Organizational Time Management: Improving Performance with more Efficient Communications

Recently, there have been discussions within our management ranks about email preferences. The topic centers on how much information does one want to see. Some prefer to get copied on everything. Others on a need-to-know basis. But, at the end of the day, we are all trying to find a happy medium of managing time and information. A few of us remember the days of “Goldenrod” – I’ll explain that in a little bit for those not familiar with its meaning.

Ultimately, we are all dealing with so much more information and ready access to it on a 24/7 basis. In fact, the term itself “24/7” probably did not exist when we were all getting copies of the Goldenrod sheet. Simplistically, there are three things we do with the information we receive: we take it in, we process it, and when appropriate, we act on it. Each of these are distinct mental exercises in their own right. 

When we take the time to receive information, whether through reading emails, a book, speaking with someone on the phone, or listening to someone in a meeting, we are not necessarily processing it right then. We may not think about it in any detail for a while. We put it on the back burner for later when we have more time to think it through. Then, if necessary, we spend time acting on it. All three consume time.

So if we are receiving more information than ever before, with time being a finite element in our daily lives, it stands to reason that there is a proportionally greater demand on our time to process and act on all that added information – hence the 24/7. Technology, of course, enables us to be more accurate and effective in processing the information. Pivot tables, for example, enable an analyst to process much more information now than an analyst in 1975.

Nonetheless, there is a growing need to be much more efficient with our time. Within an organization, time is money and so, wasted time is wasted money.

I am currently reading a great book by Ronald Mascitelli called, “Building a Project Driven Enterprise”.  He spends a lot of time in the book exploring how we waste time and resources with unnecessary communication. Time spent communicating, whether one is the provider of information or the recipient, is wasted if the information is of little or no value to the recipient. 

In a survey reported in Industry Week, 2000 managers claimed that at least 30 percent of their time spent in meetings were a waste of time. According to a 3M Meeting Network survey of executives, 25-50 percent of the time people spend in meetings is wasted.

Mascitelli makes the point that communicating the details of a project that is on track to management is wasted management time. There is nothing management needs to do about the project, so why spend time discussing it? In meetings, focus the agendas to allow management more time for processing the problems and planning mitigating actions.

It is important to recognize that meetings are social interactions and there is a very real benefit in acknowledging progress and successes and celebrating them. But there is also potentially immense waste that, if eliminated or significantly reduced, can improve an organization’s performance. For example:

  • Do people stay in meetings much longer than needed as a courtesy?
  • Are there more people in meetings than needed?
  • Is there a specific agenda for meetings with a defined set of deliverables or goals in order to allow people to stay on track?
  • Are there discussions in meetings between a few participants to solve a problem while everyone else sits by, when the problem should be solved outside the meeting?
  • Does your team consider meeting efficiencies and endeavor to be better disciplined at good meeting practices?

How much more time can we recover for high value-added activities? When we recover that lost time, I could send you a memo about it typed on a no-carbon required form that came in five copies, color coded for distribution to departments. Goldenrod went to Purchasing, whether or not they needed to know it. We were wasting time back then as well.

“Half the time men think they are talking business, they are wasting time.”

E.W. Howe

“Take care of the minutes and the hours will take care of themselves.”

Lord Chesterfield