Wasted Time At Work


“What a waste of time!”

Do you ever hear this at work? It’s an incriminating observation for what is often just a petty inconvenience. Time was wasted, and someone is to blame. Though it’s curious how no one ever dares to take ownership of the problem. In so many cases, it’s always someone else’s fault. “That guy in the other department wasted my time. Of course I would never waste someone else’s time, let alone my own. But jeez, look at all the waste all over the place.”

We accuse others, but we toil in perfection, never attributing wastefulness to our own actions.

So what exactly do we mean by wasted time?

To understand waste, we first need to understand how time should be spent. When people are spending their time well at work, they’re doing what their job descriptions say they should. They’re managing, or selling, or designing, or processing, or teaching.

That’s what they get paid for, what they excel at, and it’s how others see them. They spend their time on the important activities that create results. These are what we call “A” priorities.

Employees also spend time on activities that support their priorities. These are the “B” responsibilities that need to get done.

Employees occasionally do things that aren’t part of their main job, but are imposed by others. These are their “C” requirements. These activities can be substantial. For instance, administrative tasks add up to about 25% of a manager’s time.

Finally, there is necessary time. At work, employees have to take breaks, eat lunch, use the washroom, and travel to customers. Anything else is non-productive time.

There is plenty of non-productive time during working hours, but that doesn’t always mean it is wasted. For instance, if you get up to stretch your legs for a moment, or gaze out the window to reflect, it would be unfair to classify this as wasted time. There’s a necessity for this. You need to relax and recharge.

So companies should expect some amount of time expenditures that are not always productive. Reboot time is just one type of non-productive time. There are others.

Time not spent on the things that should get done fall into three major categories: personal issues, work habits and corporate impediments.

Personal Issues
On occasion, employees take time from their employers. This is what’s traditionally known as wasted time. It’s the goofing off, the theft of time. This includes some of the following activities:

  • Personal calls
  • Long lunches or breaks.
  • Water cooler chats.
  • Social media chats.
  • Entertaining oneself.
  • Entertaining others
  • Unnecessary research
  • Outside interests

Work Habits
The second type of non-productive time involves poor work habits by employees who would never admit to wasting time. In fact, they probably aren’t even aware that their pace is slow. Some of their practices include:

  • Slow moving activity
  • Distractions
  • Poor problem solving
  • Poor systems knowledge
  • E-mail cc and virus warnings
  • Clutter
  • Administrative tasks
  • Lack of training
  • Tardiness
  • Not following instructions

Corporate Impediments
Many employees are at the high end of efficiency. They are not wasting time personally. Their work habits are top notch. But as efficient as they might be, they can end up wasting time because of factors outside of their control.

  • Equipment issues
  • Changing directions
  • Unclear mandate or job description
  • Major changes
  • Legal battles

Others’ Waste
The waste that others cause is one of the biggest reasons why employees’ time is wasted. Some of these include:

  • Unnecessary emails
  • Late starting meetings
  • Meetings without focus
  • Petty requests
  • Unclear communication
  • Mistakes by others
  • Interruptions
  • Poorly run meetings

 

Some waste is inevitable. It’s an expected part of the corporate environment. People will chat with their friends. They’ll daydream now and then. Things will go wrong. The office will never be a perfect place. That’s what makes it interesting. Anyone who seeks perfection is chasing an illusion.

SMARTER WAYS TO REDUCE WASTED TIME

  • Accept that some portion of work time will be wasted. It will probably be minor. Writing policies about how long water cooler chats should is a waste itself.
  • Assign meaningful work so that employees keep busy and feel that their contributions are making a difference.
  • Establish protocols for internal communication, particularly for email.
  • Disconnect employees from anything they don’t need on the internet. Do employees really need access to YouTube, Facebook, or Pinterest at work?
  • Make employees accountable for their results in performance reviews and in periodic goal setting sessions.
  • Train employees on soft skills such as supervision, time management, communication, and problem solving.
  • Provide employee assistance programs for those occasions when pressures from outside work affect what goes on inside work.
  • Engage in process improvement projects to understand how time is being allocated and to create systemic improvements through automation, re-structuring, and centralization.

 


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Save Time While Outsourcing


I am a big fan of outsourcing for services. Sometimes it takes a while to hire the person you want. But I found a way to do it faster.

I conduct time studies for large organizations that want to improve their productivity. During my projects, I outsource shipping preparation, data entry, programming, and anything else that’s repetitive and that I can delegate. Recently I used an on-line recruitment site to find a new programmer. You can find some really good people on line, but you can also be swamped with resumes and applications. So here’s a story and a tip on how to find the best.

I posted a job listing on one of the popular sites where thousands of contractors are available to do work. I was very precise about what was needed, essentially programming work to upgrade our new  web site BuddyHive.com, as well as on-going maintenance. My previous contractor decided to get a full time job, so I needed to find someone new.

My job posting mentioned the usual batch of skills that would be needed, as well as the web site name. I asked people to respond if they had the right technical qualifications and to express their enthusiasm for the project. But there, deeply buried in the middle of about three hundred words of text that I had written was a simple statement.  “In your response, please indicate the name of the city where our company’s headquarters is located.”

You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to figure this out. If you go to the web site and poke around a bit, you’ll discover that we’re in Toronto.

I posted the job listing and watched while the applications came pouring in, dozens and dozens.  They all contained great qualifications and a general enthusiasm to take on the project. But how would I screen them all? Easy, by seeing who answered the buried question. The applications were all viewable on-line and I used a simple “find” function to look for the word “Toronto.” I didn’t even look at the responses. It was incredible how fast I rejected the vast majority of them.  This left me with just 24 applicants out of the 120 total. Blunt? Well, consider this. Do you really want to hire someone whocan’ even follow simple instructions?

From there came phase two of the screening process, I offered almost all 24a test job, for which I would pay for two hours of their time. The test job involved signing up on the site, and providing a maximum two-page project plan, responding to a few questions I asked in the test project briefing.

Only seven responded with a two-page summary. This was turning out to be quite the screening process. Prior to this, I had hardly even looked at any of the resumes. Now I did, and I spoke with almost all of those who submitted project plans via Skype.

The person I hired had suggested that he had some additional ideas. “Send them over,” I said. And he did. That, plus his enthusiasm won him the job.


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Conduct A Time Study To Improve Productivity


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.


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Get Procrastination Support and Get Stuff Done


Want to get stuff done? Do you keep putting off important tasks? Can’t seem to get started? Need procrastination support? 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.

BuddyHive; Buddy up and get stuff done

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

Get the procrastination support you need. Buddy up and get stuff done. You never know who you’ll meet.

BuddyHive.com


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Productivity and the Home Renovator


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.


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Patterns Of Procrastination Among Students


We just launched a beta version of www.BuddyHive.com. It is a cool web site that allows people to buddy up with each other and be accountable in getting stuff done. It’s perfect for those struggling with procrastination. And fun because you never know who you’ll meet. (Give it a try!)

BuddyHive Image

We’re testing different ways to promote the site. So, in seeking out those who were experiencing time management challenges, I went to Twitter on a recent Sunday night and searched using a procrastination hash tag. A hash tag is added to a tweet to indicate a subject. I was able to find all the tweets where people had specifically included the word “procrastination.”

To my surprise, the floodgates opened! Hundreds of students in a few hours, confessed to not doing their studying, or not making any progress on school projects. Some couldn’t even start packing for upcoming trips. I was surprised at how Twitter has become an on-line confessional.

Procrastination seems to be a particular challenge for students. My web designer, who is close to that age, suggested that students often face a massive block that is extremely difficult for them to overcome. Some do, and perhaps they are the ones who graduate from college successfully.

By watching the tweets throughout the week, one can see patterns of activity.

In the middle of the week, tweeters are reasonably nonchalant,

“Since 2pm, I’ve stared at blank manuscript, ate a mars ice cream, watched TBBT, & learned how to whistle and hum together.”

Or:  “Still haven’t started my homework, well I guess it’s time for a shower.”

Then by Friday night, with the entire weekend stretching ahead of them, students are optimistic that they can eventually get to their school work.

“I always wait for Sunday to do my homework, procrastination at its best.”

And on Saturday night, there is still time: “Should I do my homework tonight? Pshh hah no thanks.”

But then on early Sunday evening, with only a few hours until an assignment is due, they express worry that they might not get it all done.

“I wait until the last minute to do EVERYTHING. “

“Damn… definitely just starting my history children’s book! Due tomorrow…. and have had 2 weeks to do it!”

“History paper due in 12 hours and I haven’t started yet.”

Then, late Sunday night, many are prone to resignation, doubt, and self-loathing. They realize that time is just about up, and they are in a precarious situation with little to show for all their distractions.

“Should have started this psychology before the day it was due!”

“Can’t focus on this homework.”

“I’ve got to stop doing this to myself.”

Few celebrate their successes. The majority use Twitter as a confessional. And almost none reach out for help. They will often confess to what’s distracting them; “My senior paper may as well be on twitter and Facebook, because it seems like that’s all I’m doing. “

Most tweets seem to be written by high school students, because  “homework” is a popular topic. One would not expect to hear this quite as much among college or university students. Among that group, essays and papers need to get done, not homework.

Another curious item, noted around March break, is the difficulty people have with getting ready for travel, particularly packing:

“Leaving in 6 hours, haven’t begun to pack yet.”

“It’s seriously not setting in that I’m moving in 11 days. I need to start packing. “

Clearly putting things off is a huge challenge for this group. As one of them put it, “I’m a big fan of procrastination, or as I like to call it, postponed time management.”

They need to set goals, they need discipline, and they need accountability. That’s why we built www.BuddyHive.com.  They need it.

 


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Productivity Hurdles


What really bugs people about productivity? We conduct time and motion studies using our proprietary electronic TimeCorder device, gathering thousands of hours of real-time data from employees.

We like to complement the time study results with additional data, so we often provide employees with a brief questionnaire prior to beginning a study. One of the questions asks: “What things, outside of your control, get in the way of your productivity?”

The idea of this question is that some productivity inhibitors such as procrastination are within employees’ control. Some are outside their control. Or apparently so. It’s our contention that many of these hindrances can in fact be managed by employees through better time management training. Nonetheless, employees often believe productivity is spinning out of control through no fault of their own.

The most popular responses to the question are listed below. Read more »


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Procrastination Definitions


In the coming weeks, I’ll be launching  www.BuddyHive.com.  It inspires people to get stuff done by randomly connecting buddies who become accountable to each other for achieving small tasks, usually within a week.

In the meantime, here are a number of defiintions of procrastination. Do any of them fit?

  • To voluntarily delay an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse off for the delay – Piers Steel
  •  The intentional and habitual postponement of an important task that should be done now. – Harold Taylor Read more »

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