“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.
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
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
- Poor problem solving
- Poor systems knowledge
- E-mail cc and virus warnings
- Administrative tasks
- Lack of training
- Not following instructions
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
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
- 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.
Tags: productivity measurement, time management, time study
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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? 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.
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.
Tags: accountability, get stuff done, overcome procrastination, time management, time study
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Employees who spend more time planning generally get better results. This is based on evidence from our work measurement studies where employees track their time using our TimeCorder device. So make time for planning each day. Here is my favorite tip on how to do it – just two minutes long.
Tags: time management
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