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An extract from the 60 tools available in...
Section 2: Tools for personal awareness
This section provides some tools that will help you understand yourself and how others see you. This is an important foundation required for any change process. Most tools in this section can be very confronting.

Tool # 2.8 Analyse the way you spend your time (at work)

• Identifies time wasting and focusses on effective prioritisation.
• Outlines ruthlessly systematic methods for considering paperwork and meetings.
• Useful for non-work contexts also.

We all say that we are too busy and if we only had more time to do things, but the fact is that we all have the same number of hours per day to do things! What we often avoid is taking time and effort to prioritise our workload.

This tool was modified from work by William Conway explained in his workshop, 'The Right Way to Manage', (Seminar, Enterprise Australia, 1992).

The power of this tool is that it makes us question the way we spend our time at work. For example, on average, managers get around 90 hours per week of information to read, with over 80% being paperwork. Yet most paperwork (more than 50%) is unnecessary and can be eliminated by asking the following questions:

• Does the paper/report provide value to the clients in terms of improving quality or service?

• Does the paper/report improve productivity or costs?

• Does anybody read the paper/report and, more importantly, does anyone act on it?

• Is someone else already doing the same work/activity?

• Can any other person, department, organisation/community do it faster, better or more easily?

Get rid of the paperwork, if it doesn't:

• add value to the product or customer

• improve quality

• improve services, making you more responsive to the customer

• improve productivity, by cutting costs directly

• improve communications

• increase staff motivation or morale

• encourage innovation

• speed up decision-making

• satisfy a legislative requirement.

Even though this tool looks at the way you work, it can be expanded to incorporate your work/life balance. You could also include other parts of your life, such as family, social, exercise, community, entertainment and hobbies in order to explore priorities in an integrated way.

Background elements to the way we work


Time is integral to analysing the way we work. Remember: time is a unique resource. We cannot rent, hire, buy, or otherwise obtain, more time. The supply of time is totally inelastic: no matter how high the demand, the supply will not increase! Furthermore, time is totally perishable and cannot be stored. Time is totally irreplaceable, yet everything requires time and most people take it for granted.

To effectively manage our time, we first have to know where it actually goes. Using our memory is not an accurate indicator of how time was spent.

Systematic and accurate time management involves identifying and eliminating non-productive, time-wasting activities by asking the following questions:

• What would happen if this was not done? If the answer is nothing, then eliminate the activity.

• What activities can be done by somebody else? This involves delegation: somebody else performing the activity.

• How much time do you spend with others, such as in meetings, that waste their time/effectiveness? Check with your staff on this.


A recent study of business people demonstrates that those who were interrupted every 11 minutes took a total of 25 minutes to return to their task! It is easy to see how few people are focused at work. Because you seem busy, you are not necessarily getting the right things done: you may be doing things that are wasting a great deal of time and energy.

'Meetings are a lot like the hot air they produce: they'll expand or contract to all the space available.' Robert Kriegel et al 1996


Generally, people spend too much time in meetings. Meetings are like the hot air they produce: they expand or contract to all the space available! To shorten meetings, make everyone stand up and/or have meetings at the end of the working day or week, especially on a Friday. Never hold meetings first thing in the morning as the meeting will tend to drag on to all the time allocated to it.

Alternatively, use 'meeting meters'. Software has been developed that measures the actual cost of a meeting based on participants' salaries, room and equipment rentals plus miscellaneous expenses. It looks like a taxi meter and makes the same clicking noise as the dollars run up. An extra option includes a buzzer that sounds when the meeting's cost exceeds the benefits it is supposed to produce. This meter has been used to demonstrate the cost when people are late for meetings and helps people to start thinking critically about the value of meetings.

Reports and procedures

Another time waster is writing unnecessary reports and following procedures blindly. Generally, procedures are incorrectly believed to control behaviour: they are supposed to enforce right conduct; they are a substitute for judgement and are an instrument for control by management. There is a need to regularly check whether reports and procedures are still required. One way to test if a report is needed is to complete it, but not send it. If the usual recipients do not complain immediately, then it can be safely assumed that the report is not required!

Analysing your workload

In your diary, record everything you do at work for two to three weeks.

Then classify your work activities under the following headings:

value-adding (work that increases the value of products or services to an external client, and adds value from the external customer's viewpoint)

necessary (work that consists of tasks that are needed to be performed to keep the organisation or situation operating but adds no value to external customers, such as expense reports, travelling, handling governance and tax requirements, etc.)

unnecessary - re-work (work that is required only because something was not done properly the first time)

unnecessary - other than re-work (work that does not add value and is not necessary for the successful operation of the organisation or group)

not working, but being paid - authorised (work that is authorised, such as holidays, vacations, breaks) or unauthorised (such as waiting time and idle time).

A typical senior manager's allocation of work under the these headings is shown in the table.

This clearly shows that minimal managerial time is spent on productive matters (value-adding and necessary work), while too much of the time is wasted (re-work, unnecessary work and not working).

Time is much too precious to all of us for this imbalance to prevail. We should redirect our efforts and energy towards productive work.

Sources: William Conway 1992, Kriegal et al 1996, Peter Drucker 2001, Jerry Useem 2006, Claudia Wallis 2006, Bill Synnot 1994

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