once you discover that you spend ten hours per week on one of your major activities, what does that mean? Most statistics gleaned from research are only helpful when they are placed in context. How do those ten hours compare to other people who are like you? Perhaps they are similar, but do those people have the same job or family situation? Also, how has the data changed? Are those ten hours going up or down over time? Are there occasional peak periods? If so, what causes them? And how does your time use in one area affect all of the other areas? An illustration of this is when overtime hours are examined. If you work longer hours than usual during a particular week, that time has to come from somewhere else. Something has to give. More work might mean less family time, or less exercise.
When you spend more time on one thing, then some other thing will either disappear completely or become compressed. Time for meals is an example of this. With all those overtime hours, chances are you’re not eating massively lower amounts of food. You may simply be compressing your meal time. Rushed breakfasts, lunch on the go, and fast food for dinner take the place of long lingering meals over a glass of wine and good conversation. Another artifact of large amounts of time use in one area is overlapping activities. More and more you start doing two things at once. So those rushed meals are eaten at your desk or (heaven forbid) in the car while driving to work. Ask a busy mother what keeps her going, and she’ll tell you how she can feed children, speak on the phone and clean dishes, all at once.
Based on our time study research, the thing you are most likely to discover is that you spend fewer hours than you might like on your highest priority tasks while spending much more of your time than you would like on low priority tasks. In the work place, those low priority tasks are administrative activities; filing out reports, going to staff meetings, answering routine internal requests and other activities that aren’t part of the main thrust of your job. Outside of work, those lower priority tasks will be household chores, shopping for groceries, minor repairs, laundry, and cleaning up.
So track your time and put it into perspective. You are likely to be surprised about something. Then you have to figure out what to do next. Are you happy with the way things are or do you genuinely want to improve your productivity? A thorough time study analysis leads to insight. And that leads to results. Your time is worth it.
Tags: productivity measurement, time management, time study
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Want to get stuff done? Trying to overcome procrastination? Can’t seem to get started? That’s why we launched BuddyHive.com. The site inspires users to get stuff done by linking them up with random buddies to whom they are accountable.
Our time study research shows that procrastination in the workplace is among the top 20 productivity inhibitors that employees face. And procrastination is not just a problem for those at work. Stay-at-home mothers and fathers, students, and those who are in between jobs also find that there are some tasks that are simply hard to get to. You may have support systems in place; a spouse who offers advice or a boss who provides direction. But for some reason, the support you get from the people you know doesn’t always work. No matter how much nagging your receive from your spouse, those unfinished tasks just never seem to get done. You can take a time management course that gives you lots of theory. There are numerous ways to overcome procrastination; break large tasks into smaller ones, give yourself a reward for completing a task, visualize a positive outcome rather than a negative one. If you can do any of those, you’re on your way.
But in many cases, you just might need to be more accountable. And that’s where you need a buddy – someone who is looking out for you. And what if that person needed your help in return?
BuddyHive.com has just launched a new feature that builds the community aspect of the site. From the start, the idea was to link people up with each other to provide support, encouragement, tips, advice – mostly to provide accountability.
Now there’s a new community feature. As always, buddies are teamed up. Now, anyone who is registered on the system can “drop in” to look at messages that have been sent within the last two weeks. Then they can offer their own advice. The buddy relationship comes first, but now the community can help as well.
At www.BuddyHive.com, just go to the “Hive” tab and click on “Tasks Underway” to see all the tasks where buddies have been in touch with each other during the last two weeks. Think you can offer help? Once you’re registered, just click on the “Offer Advice” button, and add your comments to the conversation
You can receive advice from others too. Once you send a message to your own buddy, your task will go to the top of the list, and you can receive support from registered users.
Meanwhile, buddies are getting all kinds of things done. From work to hobbies to household tasks to studying, accountability makes a difference.
Here are some of the recent tasks that buddies have accomplished:
- I was able to clean my storage room
- I was able to redo my resume
- I was able to produce a business plan within two weeks.
- I was able to practice for an English Essay
- I was able to complete a consulting report for client in the UK
Buddy up and get stuff done. You never know who you’ll meet.
Tags: accountability, get stuff done, overcome procrastination, time management, time study
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You can learn a lot about how to measure productivity from watching line-ups. At the Eiffel Tower, for instance, a line-up results from a bottleneck – a pinch point in a process where the capacity of the system is surpassed by the demand for it. Line-ups are almost always risky for business. Sooner or later a potential customer will come along and say, “I can’t be bothered to wait.” That’s a lost opportunity for a business, as I outlined in an article entitled “Bottleneck Busting” (Send an email to email@example.com if you would like a copy). It includes references and data to a number of our time study consulting projects where we measure productivity using our TimeCorder devices.
So what does productivity have to do with the Eiffel Tower? We visited it recently and discovered that only one of the main lifts up the tower was working. As it turns out, that was the best time for us to visit the top of the tower. Who would have thought?
You’ve seen the Eiffel Tower many times – an elegant iron structure supported by four legs on the ground. Elevators usually climb up at least two of the legs to the second level. From there, another bank of elevators with less capacity takes you to the top. But when one of the main “leg’ elevators wasn’t working, a long line-up snaked under the Eiffel Tower – two hours long, we were told – to go up the single remaining elevator.
Ah, but if you don’t mind a bit of exercise, you could walk up the stairs to the second level, and save part of the fee as well. So we did. And up there, we discovered a very short line for the second elevator that whisked us to the top. On the second level, we could see the barriers where the line usually jogged back and forth. But not on the day we were there. There was no bottleneck that day .
Of course. When only one elevator, instead of the usual two or three feeds people to the second level, only a small number of people arrive there. The capacity to handle stair climbers was almost infinite, but the capacity to take people up by elevator was limited. And evidently most people weren’t interested in the stairs. Too bad. They missed all the fun. The usual bottleneck on the second level had shifted to the ground, where all the lazy people waited impatiently. We and the other stair climbers had gone around the bottleneck.
The lessons for business? Find out where your bottlenecks are and direct resources to reduce them. Consider a mortgage process for a bank. We have conducted a number of time and motion study projects where worked with clients to measured the productivity of mortgage processes. They can take a while because of internal controls, regulatory requirements, input from credit bureaus, etc. That’s where the bottlenecks are in banking. But when banks offer pre-approved mortgages, or encourage customers to calculate their own monthly payments, or create on-line applications, they allow customers to bypass the usual bottlenecks. This is what we did at the Eiffel Tower.
You can learn a lot about a business by how they handle their lines. Do the same for yours. Your time is worth it.
Tags: best time, bottleneck, productivity, queuing
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You can learn a lot about productivity from a home renovator. We had some work done in our basement recently. It’s the kind of work that anyone might do. We wanted to fix up an unfinished room, the size of a bedroom. We needed it because we rented out our house for the summer. We would be travelling to Europe, visiting museums, exploring cathedrals and remotely conducting our time and motion study projects. In the basement a small brick wall needed to be taken down – because of some previous renovations, it was redundant. And the ceiling needed new drywall to make it into a serviceable guest bedroom.
A while back, we met the contractors, agreed to a quote, and set a date for them to begin. It was a month out because they had another job to finish. That was fine with us. It seemed like good scheduling when they had a window to do our relatively small job. Maybe a week beginning to end.
But the job ended up stretching out over three weeks. On this basic productivity measurement, the contractor failed. His company had another job, and needed to give it priority. So someone showed up at our house for two or three hours to do some work, and then poof! They were gone.
The contractor thought he was being efficient by booking two jobs at once. Do a bit of work here, wait for something to be ready, then off to the other place to nail some studs, and then back to the first place again for the next bit. Two clients at once! Busy, busy.
Waste, waste is more like it. There is a huge productivity inefficiency to starting and stopping a project. First is travel time. If a job extends out for ten days instead of five, then that’s ten extra trips (there and back) for each extra day. Most trips are at least a half hour, so there’s an extra five hours of time right there. Also, most contractors clean up at the end of each day. So that means more clean up time. And more set-up time at the beginning of the next day. All those tools that were put away have to be brought out again.
And then there is reset time. All of us need time to get refocused after an interruption. Contractors are no different.
We know another contractor who is much more productive. He shows up early in the morning and works right through until the end of the day, rarely taking a break. If something has to wait – concrete drying for instance – he schedules that towards the end of the day. If it has to be in the middle of the day, he always finds something else to do. He plans out his work using basic project management techniques. As a result he finishes on time with little waste.
So the next time a contractor quotes you – ask how many other jobs he is doing, and what he does to minimize waste. Ideally, ask for a completion date, and build in a penalty clause for every day he goes over what didn’t result from a change you requested.
Your time is worth it.
Tags: interruption, minimize waste, productivity, productivity measurement, work scheduling
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We want to inspire people to get more done. So we developed a new website, BuddyHive.com that has now been running for about three months. Essentially it links up random buddies who list tasks that they want to get done over the next week or so, but have been putting off. The buddies communicate with each other via our private email system, providing support, advice, and encouragement. We have deliberately kept our marketing efforts low key, because we wanted to see how the site works for users. So far just over 100 tasks have been completed by buddies helping each other.
After communicating with a buddy, a user presses a button that says, “My task is done.” In fact, the system doesn’t allow them to press this button until at least one message has been sent. We want to encourage the mutual support that BuddyHive can provide.
So what are people getting done? Read more »
Tags: accountability, get stuff done, inspire, make a difference, organization, procrastinating
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- Our time study research indicates that employees spend 3.3 hours per week on miscellaneous emails that are not connected with any of their main projects. That’s a massive amount of time that could easily be reduced. Here are some tips.
PLANNING TO WRITE
- If you are concerned about the volume of email you receive, remember, it’s not them, it’s all of us who are guilty. If you send out 2 emails, and copy 20 people on each, you have contributed to the glut of email by sending out 40 emails yourself!
- Do not copy people needlessly. Ask yourself why you are copying everyone – if it is to make you look good, it probably is not necessary.
- Ask employees who report to you not to cc you, unless they include a short note explaining why they are copying you.
- Hire someone to go through your email when you are on vacation and eliminate what is obviously unnecessary.
- Use the phone instead of sending an email. If you find yourself typing a lot and telling a “story”, then it is better to call.
- It is very difficult to convince others through email, especially when you know that they already have entrenched positions. Find another way.
- The best use of email is for short transactions: “Here is the document you requested,” “When is the meeting?”, “Can you provide an answer to a question”, etc.
- Just say no. If you’re on a mailing list for which you have no interest, reply by unsubscribing.
- Unsubscribe from newsletters. If you want to learn something, take a course. If you are hoping that occasionally some useful tidbit will come through on a newsletter, then you are wasting your time. Unsubscribe.
- Check the spelling of your email before sending it. Spelling errors seem generally accepted in email. But go beyond acceptable. Aim for excellence.
- DON’T TYPE IN ALL CAPS. This is perceived as shouting.
- Re-read your email before sending it. Writing quickly often results in awkward grammar.
- Consider carefully what you write; it’s a permanent record and can be easily forwarded to others. Never accuse people, call them names, suggest they aren’t being smart or criticize their spelling. Assume their intentions are genuine and that they are good people. Be polite and assertive if necessary (i.e. to spammers) but not vindictive.
- Write succinctly.
- Write descriptive subject lines. Many busy people will only open messages with captivating subject lines. Think creatively.
- If you must forward a message, put your comments at the top.
- Do not keep all of your messages in your mail box folder. Create new mail folders with names that categorize your mail and move messages into them. Thus, new mail is quicker to find.
- Create folders for : Things to do, Upcoming Events, Manager Issues, Subordinate Issues, Reading, Family, and folders for each of your major customers.
- Be careful with punctuation. A lot of periods can separate thoughts….. but use a lot of exclamation marks and it looks like you’re angry!!!!!!!!!! How does a line of question marks look ??????? You might not intend strong emotion, but the other person might think you do.
- Avoid cyber-speak. Not everyone is familiar with the cute acronyms used in Email correspondence, such as IMHO (in my humble opinion) or FWIW (for what it’s worth). Performing a mental translation each time slows down the reader. Do not make reading difficult for them.
Tags: email, just say no, mailing lists, saying no, volume of email
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Here’s another madcap satire on time management – this time a meeting where everything goes awry.
- – - -
Felicia Fetherstonhaugh was not looking forward to the meeting. It was for the Pennies for Penelope the Penguin Committee. Something deep inside warned her that, just like last week’s meeting, this one would run with the all of the finesse of a drunken cyclist doing figure eights on a skating rink. While blindfolded. But Felicia had committed to her community group’s newest project, and she didn’t want to back out.
She arrived at chairman Sydney Hackenberger’s house at the designated 6:15 p.m. start time. No one else had showed up yet. She waited impatiently, while reading an old, dog-eared copy of the National Enquirer. Apparently, Elvis had kidnapped some aliens and was teaching them to play guitar.
At 6:30 p.m. Sydney proclaimed that the turnout was quite good. Besides Felicia, the turnout consisted of Sydney, his wife Blossom, who was in the kitchen burning popcorn, his four-year-old daughter, who kept trying to give Felicia an unwanted manicure, and Sydney’s dog Rumbledork. While waiting for more people to arrive,Sidney proudly announced that this would be a special meeting. Special because not one but two types of coffee would be served. Then he reviewed the project’s purpose: to raise money for Penelope, a trained penguin at the local zoo who had hurt a flipper during a recent performance.
At 6:45 p.m. Anthony Slobodsky and his girlfriend, Ignazia Grunwald, arrived. They had been held up on the highway after a truck filled with fluorescent ping-pong balls had spilled its load. At 7:10 p.m. Gerald McGuckin appeared. He claimed to be early because, according to his notes, the meeting was to start at 7:15 p.m. For the next fifteen minutes, the committee members munched on cold, burnt popcorn while trying to decide on a date for the following meeting.
When the proceedings finally started, Felicia askedS ydneyfor an agenda. “Agenda?”Sydney answered. “Yeah, well, I’ve got it all in my head, so we don’t really need one.” A heated discussion then ensued on what to discuss first; the fund-raising event, which was to be a sleep-a-thon, or the wrap-up party for the volunteers.
Felicia asked to review the minutes from the previous meeting. After much fruitless scrounging around, Gerald remembered that the minutes had been lost down a sewer grate on the way to a post-meeting rendezvous at a local bar. Felicia suggested that they look at the minutes from the prior meeting to that. After another flurry of searching, Gerald found them scribbled on the inside back cover of a slightly ragged and thoroughly trashy spy novel. The good news was that the minutes contained the name of a potential sponsor. The bad news was that Gerald couldn’t tell which of the hastily scrawled names referred to the sponsor and which referred to the dental hygienist whom he had been flirting with in the bar.
The discussions continued, though without Gerald. Exhausted from all of his scrounging, he had taken to idly surfing the news on his IPad. Suddenly, he slapped his hand to his forehead in astonishment and jumped to his feet. “Oh my god, guess what? This is astonishing. Incredible!” he exclaimed with all of the profundity associated with the announcement of an imminent nuclear attack. “Penelope has recovered from her wound!”
“Well, then, I guess we should disband the committee,” announced Felicia.
“No way!” retorted Sydney. “Our committee was promised money to get this going and we’re going to spend all of it.”
Felicia interjected, “I thought the purpose of the project was to raise money.”
“Sure, but you have to spend money to raise money,” responded Sydney. “Postage, letterhead, a web page, the planning party, the after party, gifts for each of the donors, an embossed plaque for the penguin house…” The list went on.
The group spent the next twenty minutes deciding what to order for dinner. When pizza was chosen, they debated what size, what toppings and even what outlet to order from. Sydney instituted strict parliamentary procedure. Motions were followed by amendments, revisions, counterarguments, points of order and points of privilege. As the committee debated how to extricate itself from a tangled web of procedural mish mash, Anthony made a definitive proposal. “I suggest we vote on whether to take a vote.” They ordered chicken.
Dinner was followed by a prolonged round of vociferous squabbling and silly name calling, Felicia interjected, “We’re spending an awful lot of time on this, and we’re not really getting anywhere. We have an idea, but no goals, no plans and no commitments.” She suggested some techniques to improve the meeting dynamics, including starting on time, sticking to the agenda, appointing a chairperson and preventing the dog from barfing on anyone.
As a result, the following meeting ran much more smoothly. The sleep-a-thon would be held in the city’s main square on a Saturday night in November. Television coverage would publicize the event in between periods during a hockey broadcast. Participants would sleep on inflatable rubber mattresses, floating on a large, portable swimming pool. With new-age music playing in the background and Penelope swimming around the sleeping bodies, it would be hailed as a 21st century Esther Williams extravaganza. Or an 18th century cesspool.
But troublesome questions remained. Would participants be allowed breaks, or would continuous sleeping be required? Would couples be allowed? What if the water in the swimming pool froze?
And the most troublesome question of all: What would happen to the proceeds of the event now that Penelope had healed? When the subject arose,Sydney stood and proudly addressed the assembled multitude of four.
“I’ve decided to continue with another zoological undertaking. As of now, we will now embark with energy, gusto, enthusiasm and other synonyms to raise money for a new cause: Dollars for Dentures for Delores the Donkey!”
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It is so easy to put something off that doesn’t matter. Or at least, you think it doesn’t matter. Maybe not today. But someday it will. That aching toothache you think might just go away. The overdue taxes that maybe they won’t check up on.
All of these catch up some day. That’s when the trouble really begins.
So you need to avoid procrastination in order to prevent these negative consequences. One way to do it involves adding accountability. Read more »
Tags: Stop procrastination
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