The Silicon Valley Voice

Power To Your Voice

Work Daze – What a Waste

It happens all the time! You find a part of your job that you really enjoy and management tries to take it away from you. This situation is especially frustrating when the activity is something you do really well.

Like your unparalleled ability to waste time.

It is a gift, you know — your facility for facing the harshest deadlines on the most mission-critical assignments and still managing to fritter away hours, days, even weeks doing pretty much nothing at all.

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The bad news is that your remarkable skill set is coming under attack. The good news is that corporations are focusing first on the midlevel executives who believe their job description includes making their direct reports do work that doesn’t need to be done, like answering endless emails or attending never-ending meetings.

Or so I learned in “Stop Wasting Everyone’s Time,” a recent Sue Shellenbarger column in The Wall Street Journal.

Thanks to “new data-mining tools” from companies like Seattle’s VoloMetrix, upper management now has “new techniques that analyze employees’ email headers and online calendars.” The results allow management to “pinpoint exactly which work groups impose the most on the employees’ time.”

When Seagate Technology of Cupertino, Calif. applied the VoloMetrix tools they discovered that “some work groups were devoting more than 20 hours a week to meetings.” This is presumably a bad thing, though the software apparently does not identify how many of these meeting took place at the Kit Kat Klub, during all-You-Can-Eat-Wings-Wednesday.

Another timewasting activity was responding to emails. One consulting firm hired by Seagate was “generating nearly 3,700 emails and draining 8,000 work hours annually from 228 Seagate employees.”

Of course, you and I know why the bad consulting firm — as opposed to the good consulting firm that was consulting on the consultants — was generating all this email. A consultant doesn’t get a $1,000 an hour for hiding behind a fern in the reception area. (At least, if the consultant is going to hide, they know enough to send an email or 10. That’s what they teach you at Harvard Business School.)

What is unusual in this entire timewasting study is that company executives did not escape scrutiny. Looking at 25 companies, VoloMetrix “found executives who consume more than 400 hours a week of colleagues’ time, ‘the equivalent of 10 people working full-time every week just to read one manager’s email and attend his or her meetings.'”

Theoretically, executives this demanding are coached and coddled into realizing the wisdom they dispense in their meetings and the poetry they send in their emails are not really worth the time required by the average employee to intake, ingest and forget.

In reality, these executives can only be stopped by pushing them up the organization ladder to the lofty realms of management Olympus, where they become so occupied with tracking their stock options and reviewing the leases to their Teslas, they disappear from the meeting rooms and the email-boxes of the hoi polloi, thus freeing the real workers to actually do productive work.

If you decide to waste your time curtailing timewasting activities at your job, the rules are straightforward. Don’t send or reply to emails. If you feel you must reply, don’t click on “reply all.” It will lower your visibility, true, but, on the plus side, it will instill instant paranoia among your co-workers who will come to believe that they are being left out of very important communications.

In cutting back on timewasting meetings, follow “the rule of seven.” This rule states that “every attendee added to that number reduces the likelihood of making sound decisions by 10 percent.” I totally agree with this rule, unless, of course, the eighth person is the one who is bringing the donuts.

Another way to stop wasting time at meetings is to never include people “from more than two levels of management.” This rules makes perfect sense, but I very much doubt it will be implemented. If you eliminate the lower level, nothing will ever get done. If you eliminate the upper level, the work will still get done, but there won’t be anyone around to take credit for it.

As for you, all you can do is hope that your timewasting genius will save you during this trying period. I, for one, am confident that despite advances in technology, you will be able to continue your online shopping, your gaming and your napping. After all, look at all the time you’ve wasted reading this column!

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at bob@bgplanning.com.

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