21 March 2011

I have no time for important things because I waste 40% of it

From the Future of Work blog:

The paradox at the heart of work

So here is the thing… last week I heard two paradoxical facts:
Fact 1 – we have no time. 
We are nearing the end of our research consortium focused on the future of work and need to ensure that the ideas that have come from the research are translated into facts, ideas and actions for the companies that have participated. That’s going to take time – perhaps four hours a week of focused team-work to ensure the translation takes place. Yet when we ask executive teams about putting this amount of work in thinking about the actions for the future, the overwhelming response is that many teams are simply too busy to dedicate this time. It’s not that they don’t think this is important for the future – but as often happens at work, the short term is overwhelming the longer time priorities. So – the first fact I heard this week is that many executive teams simply have no time for this type of longer-term work.
Fact 2 – we waste 40% of our working time.
That reality was in my mind when I worked earlier in the week with a major US based multinational company. The team was mulling over the results of an analysis of the working patterns of hundreds of employees they had commissioned. What was clear was that more than 40% - yes you have heard it right – not 4% but a full 40% of work currently being undertaken was not actually productive work. Doing stuff that was not needed, working on projects that had no significance, going to meetings that had no outcomes.
Now the paradox emerges. At the very time that we are overwhelmed by the minutia of everyday work – we are simultaneously engaged in work that has no productive outcome. Now that’s interesting. 
So how has this happened? If you want to check what Lynda Gratton think about it, just go to the original post, but here is my simple take on why is that:

1 - Strategic direction / vision is not clear enough (not 100% actionable by every employee) - "increase sales", "grow", etc can be interpreted in a million ways. If it is not clear, at best, I will have my own take to do it. Which can lead to a lot of spinning wheels or rowing the boat to the wrong shore. This leads to problems in prioritization, which end up as the "everything is a priority" mindset. When everything is a priority, then you will be counting on luck to pick the really important things to get done. Work is infinite, time is not.

2 - Bad management skills - if the above problem is more connected to leadership, this one is purely management: effective meetings with clear output, clear delegation, scraping the BS and focusing on the priorities, etc. In my short corporate life (around 8 years), I am absolutely overwhelmed by the amount of people who cannot create a simple plan, run a meeting where people know the objective, delegate something with clear deliverables and satisfaction conditions, decide something when a decision is needed, etc. I strongly believe this should be tough in schools, that is basic education nowadays: getting stuff done.


  1. MCP, are you writing your management book already? if not - go NOW! :)

  2. Not at work, but I am :)

    I really hope I will be able to finish it by my deadline.


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