Tuesday 22 June 2010

What am I going to do today?

Here I go again – with that ‘time’ spiel – anyone who works with me will be switching off about now; but it’s a good spiel and one that I think it isn’t common enough in the corporate consciousness, so now my readers (both of them) get to endure it. It’s really about scarcity, and recognising the resource which we should prize most dearly yet too often let slip through our fingers.

When asked what their most valuable resources is, most people will say money (the odd few might say people – true in another interpretation of the question). Cash is critical to a small business, as it’s often in sort supply, and critical to a large business, because of increased fiduciary responsibility and reporting requirements. But the thing that you can never replace is time and, no matter how big or cash rich an organisation gets, none of it’s individual members ever have any more of it available to them than anyone else anywhere else. It’s fixed. It’s also a unique type of resource to manage – you can’t save it up for a while so that you can spend more later and if you spend it unwisely, you can’t go back for a refund and try again.

Just how scarce is this time thing? Let’s do some quick maths and see how much of it we actually have available to us this year:

1 - Start with 365 days in 2010 (assuming that my time travel project doesn’t get off the ground)
2 - Most of us average out to 5 days per week, so let’s take away 104 leaving us with 261
3 - Most companies give an average of 22 days annual leave every year so now we’re down to 239
4 - On top of this Her Majesty bestows upon us 9 bank holidays in 2010 leaving us with 230
5 - Sick leave isn’t always all used up but let’s assume a worst case of 10 which puts us at 220

Starting off with 365 days makes a year sound like a long time, but we pretty quickly slashed a staggering 40% off that without really trying. And that’s without any contingency for things like sabbaticals, maternity/paternity leave, jury duty, family emergencies... and we can’t make any more of this ‘time’ stuff. It can’t be bought, borrowed, earned, duplicated, or recycled.

Most of us waste much more of this than we readily accept. Ever sat in a long meeting on a tangential topic with a large number of attendees – some of whom aren’t even really engaged (on blackberrys etc)? Ever wonder what the world might be like if those 10 people each got that 2 hours back? In the corporate world I think time is undervalued because it is a hidden cost (outside of professions which explicitly price their time such as legal advice and chartered accountants) and there are often few controls on how one spends their [the organisation’s] time compared to the controls and various levels of signoff on how one spends the organisations money.

Everyone has key projects to do and those projects only get done by people spending time on them. And, as we just worked out, a year sounds like plenty of time to do all this stuff but we usually end up with a fair bit less time on our hands than we started off with.

Getting what we want done means being aware of the priorities and valuing time enough to spend it deliberately – on the things that are most important to the organisation. I used to be surprised about the sort of things that really successful companies dropped on the floor – genuinely good ideas just not getting attention – and then I realised that they hadn’t been missing opportunities; they were just uncompromising about their priorities, staying focused on their most meaningful things, and fiercely guarding against distractions. That’s how they got really successful in the first place.

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