Who Will Save Us From Our Work Habits?
We have a problem in the workplace. Some of it is being forced upon us by forces in society. Some of it is of our own making. But we face increasing challenges in managing our work time according to responses to this month's column.
One question is, "Why now?" Gerald Nanninga put his finger on several possibilities. In his words, "Due to more layoffs and reduced hirings, there are fewer people to do the work." At the same time, "digital gadgets are soaking up time." Rather than ignore the input from at least some of the digital gadgets, Etienne Douaza commented that "there is a constant temptation (on our part) to overreach … to download another report we won't have the time to read … to add a new project to the 15 we already try to get moving every day and replace half of our office's staff with fancy ERP, CRM and voicemail systems… Technology can scale human efficiency, but only up to a point." Ganesh Ramakrishnan added, "The technologies to communicate, collaborate and access infinite information have evolved and spread much faster than our abilities to cope with their downsides."
Aim laid the blame at the foot of "an engineer who had difficulty … forecasting simple activities and (the) time … to accomplish them." Joseph Mello commented that "…part of the problem comes from the view of an organization as a machine as opposed to a social endeavor… I don't agree that overloading forces better time management…" KHA attributed part of the problem to the perception that "We love a 'hard worker,'" rewarding effort and time spent at work as much or more than results. Yet another concern, expressed by Yadeed Lobo, is that we are applying concepts of time management to the wrong kinds of tasks. As he put it, "… in places where creative solutions are needed time management or micro management is a difficult concept to grasp." Francis Wade said that "Our research … reveals that working professionals at all levels are burdened by the limits of the self-created time management systems they put together as young adults."
Suggested remedies were varied, with responsibilities for their implementation in the hands of both individuals and the organizations for which they work. As Edward Hare said, "In large, complex organizations time management is a shared responsibility." Frode Hvaring suggested that "… in order to enable employees to mange their output in terms of priorities, quality, resources available and best work flows, the company needs to train them …" Mukom Akong Tamon disagreed, saying that "… one of the cornerstones of motivation is that managers should not dictate people's methods …"
Tony Murphy issued an interesting challenge when he said, "Folk remedies based on a cookie-cutter, one size fits all diktat just perpetuates the problem. We need time intelligence, not time management." And who should be responsible for ensuring that this happens? According to Andrew, "Lean thinking says that we are all part of the system; therefore we can all act on the system. Therefore we all are responsible!" What do you think?
Time management and personal productivity always hold a fascination for us. But the last few weeks seem to have brought an unusual flow of material on the subject across my desk. One question this raises is, "Why now?"
In short order, I am encouraged by Tony Schwartz to plan various forms of relaxation, ranging from the afternoon nap to adequate vacation, to be more productive. Then Carson Tate suggests ways of reducing time spent in meetings, such things as advance agendas, clear understanding of the results to be achieved, and even eliminating chairs, in order to increase personal productivity.
Harvard Business School Senior Lecturer Robert Pozen, formerly chairman of MFS Investment Management, endorses these ideas as well in his book, Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours. His basic advice: "Set and prioritize your goals, focus on the final product, and don't sweat the small stuff." In much more detail Pozen advises us on such things as creating and following standard routines so that part of our working life is on "automatic" as well as proactively managing the daily calendar in order to avoid such things as unimportant meetings (hard to do if a superior thinks they are important).
The topic has reached the pages of the McKinsey Quarterly, especially its January issue, where Peter Bregman observes that "you can't get everything done, even if you follow the right system." He suggests tying personal goals to strategic priorities, spending 95 percent of your time on five such priorities, eliminating "to do" list items that aren't related to them, and helping direct reports do the same.
This introduces the thought that organizations share the responsibility for how their members spend their time.
Frankii Bevins and Aaron De Smet pick up that theme in arguing that time management is too important to be left solely to individuals. They cite a survey of 1,500 executives in which only 52 percent of respondents indicated that the way they spent their time "matched their organizations' strategic priorities." Only 9 percent were "highly satisfied" with the way they allocated their time. In assigning tasks, managers often act as if human capacity is limitless. The result is "initiative overload" and an inappropriate allocation of time. Hence, organizations should take steps to "ensure that individuals routinely measure and manage their time" by providing high-quality administrative support for the effort.
How do we account for the renewed interest in these ideas? Is it a cyclical interest? Is it the result of new communication technologies that flood our lives with information that takes up time and requires prioritization? Is it a reflection of the fact that productivity improvement in non-manufacturing activities lags behind the manufacturing sector, at least in the US? Is it an indication that our new managers are ill prepared to "work smart"? (At the Harvard Business School, the philosophy has long been to eschew formal training in time management, instead overloading students purposely to force them to learn for themselves how to prioritize and become better time managers.)
Why the current concern? Who's responsible for the management of your time on the job? What do you think?
To Read More
Frankii Bevins and Aaron De Smet, Making Time Management the Organization's Priority , McKinsey Quarterly, January 2013.
Peter Bregman, A Personal Approach to Organizational Time Management , McKinsey Quarterly, January 2013.
Robert C. Pozen, Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours , (New York: Harper Business, 2012).
Tony Schwartz, Relax! You'll Be More Productive, The New York Times, February 10, 2013, pp. SR1 and SR6.
Carson Tate, When You've Had One Meeting Too Many , The New York Times, February 17, 2013, p. BU9.