Time Again For Better Time Management

No resource, Peter Drucker stressed, was as scarce or as ill-used as time.

That’s why we’ve written so much about it. Previously, our emphasis has been on the personal time management of executives. But a new article in McKinsey Quarterly reminds us of the broader perspective, exploring time management as a companywide, systemic concern. “Time management isn’t just a personal-productivity issue over which companies have no control,” write the authors, Frankki Bevins and Aaron De Smet. “It has increasingly become an organizational issue whose root causes are deeply embedded in corporate structures and cultures.”

On the bright side, a structural problem allows for structural solutions. “Senior teams can create time budgets and formal processes for allocating their time,” the authors note. “Leaders can pay more attention to time when they address organizational-design matters such as spans of control, roles and decision rights.”

Drucker would have heartily endorsed this line of thinking. “Hardly any country today is so far behind in industrial methods as not to time systematically the operations of manual workers,” Drucker pointed out in The Effective Executive. “But we have not applied [this approach] to the work that matters increasingly, and that particularly has to cope with time: the work of the knowledge worker and especially of the executive.”

Photo credit: Janet Ramsden
Photo credit: Janet Ramsden

Some clues that a lot of man-hours are being wasted at your place of work? Excessive staffing, lots of meetings, the recurrent “crisis” and information that flows to the wrong part of the organization or arrives in the wrong form. These four symptoms, said Drucker, are surefire signs of time waste.

Drucker also urged executives to consider one area that they may have missed: the time that they cause colleagues to waste. On this front, Drucker advocated a simple first step: Ask. “Effective executives have learned to ask systematically and without coyness: ‘What do I do that wastes your time without contributing to your effectiveness?’” Drucker wrote. “To ask this question, and to ask it without being afraid of the truth, is a mark of the effective executive.”

 How effective is your organization overall in terms of managing time?