Time Management for Dummies. Are you working Smart or Dumb?

I’m no statistician, nor am I a qualified researcher, but I am going to put my neck on the line and make what I could call a well informed guess at how you spend your working week.

It’s well informed because I have been asking this question of the people I work with in training rooms (well into the thousands of people over the years).  The answer comes up consistently the same once you get into any organisation of more than say 10 people.  Let’s also narrow it down a bit and give an age range of between 25 and 35.  If you fit into this category, irrespective of job role or the nature of the work you do, I reckon I can confidently predict how much time you waste at work.

This ought to frighten the pants off you, whether or not it applies to you personally.  Not because I am a mind reader, but because of the implication of this data.  I might be talking about the people you lead or the people you manage.  Stand by:  brace yourself……

An expert Time Wasting technique

An expert Time Wasting technique

People in this category tell me they spend AT LEAST half their working week doing things that in their opinion are a waste  of time.

If they’re right (and I am in no position to doubt them), that means that the typical organisation has got 2.5 days of weekly productivity gains waiting to be unlocked.  Every week, year in, year out.  That’s like potentially doubling your workforce.


That means that huge organisations like the one I was with last week in California are turning over $50 billion plus on half a working week.  How many $ billion would it be worth to them to improve their productivity by 10%?

I have been asking myself what lies at the root of this.  Why do so many people allow themselves to be dragged into doing things they know are a waste of time?  Conference calls that are of no relevance to them, but they got invited just in case something relevant came up. Presentations which are a less efficient way of communicating what should in fact be in a Word document.  Meetings which have no agenda, no actions, no minutes, no follow up.  Jumping into a project without any decent planning or understanding of the context, and then having to do it again because it wasn’t what the client wanted.  I could go on.  So could you, since you are as familiar with this as I am.

Did you notice I didn’t even mention email or all those unfathomably complex internal processes you have to go through to do a basic task?  Oh, I have now.  To say nothing of the time you can waste on Facebook, Twitter and the like if you really put your mind to it.

Here’s what I think the answer is:  too many people have given up on pushing back and getting into a collaborative conversation about a better use of time.  It’s easier(and, critically, quicker, so they tell themselves), to just do it.  You’re less exposed, less likely to be seen as a “troublemaker”, if you just suck it up, shrug your shoulders and get on with it.

How barking mad is that, and how sad?  A sense of frustration and helplessness all rolled into one.  Basically the people who allow this to happen (the vast majority) have disengaged largely.  They have turned into Children who are persistently blaming “them” for involving them in so much unproductive work.

It’s a depressing picture in a way, but also one which brims with opportunity.  If people could be encouraged to tackle at least some of these time wasters through an assertive conversation with the right person, it would be Win/Win.  Person A frees up time to do more important stuff for either Person B or Person C.

What sort of encouragement do they need?  Permission?  To be asked “What do you suggest?” more often?  Some sort of Time Management target:  “Reduce your unproductive activities by 10% by the end of August.”?  It depends on your culture to some extent, I guess.

This is a Leadership issue, for both Leaders and Followers.  It requires investment of time in fixing it, and a willingness to get creative and look at alternatives.  Easier said than done, maybe, but look at the gains to be had.

Quadrant 4:  Doing things you should be doing, and doing them well.

Quadrant 4: Doing things you should be doing, and doing them well.

Think I’m barking mad?  On drugs or something?  Why not go and research it yourself?  Ask the people you work with what percentage of time they honestly think they spend in the top right box, doing Right Things Right.  If the average is higher than 50%, please let me know.  I’d be delighted to be proved wrong.

And if it’s less than 50%, plan some time right now to get into a dialogue with people over how to increase it.

It will be worth every penny.

© bst2012 – Fotolia.com

About Michael Brown Training

I'm a business skills trainer, facilitator and coach. I've been helping people to learn for 16 years, working all around the world on topics such as Negotiation, Conflict Handling, Sales, Leadership, Consulting and Personal Effectiveness. I'm an ENFP, constantly looking for new and inspiring things to do. I love my job for its variety and the stimulation I get from it, and spend most of my time seeing how far we can go with the subjects we work on in the training room. I've recently started a new venture in making video on how NOT to do things, which you can find at www.hownot2.com
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10 Responses to Time Management for Dummies. Are you working Smart or Dumb?

  1. Pingback: Why doing the Wrong Thing righter makes it wronger | Real Learning, for a Change

  2. Colin Smith says:

    Thank you Michael, another thought provoking article. I read recently that there are more employees either disengaged or not engaged than there are those engaged. When you add that to what you are saying about 50% is wasted, which I agree with by the way, then we have a major issue regarding work.

    I also agree that this is a leadership issue, leading, engaging, motivation, etc., but I feel it opens up a much bigger issue in terms of what is really going on in the workplace. My sense is that this has a lot to do with education and how we have been conditioned to do what we are told, keep our head down and we will be looked after. Maybe that was what happened many years ago, you were looked after, but that is not the case today. We created a parent child relationship in school, aimed at creating clones based on the primary school subject areas (this also distanced many children whose skills and passions were not catered for at school). So those new employees coming into the workplace are looking for more parent child behaviour, and to a large extent they get it, however, when you treat people like children, surprise, surprise they act like children.

    The world of work, I feel, needs to change dramatically such that we can engage more of our people, reduce the fear that exists in most organisations, and enable people to bring all of themselves, hands, head and heart and soul, into the workplace. Those in organisations can do a lot to influence how the education system behaves and operates such that there is less conditioning and more opportunities for pupils to take personal responsibility and to learn those subjects that really interest them. At the same time turning their own business upside down to be ready for the shift. The result being a more mentally and emotionally aware person who takes personal responsibility, ready to work.


    • Very interesting angle, Colin. You are suggesting, I think, that this is more about the way we condition people from an early age. And that this lack of productivity at work is therefore not so much about lack of assertiveness or willingness to question and probe Wrong activities, but more a kind of inbuilt reflex. Kind of a lack of motivation and drive to do something more useful with their time.

      The trouble is, if you’re right, this is much harder to address. Far less capable of being dealt with through giving people more skills, that’s for sure.

      Mmmmm, I need to ponder on that one. thanks for your thoughts.


      • Colin Smith says:

        Thanks Michael, you have understood what I am suggesting. I think your points about lack of assertiveness, willingness to question and probing of wrong activities are valid and apply to the majority of organisations.

        It is therefore much harder to address on its own. Training people in new skills is fine and a number of people will perform better as a result. However, many will not have a foundation on which to build these new skills. Going back to coming out of a parent child environment at school and joining a similarly parental organisation is fine, turn up, do as you are told, keep your head down, go home. Until the economy changes or those that parent get it wrong and you are out. Blame is then laid by them firmly at the parents.

        As new organisations form and are adopting a new way of working, see the games company Valve and the way they work. They had to create a handbook of how to work in a flat structure, where you get to make the decisions, you get to fail, make mistakes and learn, because many of those arriving could not get their heads around what was needed.

        This operates at an individual level, personal responsibility, a family level, an organisational level and a government/Country level. Please tell us what to do, so when we get it wrong we can blame you.

        The trouble is, as people are finally waking up to, the person at the top does not have all the answers, in spite of them believing they do, and that we are not only all in this together, but through taking personal responsibility we can work it out together. In spite of so many challenges being faced by society, we have never had so many people standing up, doing something different and making a success out of it.

        Through changing the education system, the way children are conditioned, means a better chance for them to enter work with the right mindset and attitude. Through the workplace changing, through some of what you are suggesting, will help the existing workforce, but will be there ready to embrace the new generation that are coming through.


  3. Julie says:

    I love this post. I think I have an answer, though… People don’t try and use their time better, because they won’t get anything useful out of it FOR THEM:) I mean, if I can do the job that it took me (or someone else) 2 working days to do in only a half a day – does it mean I’ll get to leave home early, to be with my family? Nope; I’ll get another pile of work, that’s worth at least 2 days of work and be expected to finish it up by the end of the same day:)


    • Great comment, Julie. In other words, there’s no point working smart because you just get given more to do. I do hope you’re not entirely right! Maybe there’s a negotiation to be had here: go 50/50 with people?! You work productively 4 days a week and we’ll give you a day off in lieu! If only…..


      • Julie says:

        If only, indeed! I had a very interesting evolution during my 7 years in the corporate, however my corporate was the Israeli army – not exactly your standard business. I can say that from my personal research with my subordinates, their ways of using time and focus were 400% (!) better when they got rewarded in SOME way (let’s say – get 4 hours off per week if you finish all your tasks a BIT earlier than expected). If we all were meant to work 9 (at least) hours a day, and always 9-17 I don’t think there would be any point in acknowledging that we are all different, unique – what works for Jim won’t work for Jane etc. Anyway, I’m loving your attitude – nice to meet someone online that doesn’t fall for the political trap:)


      • I once worked in a warehouse, where they changed the employment terms from “everyone leaves at 5” to “everyone leaves when everyone has finished what we estimate to be a full day’s work.” Amazing what happened. Everyone worked as a team, helped each other out, and typically they all went home at 2!

        My attitude: presumably the sort of attitude that can only come form someone who works for himself and is not being paid to write! Oh, and also is 55 years old, covered in war wounds, and has not much left to lose!!!


  4. Carolann says:

    I’m working on a committee whose task is to create and optimize the larger group’s website. I fully understand now why people say, “if you want to get nothing done, form a committee!”


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