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. [Brenner 2016]

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

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!

Footnotes

Comprehensive list of all citations from all editions of Point Lookout
[Brenner 2016]
Richard Brenner. "The Psychology and Politics of Technical Debt," Cutter Business Technology Journal, March 2016. Back

Your comments are welcome

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

About Point Lookout

This article in its entirety was written by a 
          human being. No machine intelligence was involved in any way.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.

This article in its entirety was written by a human being. No machine intelligence was involved in any way.

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:

Dogs Fighting in a Wooded Clearing, by Frans SnydersMudfights
When we steer the discussion away from issues to attack the credibility, motives, or character of our debate partners, we often resort to a technique known as the ad hominem attack. It's unfair, it's unethical, and it leads to bad, expensive decisions that we'll probably regret.
A calm seaAn Emergency Toolkit
You've just had some bad news at work, and you're angry or really upset. Maybe you feel like the target of a vicious insult or the victim of a serious injustice. You have work to do, and you want to respond, but you must first regain your composure. What can you do to calm down and start feeling better?
Mohandas K. Ghandi, in the 1930sJust Make It Happen
Many idolize the no-nonsense manager who says, "I don't want to hear excuses, just make it happen." We associate that stance with strong leadership. Sometimes, though, it's little more than abuse motivated by ambition or ignorance — or both.
A spiral notebook, a pencil, and a mobile deviceNotes to Self
Many of us jot important reminders to ourselves on sticky notes, used envelopes, scraps of paper, and whatnot. Often we misplace these notes, or later find them too late to serve their purposes. Here's a low-tech alternative that works better for some.
A working meeting with an auditorInternal Audits Without Pain
If adhering to established procedures is part of your job, you probably experience occasional audits. You can manage the pain of the experience by regarding audit preparation as part of the job. Because it is. Here are some tips for navigating audits.

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

What most of us think of when we think of checklistsComing February 28: Checklists: Conventional or Auditable
Checklists help us remember the steps of complex procedures, and the order in which we must execute them. The simplest form is the conventional checklist. But when we need a record of what we've done, we need an auditable checklist. Available here and by RSS on February 28.
Adolf Hitler greets Neville Chamberlain at the beginning of the Bad Godesberg meeting on 24 September 1938And on March 6: Six More Insights About Workplace Bullying
Some of the lore about dealing with bullies at work isn't just wrong — it's harmful. It's harmful in the sense that applying it intensifies the bullying. Here are six insights that might help when devising strategies for dealing with bullies at work. Example: Letting yourself be bullied is not a thing. Available here and by RSS on March 6.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenIyeJIiAfnGdKlUXrner@ChacsxirZwZlENmHUNHioCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, 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 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at X, or share a tweet 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.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
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.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.