The famous management thinker Socrates once said: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
As 2019 approaches, everyone is making resolutions. Most people do this without data, hypotheses or any idea of what they’re going to do differently. It’s usually a combination of regrets over bets that didn’t pan out, thoughts about what they feel they should improve, and inspiration from others. And they wonder why nothing really changes.
Intention without information is powerless. To misquote great management thinker, Albert Einstein, doing the same thing and hoping for a different result is the definition of inefficiency.
This is where the personal time and motion study can help.
Time and Motion Study Basics
In summary, a time and motion study goes like this:
1. Look closely at what you’re doing.
2. Spot opportunities to be more efficient.
3. Make a change to the way you work to do it.
4. See if it produces the expected results.
5. Rinse and repeat.
(Note: a traditional Taylorist time and motion study separates thinking about work versus actually doing it. You can tell who’s doing the thinking because they’re wearing a suit and an expensive watch. That approach, though still common, is somewhat discredited and is not what we’re talking about here.)
Small changes, big benefits
Small savings quickly mount up. At the same time, we spend a lot of time in our lives doing stuff that is not very useful. For example, every day most people spend two or more hours on social media.
Reducing useless tasks or at least doing them more efficiently can free up huge amounts of time for what’s important.
Here’s a table to help you work out how much time you could save with modest gains repeatedly and regularly:Image Source]
Is it worth the time? It’s a question worth asking yourself for whatever you’re doing — even if your intention is to be more efficient and productive.
In the Atlantic, Megan Garber describes MIT psychologist Sherry Turkle’s working method as “the kind of low-grade spying that in academia is known as ‘ethnography,’ that in journalism is known as ‘reporting,’ and that everywhere else is known as ‘paying attention.’”
This is what you’re aiming for: pay attention to what you do and how you do it.
Start by thinking, in broad terms, about how you spend your time over the course of a typical working week. Time trackers like Clockify (a timesheet app that successful teams like Atlassian and Siemens use) and Toggl (an online timer that you can run across your devices and generate reports from) may give you more objective data about how you spend your time.
There are features and apps popping up every day to help you organize your day — but you could also simply try writing things down.
With I Done This, you complete a five-minute survey every day. These check-ins turn into larger progress reports that help you ensure you’re moving forward at the right pace.
You don’t need to measure your activity down to the second. That would be Taylorism — and you are both the subject and the observer, the thinker and the doer. Examine and report on your life in a way that’s useful.
Spot opportunities for improvement
Group your time into categories using a classic Boston Box with the amount of time spent and value on the two axes.
You already have data about the amount of time spent from your observations. Here are some criteria for judging how valuable an activity is to your job:
- Does it create value for the business?
- Is it in my job description?
- Is it an investment in personal growth?
- Do I get a bonus for doing it really well?
There are some things, like going to meetings or writing emails, that are part of your job but they’re not valuable. Once you’ve classified your tasks this way, you can see where you need to spend time and what you need to adjust.
Create a hypothesis
Common ways to be less efficient are good places to start looking for improvements. Do you do any of these things?
- Spend too much time on email. Email takes up more than 30 percent of the average desk worker’s day. That’s a day and a half a week.
- Interrupt yourself. Each day a typical office employee checks email over 80 times and uses instant messaging 94 times. It’s hard to concentrate if you’re doing this.
- Multi-tasking. Productivity drops by as much as 40 percent when subjects try to do two or more things at once.
From your own observations, come up with a question or hypothesis that addresses these common behaviors, such as “can I cut the amount of time I spend doing my email by 25 percent?” and what you discover about how you spend your time, such as “can I find a way to replace or reduce some kinds of meetings?”
Make a change
Once you’ve got a hypothesis, make a change in the way you work and run an experiment to see if it helps. Here are some tools and techniques for doing less and doing better:
- Change the venue where you work. For example, try shared workspaces or working on the Underground.
- Go to fewer meetings or just email a report instead of attending.
- Use an online tool, such as Tricider, to build consensus rather than spending an hour in a meeting.
- Switch off your email notification and other interruptions. Put your phone into airplane mode and use a distraction-free editor.
- Consider using the Pomodoro technique to improve concentration.
- Listen to white noise or classical music as background.
- For your email, set up some rules for routine messages, such as using some autoresponders and some canned responses.
There are so many tweaks you can make. This is just a starting point.
Consider automated solutionsPexels]
There are lots of automated solutions cropping up for simple tasks like data entry, bookkeeping and tax preparation that can free employees to focus on more creative, higher-value tasks. Far from leading you into an AI winter where robots overwhelm your work environment, these are small fixes that make a big difference in productivity.
Simple, mundane work takes up so much of employees’ time. After conducting the time and motion study, figure out what low-value work is the most time-consuming and consider investing in tools that can take this off your plate.
Try your experiment for a week. Perform the same observations as before using the same tools. Is there an improvement? Great. If not, try something else. Rinse and repeat.
A few minutes every day and an hour or so every week working with time and motion study experiments can produce a dramatic change in your productivity.
What helps you to be more efficient? What tools do you use to measure your effectiveness? What holds you back? Share your thoughts in the comments. We’d love to hear from you.