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Wasted Time At Work

"What a Waste of Time!"

Do you ever hear this at work? Time is wasted, and someone is to blame. Though it’s curious how no one ever dares to take ownership of the problem. In so many cases, it’s always someone else’s fault. “That guy in the other department wasted my time. Of course I would never waste someone else’s time, let alone my own. But jeez, look at all the waste

all over the place.”

We accuse others, but we toil in perfection, never attributing wastefulness to our own actions. So what exactly do we mean by wasted time in the workplace? We can begin with this definition:

Time waste among knowledge workers is:

Time expenditures on activities that could be significantly reduced while maintaining organizational objectives.

We can parse this phrase to understand how it relates to corporate waste and the potential for improvements.

“Time expenditures”

Time spent by employees, or by production equipment has a cost. For employees this is

hourly wages or salaries. For production equipment, it is operating costs as well as

amortization of capital costs.

Hence, reduction in time spent on an activity will usually result in a cost savings. In some cases, a reduction in time use on a low value-added task can be offset by a re-allocation to a higher value added task. For instance, a sales rep who reduces his time on paperwork can shift the time to higher value sales activities. Excess time spent on paperwork is thus wasteful.

The qualifier that it is time “expenditures” extends this organizationally. Consider a CEO who spends a half hour booking an airline flight. Instead of spending her time this way, she transfers this task to an assistant. The net organizational time spent on flight booking is the same. However, the expenditure assumes that the cost of the CEO’s time is much higher than the assistant’s. Hence the net time expenditure – the cost – is reduced.


Activities are identifiable, measureable tasks such as meetings, phone calls, directing staff, report writing, planning, and even thinking time. The focus for time waste is not on overtime hours or wasteful thinking, or even physical waste. Time reductions must be focused on specific activities to embark on process improvement and time waste reduction.


This term implies that improvements in time expenditures are not about time being better spent, nor more worthy. Instead, a measurable reduction is the goal.

“Could be…”

Time waste implies a potential for change that has yet to be realized. Excessive time expenditures on low value activities are often identified, without any subsequent action being taken on them. Employees know anecdotally that there are opportunities for improvement, and sometimes get frustrated that “nothing ever gets done.”

“Significantly reduced”

Insignificant adjustments to time expenditures could be made that are not worthy of pursuit. For instance, service reps in a small company might answer the phone by saying, “This is XYZ Company, Marcia speaking, how may I help you?” Theoretically this could be reduced to “Customer service, how may I help?” The total time savings would be about 2 seconds per call. At one call per hour, or 9 calls per day, this would add up to about 1.5 minutes per week, an nsignificant amount for a small company.

On the other hand, consider a call center manned by 200 service reps each handling 50 calls per day. The total time savings for the reduction in the brief telephone greeting would be 27.8 hours per week. This is the equivalent of about 1 full time person, after administration, breaks, etc. are included. A focus on waste reduction should focus on 0pportunities likely to yield significant results.

“Organizational Objectives”

Time reductions must be consistent with organizational goals. While reductions are possible in any number of areas in an organization, they are not appropriate when they would have a negative impact on quality control, customer service, etc. Time reductions must maintain the goal, or the intent of activities.


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