Pruning the Time Wasters

In my last post I mentioned Peter F. Drucker’s four diagnostic questions that deal primarily with unproductive and time-consuming activities over which every executive (to use Drucker’s term but which refers to any knowledge worker for the purpose of this conversation) should ask. Today, we will go into greater detail on each one.

  1. Identify time wasters which follow from lack of system or foresight. Symptom: Crisis, especially recurrent crisis.

An example: A company that makes an earnings prediction for year end when releasing the second quarter’s interim report earlier in the year – during the fourth quarter, there is much scurrying about in order to meet management’s forecast. This lasts from three to five weeks with the end results of no one in the management group getting any real work done. A solution is needed in order to satisfy the needs of the various stakeholders. The final solution?  Instead of predicting a definite year end number, management starts to predict within a range. This satisfies the financial community, shareholders, and directors and the executive team’s time is now more productive.

  1. Time-wastes often result from overstaffing.

A work force may be too small to get the work done. But oftentimes, the workforce is too large to be effective. This is a workforce that spends an increasing amount of time “interacting” rather than actually doing productive work. A symptom of an overstaffed situation? A manager that spends more than about 10% of their time dealing with “problems of human relations” has a workforce that is too large. Oftentimes the excuse heard is “we have to have x specialty on staff”, even if that persons specialty is not something that is used on a day to day basis. In that case, the company is better off to use outside fee based consultants.

  1.  Another common time-waster is malorganization. Its symptom is an excess of meetings.

Meetings by definition are a concession to deficient organization. You either meet or you work – you cannot do both at the same time. In a perfect world/organization (which is impossible by the way) there would be no need for meetings. Meetings are held because people holding different kinds of jobs have to cooperate with one another to get specific tasks/projects done. All the knowledge, experience and expertise are not available in one person, but have to be pieced together from the knowledge and experience of several people. But if executives in an organization spend more than a small part of their time in meetings, it is a sure sign of malorganization.

  1. The last major time-waster is malfunction in information.

One example is a large hospital whose admissions people “know” there are no beds available, yet when a doctor calls the administrator a bed is nearly always found. For whatever reason, the admissions department is not informed immediately when a patient is discharged. The floor nurse knows, the billing office knows but not admissions.  The first question is why? Which is related to the fix: An extra copy of the document that goes from the nurse to the billing office also goes to admissions.

Another example is in a manufacturing organization when the production people get the information they need in the wrong form. Operating people need extremes and ranges, for product mix and other related items while the financial people need averages. So this information has to be translated from the information accounting needs and uses to the type of information that production needs. Accounting has all the information but just needs to know what production needs to give it to them.

Now this seems like it is more organization focused, and it is. But the same basic procedures can be applied by an individual.


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