“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.