Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 16, Issue 41;   October 12, 2016: How We Waste Time: II

How We Waste Time: II

by

We're all pretty good at wasting time. We're also fairly certain we know when we're doing it. But we're much better at it than we know. Here's Part II of a little catalog of time wasters, emphasizing those that are outside — or mostly outside — our awareness.
An apple and a skyscraper full of windows

An apple and a skyscraper full of windows. Among the most pointless of pointless debates is "Which is better, Apple or Windows?" It's pointless, usually, because the question is usually framed out of context. The question can be easily resolved in the form, "Which is better for X, Apple or Windows?" for some specific value of X. But until you specify X, resolving the issue is difficult.

So it is with most endless workplace debates. The issue people are trying to resolve is often hopelessly — and unnecessarily — broad.

One reason why we waste as much time as we do is that some time wasting masquerades as real work, or, at least, as prudent risk management. We continue now with our catalog of techniques for wasting time, focusing on these more subtle techniques. See "How We Waste Time: I," Point Lookout for October 5, 2016 for some more blatant examples.

Write-only metrics data
Much of the world is in the midst of a decades-old metrics fad. We gather data, but even when we analyze it, we don't always act on it. When we do act, the value generated can be far less than the cost of data acquisition and analysis. To address this, gather and analyze data about the costs and benefits of gathering and analyzing data. Prepare to be shocked. One shock: why, when we measure the costs and benefits of so many processes, do we so rarely measure the costs and benefits of measuring costs and benefits?
Distrusting experts
Some teams lack expertise, but are nevertheless engaged in difficult work. To manage the risk of error, we review their results in detail. But some teams actually know what they're doing. Their work might also benefit from review, but must we review that work as closely as we review the work of the less-than-expert teams? Can we not reduce review costs without increasing risk?
Training at the wrong time
Sometimes we waste training. For example, learning a technique that we plan to use in the distant future can be futile if that future never arrives. Learning to use software or hardware too soon can also be wasteful if we need the knowledge only after the next release or model becomes available, when that knowledge has been invalidated by the new release.
Pointless debate
Some of us Some of us tend to engage in debates
that seem crucial to the debaters,
but which bystanders easily
recognize as pointless
tend to engage in debates that seem crucial to the debaters, but which bystanders easily recognize as pointless. Often, the debate isn't really about what it appears to be about. Rather, it can be little more than a disguised dominance struggle. Supervisors must recognize these debates for the performance issues that they are, and intervene appropriately.
Technical debt interest payments
Technical debt is the accumulated set of technical artifacts — hardware and software — that ought to be retired, replaced, rewritten, or re-implemented. As long as these artifacts remain in place, they accumulate "interest charges" by adding to the effort required to operate the enterprise or to maintain or enhance its assets. Technical debt remains in place, in part, because most organizations are unaware of its scale. These organizations lack any means of accounting for either technical debt or the interest paid on it. Technical solutions to this problem are available, but in my view, the problem is fundamentally political [1]. Junk.

Every organization has its own specific sources of wasted time. What can you find in your organizaton? First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Toward More Engaging Virtual Meetings: I  Next Issue

[1]
See my essay, "The Psychology and Politics of Technical Debt," Cutter Business Technology Journal, March 2016.

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenbNcQSrdkRCovCFOSner@ChacYbWZLfmbqztgffhFoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

Answering machine controlsAt the Sound of the Tone, Hang Up
When the phone rings, do you drop whatever you're doing to answer it? Do you interrupt face-to-face conversations with live people to respond to the jerk of your cellular leash? Listen to seemingly endless queues of voicemail messages? Here are some reminders of the choices we sometimes forget we have.
A hiker on a pathPaths
Most of us follow paths through our careers, or through life. We get nervous when we're off the path. We feel better when we're doing what everyone else is doing. But is that sensible?
A broadcast-only sporting event during a pandemicSocial Distancing for Pandemic Flu
It's time we all began to take seriously the warning about a possible influenza pandemic. Whether or not your organization has a plan, you can do much to reduce your own chances of infection, and the chances of mass infection, by adopting a set of practices known as social distancing.
The Palermo StoneWhat Measurements Work Well?
To manage well, we need to know where we are, where we would like to be, and what we need to do to get there. Measurement can help us achieve our goals, by telling us where we are and how much progress we're making. But some things aren't measurable, and some measurement methods yield misleading results. How can we use measurement effectively?
Statue of Hermes with modern headTeamwork Myths: Formation
Much of the conventional wisdom about teams is in the form of over-generalized rules of thumb, or myths. In this first part of our survey of teamwork myths, we examine two myths about forming teams.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Project Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

C. Northcote Parkinson in 1961Coming September 27: Meeting Troubles: Collaboration
In some meetings, we collaborate not in reaching objectives, but in preventing our doing so. Here are three examples of this pattern. Available here and by RSS on September 27.
A typical standup meetingAnd on October 4: Meeting Troubles: Culture
Sometimes meetings are less effective than they might be because of cultural factors that are outside our awareness. Here are some examples. Available here and by RSS on October 4.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenwPtpCronhKksTPJrner@ChacdtLCDmBTLbjLleHkoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.