Companies have turned killing time into an art form

April 19, 2014
April 19, 2014

Technologies like email and videoconferencing, designed to save time, end up helping people waste more of it. A new study by Bain & Company published at the Harvard Business Review finds that the way we order our lives and structure our companies, and particularly our meetings, wastes a spectacular amount of time.

Organizations account for how money is used. But time, for the most part, is barely tracked and sucked up by meetings and preparing for them. Things like email, conference calls, and online calendars make scheduling and attending things so easy people don’t stop to think before they do it.

The statistics from the study are pretty incredible:

  • A study of Outlook schedules at one company found that a weekly meeting of an executive committee created a total of 300,000 hours of additional work and meetings over the course a year for the participants and their teams. That included meeting time, as well as preparation and followup.
  • 15% of an organization’s collective time is spent in meetings, a percentage that’s gone up yearly since 2008
  • On average, senior executives spend more than two days a week in meetings with more than three people
  • Senior executives get an average of 30,000 external communications a year, versus 1,000 in the 1970s.

The data come from a study of time use at 17 large companies that used analytics tools from VoloMetrix.

For senior executives especially, meetings, calls, and emails create hours of work for other people. A failure to measure time use and the fact that most companies have no way to discourage or penalize unproductive meetings help make things worse.

The authors make some good suggestions for companies and people, like creating a limited time budget for meetings, and always having a clear and very limited agenda.

If there’s one overall takeaway, the best thing an individual can do is to think twice before sending an email or scheduling a meeting. Not only are most of them time wasters, they have a cascade effect on our own time and that of others that we don’t think about enough. It all seriously adds up.

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