Monday Mornings with Madison

It’s About Time

Even though time gives the impression of being endless, it is actually the most finite of all resources.  Unlike money, which can be saved or lost, time cannot be saved; only lost.  It cannot be stretched, stopped, hidden or paused.  There is no back-up for lost time.  Wasted time is lost forever.  Even though the clock’s hands start its daily trek around the dial anew each day, making it seem like we have unlimited time, in truth time that has passed will never return.  This is news to no one, and certainly not to any business owner.  Most companies are hyper vigilant of employee time to ensure it is not squandered.  Rules for the proper use of time take the form of warnings against the various ways in which staff are tempted to waste time.  Office socializing.  Texting friends.  Posting or surfing social media.  Tardiness.

However, that’s not how time is lost or wasted the most in business.  The biggest source of time waste at companies is when employees are assigned to do work that is not the “best use of their time.”  The concept of “best use of your time” is hardly given any consideration by most companies.  Employees are often hired and managed with only a murky outline of what they are to do.  Certainly no job description can capture every single aspect of what an employee does or how every minute of his time will be spent.  A job description only gives a cursory understanding of the major tasks that an employee will handle, not the minutiae, and typically does not determine what percentage of time (throughout a day, week or month) should be spent on each task.  And the higher the position, the truer it is.  Instead of ensuring staff time is spent on the most beneficial activities to the company, employees – from entry level to top management – dribble time away on tasks that are either best handled by someone else or should be eliminated altogether.  That is the ultimate waste of time.  So how does a company ensure that all employees are spending the majority of their time doing the things that are “the best use of their time”?

Time Management is really Task Management

One dictionary defines time as “the point or period at which things occur.” Put simply, time is when stuff happens.  It is good for businesses to think of time in that way.  In business, time is basically synonymous with action.  The question of managing time then really becomes a question of managing tasks…. which is really then a matter of prioritizing the tasks most beneficial to the organization.  To do that effectively, the question to answer is “what is the best use of [fill in the name of the employee]’s time?”

1.  All Tasks are not Created Equal

The first step in determining the “best use” of any person’s time is recognizing that all tasks are not created equal.  Some tasks are more valuable to the company than others.  Mindless productivity and ‘busy-ness’ is not synonymous with the “best use” of time.  One person might be constantly scurrying from task to task, checking e-mails, organizing work, making lists, making calls, and running errands.  That person may be busy and even productive, but it may not necessarily be the best use of that person’s time.  Conversely, another person might sit quietly, just thinking, for a block of time.  He may seem only marginally productive — or might even seem like he is “goofing off” — but if that person is able to solve a problem, then the time spent contemplating a solution is the most valuable to the company.  The best ideas on how to solve a problem or improve a process are often born in moments of quiet reflection.  So appearances can be deceiving.  The idea, then, is to identify what exactly each employee needs to achieve, what tasks are associated with achieving those goals, and whether those tasks are the best use of that person’s time.

For example, if the primary goal for a top sales associate is to increase sales, then the amount of time that sales associate spends restocking shelves and organizing inventory should be zero.  Instead, that sales associate should be available to welcome clients when they arrive, answer questions about merchandise and expedite the purchase process.  While it is important for shelves to be stocked and inventory to be organized and easily accessible, that is not the best use of the sales associate’s time.  Instead, an entry-level clerk can be hired to organize inventory, restock shelves, reload registers with paper and bags, put pricing on products, and whatever other tasks that ensure the business runs smoothly but that do not directly deliver more sales.  And perhaps some tasks, such as watering plants, emptying trash and vacuuming floors can be outsourced to a cleaning company, which requires no oversight or benefits.

2.  Identify Tasks of Greatest Value to the Company

It is not easy to identify which tasks have the greatest value to the company and/or make the best use of a person’s time.  It is not a one-size-fits-all exercise.  This custom-tailored process must be done by the employee and that person’s boss.  It helps for the employee to start by identifying the tasks they perform.  If a job description for that position already exists, that is a good place to start.  Does the job description accurately describe the way the employee’s time is actually spent?  If not, all major tasks should be identified.  Then an approximate percentage of time spent on each task should be allocated.

The employee should also be asked what he believes are the tasks he performs that are the most important to the company.  What is the best use of his time?  The list of tasks the employee actually performs and the tasks that the employee feels is most beneficial to the company may not necessarily be one and the same.  If an employee spends huge amounts of time doing tasks that are not central to the job or are not the best use of that person’s time, those tasks should be evaluated to see how they can be reassigned, streamlined or automated in some way or just plain eliminated.  There are often tasks that add little or no value to the company.  There are also tasks that some higher-level employees do simply because no one else is assigned to do them, but it’s not the best use of that person’s time.  Or some tasks are done simply because “it’s always been done that way” without considering whether it is even still needed.  Non-essential tasks should be eliminated.

3.  Align Employees with Positions that Add Greatest Value to the Company

Another way in which time is wasted at companies is by having people who have valuable skill sets doing jobs in which those skills are not used. Over time, as employees grow with a company and become more adept and integral to the organization, they develop skills that may not have been present when they were first hired. Or they might have obtained additional training or education. Those employees are prime candidates to be moved into positions that make the most of their most important skills. By keeping over-qualified people in jobs they have outgrown, the company not only wastes time because it is not the best use of their time, but it also risks losing employees who stop growing and feels stifled. Of course, moving an employee from one job to another has to make sense not only for the company but also for the employee.

4.  Best Use of Time Changes Over Time

Even after an employee understands what tasks in his position has the most value for the company, and thus which tasks are the best use of his time, that evaluation is not over.  What constitutes ‘best use of time’ will depend on what the company or department or office needs, and business needs are ever-changing.  Whereas a company’s focus during one season may be on increasing production to meet demand, that focus may shift to increasing sales once inventory piles up again.  Likewise, during a recession, a business may choose to focus on cutting expenses and reducing staff, but choose to expand, hire and reinvest when the economy picks up again.

Keep in mind that realigning jobs, tasks and staff can be disruptive and must be done carefully to ensure the staff feels comfortable with such changes in their work.  Otherwise, such adjustments might drive up the turnover rate, which is probably another big way that companies lose time… having to recruit, hire and train people to replace exiting staff.

Business owners and managers who are really determined to eliminate the bad habit of wasting time on unimportant or menial tasks should, as the poet Longfellow suggested, “act in the living present,” and begin at once to amend their course.  After all, there is no time to waste.

Quote of the Week

“Lost wealth may be replaced by industry, lost knowledge by study, lost health by temperance or medicine, but lost time is gone forever.” Samuel Smiles


© 2016, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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