Page banner

Blog Posts

Eliminate Time Wasting At Work

by Mark Ellwood

“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.


  • 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.

Mark EllwoodMark Ellwood is president of Pace Productivity, an international consulting firm that specializes in improving corporate productivity. His passionate mission is to improve people and processes through consulting and training. 
Articles, Research Reports  

Conduct A Time and Motion Study To Improve Productivity

by Mark Ellwood

Pick up just about any time management book and you’ll find a common piece of advice somewhere near the beginning. “Conduct a time and motion 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 motion 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.

Mark EllwoodMark Ellwood is president of Pace Productivity, an international consulting firm that specializes in improving corporate productivity. His passionate mission is to improve people and processes through consulting and training. 

Please Interrupt Me

by Mark Ellwood


A day without any interruptions would be a very strange day indeed.

Would you really want to eliminate all the interruptions that you get? Imagine arriving at your work space early in the morning. You write out a to-do list, and then launch into your first task, preparing next year’s budget. After that, there are no interruptions. No one comes to ask you a question. Your boss doesn’t show up to assign any tasks. You check your email – no new messages. Your telephone never rings. No chats about your sports team. No meetings to attend. No requests No calls, no voice mail, no texts. No interruptions.

Everyone around you is busy. But no one interrupts you.

This would be a strange day. You’d certainly have plenty of time to concentrate. Chances are you’d also feel lonely and unappreciated.

The fact is, interruptions are necessary at work.  Organizations rely on collaboration, delegation, and teamwork to succeed. As an employee, you can’t do it alone. You need to respond, to be available, to act as both a knowledge source and someone who directs action. This is true whether you’re the president or an entry level intern.

In our corporate time studies, we’ve discovered a curious irony about productivity and interruptions Many sales and service people tell us that their most important task is to provide customer service. Yet when we ask them what gets in the way of their productivity, interruptions and customer requests outnumber other productivity issues. They seem to be saying, “I could help this customer if I just wasn’t being interrupted by that customer!”

Another irony is that we interrupt ourselves. Responding to low priority emails is the top interrupter, based on actual data from our TimeCorder studies.

Face it. Interruptions are inevitable. The hassle is that they come when you’d rather be working on something else – usually a high priority task. To manage your time better, manage your interruptions so that you are in control of them, rather than them controlling you.

Some employees put up a “Do Not Disturb” sign, fending off co-workers. Unfortunately, what works for you does not work well for them. Your productivity comes at the expense of others’ productivity.

Some people put on headphones to ward off interruptions. They say they can concentrate more on work. But there is evidence that headphones don’t help concentration. If you’re writing a report or doing data entry while you’re listening to music, then your brain has to deal with two inputs at once. The research shows that this confuses the mind.

Here is a piece from CBC Radio on privacy and headphones, including some of my thoughts.

→Dealing with noise in open offices – CBC Radio workplace column

Worker with headphones

Face it, interruptions are inevitable. Instead of running away from them, plan your day in advance. Block off time for your most important priorities. Aim to finish tasks, not just work on them. And in the middle of everything, when someone comes by for that pesky question, accept your interruptions. Then handle them quickly. Your time is worth it.

Mark EllwoodMark Ellwood is president of Pace Productivity, an international consulting firm that specializes in improving corporate productivity. His passionate mission is to improve people and processes through consulting and training. 

Cut The Glut of Email

by Mark Ellwood

Our time study research indicates that employees spend 3.3 hours per week on miscellaneous email messages 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 for handling email better.


  • 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.

Mark EllwoodMark Ellwood is president of Pace Productivity, an international consulting firm that specializes in improving corporate productivity. His passionate mission is to improve people and processes through consulting and training. 

Top Reasons Why People Hate Meetings

by Mark Ellwood

Boring meeting

Here’s why people hate meetings.

  • Boss tells you the meeting is urgent, then is always the last to show up
  • Difficult to conceal the fact that you really have to take a nap
  • “Let’s vote on whether to take a vote”
  • Tray of squishy pastry things filled with weird flavored goop
  • Agenda? What agenda?
  • Usual signal for the end of the meeting is arrival of cleaning staff
  • During your presentation, everyone’s watching cat videos on their phones
  • Person next to you conducting personal hygiene keeps flicking stuff your way
  • Discussion is so far off topic, no one remembers the original point
  • Most important thing you get to do is answer the role call
  • When there’s a motion to repeal the amendment to the previous motion to disallow, no one knows what they’re voting for
  • Woman whose name you can’t remember keeps getting your name wrong
  • Two words: long winded
  • Guy on the speaker phone sounds like he’s in a coal mine
  • Group rushes through a bad proposal so they can beat the traffic to the cottage
  • After four hours, place smells like a locker room

And the top reason why people hate meetings is:

  • Scheduling yet another meeting to finish everything off

Mark EllwoodMark Ellwood is president of Pace Productivity, an international consulting firm that specializes in improving corporate productivity. His passionate mission is to improve people and processes through consulting and training. 

How Do Sales Reps Spend Their Time?

by Mark Ellwood

What  differentiates top performing sales reps from the rest of the pack? The best sales reps focus their efforts on their most important priorities. This means a) finding qualified prospects, b) determining potential needs, c) closing sales and d) taking responsibility for customer service. But transcending proficiency in these areas is the issue of time. What key priorities should sales reps focus on? How do they spend their time compared to others? Are they maximizing productive time and minimizing time wasters?

Sales pie chart

So what makes up each of these categories?

Our company, Pace Productivity, has been conducting time studies of knowledge workers since 1990.

We examined productivity measurement data from outside sales reps – those whose daily activities take them out of their offices to customers’ locations. The pie chart above  these activities grouped into broad categories. Typically, they add up to about 48 hours per week, including 3 hours of breaks.

The selling category consists of activities designed to prospect for new business. Sales reps need to find, cultivate and maintain relationships with new prospects and existing clients. By keeping their funnel full of prospects, they can maintain a steady stream of business. This category includes such activities as marketing, cold calls, calls to existing customers, sales visits, presentations and writing columns.

On average, these add up to 10.8 hours per week or just 22% of the work week. This is quite surprising to sales managers who often expect their reps to be actively selling for at least 50% of the time. The reality though, is that all kinds of other activities need to be done, and they infringe on selling time.

The good news is that there are superstar reps who excel in selling time. For instance, financial planners as a group spend 27% on this category. Within this group, some individuals achieve over 40% of their time selling. They do this by hiring assistants to handle their administrative and order processing activities.

Typically, sales reps engage in sales activities on 39 different occasions per week. These are direct contacts with customers and prospects, primarily phone calls and meetings with both current customers and prospects. 

The duration of sales calls to current customers are longer than those with prospects. Specifically, sales calls with customers typically take 11 minutes each, while those with prospects are only 7 minutes. The prospect calls may be shorter because some of them are just voice mail messages that are left.

When sales reps engage in face-to-face meetings, they spend an average of 29 minutes per meeting with current customers. Meetings with prospects are longer, at 51 minutes. Thus, telephone conversations tend to be short, but once meetings occur, there is a greater opportunity for in-depth discussions.

Understand how your time is spent, and then strive to allocate your efforts to the highest priority activities. Your time is worth it.


Mark EllwoodMark Ellwood is president of Pace Productivity, an international consulting firm that specializes in improving corporate productivity. His passionate mission is to improve people and processes through consulting and training. 

Procrastination Definitions

by Mark Ellwood

Procrastination proverb


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
  • To put off doing something, especially out of habitual carelessness or laziness.  – The free dictionary
  • The act of replacing high-priority or important actions with tasks of lower priority, or doing something from which one brings enjoyment, and thus putting off important tasks to a later time. – Wikipedia
  • An automatic problem habit of putting off an important and timely activity until another time. It’s s a process that has probable consequences. – William Knaus
  • The starting point of becoming excellent in time management is desire. Almost everyone feels that their time management skills could be vastly better than they are. People resolve, over and over again, to get serious about time management by focusing, setting better priorities and overcoming procrastination. They intend to get serious about time management sometime, but unfortunately, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” The key to motivation is “motive.” For you to develop sufficient desire to develop time management and organizational skills, you must be intensely motivated by the benefits you feel you will enjoy. You must want the results badly enough to overcome the natural inertia that keeps you doing things the same old way.  - Brian Tracy
  • Procrastination is one of the most common and deadliest of diseases and its toll on success and happiness is heavy. ~Wayne Dyer
  • Procrastination usually results in sorrowful regret. Today’s duties put off tomorrow give us a double burden to bear; the best way is to do them in their proper time.    - Ida Scott Taylor
  • Procrastination is the biggest enemy of a successfully planned day. When you get a late start, it can make one activity spill over into the time allotted for the next activity, causing a domino effect that leaves many items on your to-do list undone. – Julie Morgenstern
  • Procrastination is, hands down, our favorite form of self-sabotage. ~Alyce P. Cornyn-Selby
  • If we wait for the moment when everything, absolutely everything is ready, we shall never begin. ~Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev
  • Procrastination is opportunity’s natural assassin. -Victor Kiam
  • Procrastination is a tough time robber to overcome. It is a real test of our commitment to apply sound management principles to a problem area…we must analyze what we procrastinate about, what interruptions and excuses we find to get out of doing that difficult or unpleasant task. – Jack D. Ferner
  • Procrastination is the bad habit of putting of until the day after tomorrow what should have been done the day before yesterday. – Napoleon Hill
  • When procrastination becomes a persistent habit, it is a serious threat to professional and personal success.  – T. Bittel
  • Proximity to temptation is one of the deadliest determinants of procrastination. – Piers Steel

Mark EllwoodMark Ellwood is president of Pace Productivity, an international consulting firm that specializes in improving corporate productivity. His passionate mission is to improve people and processes through consulting and training. 

The Burden of E-Mail

by Mark Ellwood

Email key

Based on data from a number of our time and motion consulting projects, e-mail is indeed the burden that many employees believe it to be.

Using our TimeCorder device, employees tracked their time on a number of activities, many of which involved using e-mail. We also asked them to track miscellaneous e-mails, that is correspondence that was not connected to priority activities such as managing, selling, or providing customer service.

These included all of the non-value added e-mails that employees need to sort through; internal announcements, queries from co-workers, items forwarded fyi, meeting confirmations and others.

Across a broad number of knowledge workers, these miscellaneous e-mails added up to 3.9 hours per week, much more than the 2.4 hours that employees said they would ideally like to spend on these. Those with activities outside of the office face a larger burden; 4.5 hours per week for field supervisors and 6.2 hours per week for sales reps. Remember: there is a lot more time spent on value-added emails – this is just the “stuff.”

Many of these e-mails are avoidable. Employees find themselves overwhelmed by dozens, if not hundreds of e-mails per day. Curiously though, while everyone complains about the volume of incoming e-mail, few will admit to being the culprits for sending it out.

Remember, if you send out one e-mail and copy twenty people, you have in effect sent out twenty e-mails.

Employees can make better choices to control their incoming e-mail.

  • Take yourself off distribution lists.
  • Avoid the use of the Reply All function.
  • Stop saying “Thanks”. Fellow workers already know that you are an appreciative colleague.
  • Ask subordinates not to copy you without including a cover note
  • Unsubscribe from newsletters that are really extended sales pitches
  • Don’t try to persuade someone through e-mail. Use a phone or meeting instead.
  • Keep your messages short. Avoid telling stories.

Mark EllwoodMark Ellwood is president of Pace Productivity, an international consulting firm that specializes in improving corporate productivity. His passionate mission is to improve people and processes through consulting and training. 

Putting A Priority On Your Time

by Mark Ellwood

Priority stamp

“A” activities are those that influence long term results.

“B” responsibilities are the activities in your job description that must get done today. 

“C” requirements are those unplanned or unwritten aspects of your job that have to be done.

D” activities  means delete, delay, delegate or drop.

Mark EllwoodMark Ellwood is president of Pace Productivity, an international consulting firm that specializes in improving corporate productivity. His passionate mission is to improve people and processes through consulting and training. 

Productivity Hurdles

by Mark Ellwood


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.



Paperwork / administrative tasks


Customer requests – service / problems / complaints


Computer / system / equipment problems


Phone calls / phone interruptions / inquiries


Other departments inefficient / make mistakes




Meetings – too many / too long / unnecessary


Staffing / HR issues / changes / people absent


Changing priorities / ad hoc / unplanned projects


Customers without appointments / walk-ins


Volume of work / not enough time


Requests from peers / other departments


Volume of E-Mail


No response / nothing


Traffic / Travel


Fire fighting / emergencies


Doing other people’s jobs


Environnent – noise, cold, location, privacy


Communication difficulties – internal


Difficulty reaching customer, getting information


Procedures / policies / compliance


Questions from staff


Lack of information / missing information


The top-rated item deals with paperwork and general administrative tasks. Interestingly, respondents are rarely very specific about this. It isn’t monthly reports, or weekly expense accounts that fluster them – just general administrative tasks, of which there are many.

The second response, dealing with customer issues is ironic because many of the people who respond to this question provide customer service as part of their job. The same customers that employees serve are also perceived as getting in the way of their productivity.

Computer systems and equipment problems are third highest on the list. Despite massive investments in technology over the last twenty years, technology gone wrong continues to be an issue for many employees. Connections are slow, software is buggy, equipment doesn’t work, and user-interfaces are clunky. Indeed, this issue is clearly outside of employee’s control, and many organizations have little sense of the negative impact of technology.

Item number four deals with phone calls. Interruptions by phone are perceived as much more of an issue than email interruptions. It seems emails can wait, but phone calls cannot.

Rounding out the top five, problems originating from other departments are a perennial concern. After all, it’s easy to blame someone else. So it would not be surprising to go to the other departments and find that they have issues with this department. Put in a room together, the two departments might find common ground and develop simple productivity initiatives. With time diagnostics pointing out where the opportunities are, companies can impact knowledge worker productivity without massive investments in infrastructure. Sometimes the little things add up.

Mark EllwoodMark Ellwood is president of Pace Productivity, an international consulting firm that specializes in improving corporate productivity. His passionate mission is to improve people and processes through consulting and training. 
« 1 2 3 4 »
Top of page

Time Management Tip video

Pace Productivity Inc.
350 Sunnyside Avenue
Toronto • Canada • M6R 2R6