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

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