Time Management: If you could turn back time?


Well, too bad, you can’t! Lost time is time lost for good. If you belong to the common species of executives who – unreflectively ? – spend hours per day meeting or perusing email, you will be aghast when confronted with the vast amount of time such activities eventually add up to: one day for managing your flood of communications, two for attending countless meetings. Makes three valuable days. Disconcerting, isn’t it? Irretrievable resources gone with the wind … This new Bain & Company study demonstrates how lost time costs millions each year. Moreover, a list of best practices has been compiled to help fight the “Eight Deadly Sins” so readily committed in time management.


15 per cent of an organization’s collective time is spent in meetings

Top executives lose thousands of hours each year responding to email and sitting in unproductive meetings, and the losses snowball through their organizations – simply because companies do not track and monitor employee time as tightly as any other resource, such as capital.
15 percent of an organization’s collective time is spent in meetings, a number that has increased steadily since 2008.  One company’s weekly senior leadership meeting directly consumed 7,000 hours per year for the attendees – but 300,000 hours company wide among subordinates in preparation and related meetings. Yet most companies have no ability to quantify how their executives and other employees spend their time because they do not track and measure it. Bain teamed with VoloMetrix, an enterprise analytics company, to examine the time budgets of 17 large corporations. Among their findings:

Meetings are often scheduled “just because”

Executives today on average receive 30,000 external communications per year, up from 1,000 in the 1970s.  At the current rate, executives will soon spend more than one day each week managing electronic communications.

Senior executives on average devote more than two days each week to meetings with three or more coworkers. A meeting that starts just five minutes late costs a company eight percent of that meeting – a loss that would be untenable in any other resource category.
Meetings are often scheduled “just because,” and dysfunctional meeting behavior is on the rise.  At one company, about 1 in 5 meeting participants sent an average of three or more emails for every 30 minutes of meeting time.  At a sample 10,000-employee business, $60 million – 20 percent of the total cost of meetings – was squandered in unproductive activity.

Bain’s work with large organizations has found the problem to be cultural as much as systemic: Organizations evolve into complex mechanisms that require increasing maintenance to function smoothly, and a corporate culture springs up to support this effort, siphoning resources away from externally focused, customer-serving tasks.
„Most time management advice focuses on individual actions – be choosy with meetings, rein in your email box. But this advice sometimes goes against your company’s culture: Ignore emails and meeting invitations and you risk alienating your colleagues – or your boss,“ said Michael Mankins, leader of Bain’s Organization Practice in the Americas, who led the survey and report. „Innovative companies are fostering cultures where time is treated as a scarce resource and invested as prudently as capital.“

Bain’s research highlights these eight deadly time management sins and their cures:

  1. Muddled company wide agendas: Make them clear and selective so all know how to use extra time and what tasks can be shelved with penalty.
  2. “Time is free” approach to scheduling: Create zero-based time budget and manage organizational time as rigorously as capital assets.
  3. “Let’s start a project” mindset: Require a business case for any new project.
  4. Thickening middle: Simplify the organization. More managers and layers robs time and creates more work for others.
  5. ACS – “Anyone Can Schedule”: Create a line of authority for who can call and set meetings.
  6. Decision-making or decision-murky? Manage decision-making – not the matrix for it – by standardizing the process.
  7. Meeting Time is Free Time: Establish discipline by requiring clear agendas, advance preparation, on-time starts. When possible, finish early.
  8. “Where’d the time go?” Track meeting time, attendance and email volume to assess productivity.  What is not monitored cannot be measured.

“If time really was money, and accounted for in the same way, many companies would be running huge deficits,” said Greg Caimi, Bain partner and co-author of the time management study.  “Organizations need to audit their time expenditures and put in place tough controls in order to stop the hemorrhaging of an increasingly valuable asset.”

Bain & Company, a leading global business consulting firm, serves clients on issues of strategy, operations, technology, organization and mergers and acquisitions. The firm was founded in 1973 on the principle that Bain consultants must measure their success by their clients’ financial results. Bain clients have outperformed the stock market 4 to 1. With 50 offices in 32 countries, Bain has worked with over 4,900 major multinational, private equity and other corporations across every economic sector. For more information visit: www.bain.com
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Header image © Christina Feyerke