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

[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? rbrendbTtLLSVlUPPCNkAner@ChacthFxWKdRwnLylOCDoCanyon.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:

Bowling pins for ten-pin bowlingPygmalion Side Effects: Bowling a Strike
Elise slowly walked back to her office, beaten. Her supervisor, Alton, had just given Elise her performance review — her third consecutive "meets expectations." No point now to her strategy of giving 120% to turn it all around. She is living a part of the Pygmalion Effect, and she's about to experience the Pygmalion Side Effects.
American dwarf mistletoe (Arceuthobium americanum)Action Item Avoidance
In some teams, members feel so overloaded that they try to avoid any additional tasks. Here are some of the most popular patterns of action item avoidance.
A dwarf apple tree typical of modern commercial varietiesWacky Words of Wisdom
Words of wisdom are so often helpful that many of them have solidified into easily remembered capsules. We do tend to over-generalize them, though, and when we do, trouble follows. Here are a few of the more dangerous ones.
Barack Obama, 44th President of the United StatesSpeak for Influence
Among the factors that determine the influence of contributions in meetings are the content of the contribution and how it fits into the conversation. Most of the time, we focus too much on content and not enough on fit.
An empty officeAnticipating Absence: Why
Knowledge workers are scientists, engineers, physicians, attorneys, and any other professionals who "think for a living." When they suddenly become unavailable because of the Coronavirus Pandemic, substituting someone else to carry on for them can be problematic, because skills and experience are not enough.

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The future site of 2 World Trade Center as it appeared in 2013Coming October 5: Downscoping Under Pressure: I
When projects overrun their budgets and/or schedules, we sometimes "downscope" to save time and money. The tactic can succeed — and fail. Three common anti-patterns involve politics, the sunk cost effect, and cognitive biases that distort estimates. Available here and by RSS on October 5.
A hummingbird feeding on the nectar of a flowerAnd on October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrendbTtLLSVlUPPCNkAner@ChacthFxWKdRwnLylOCDoCanyon.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 Twitter, 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.