Wasting of time

How is time wasted?

There are several ways to waste time:

  • Knowledge workers are spending time on tasks that do not add value. For instance, many people complain that meetings usually waste time. The claim is that if there are fewer meetings or at least shorter ones, their "lost time" will be saved and used for more productive work.
  • Knowledge workers are waiting for inputs or information for decisions, approvals, or work from a peer. For example software developers could wait for pull requests and code review.
  • Knowledge workers are waiting for inputs or information for decisions, approvals, or work from the people who requested the work.

    Asking a question implies that there is somebody to answer it. On top of that, questions need to be answered in a timely manner. If there is nobody to answer the questions then the knowledge discovery cannot take place. If there is somebody to answer the questions, but they are constantly unavailable then the knowledge discovery is delayed. Delays make the individual knowledge discovery inefficient. Small inefficiencies have compounding effects. The feeling of inefficiency spreads throughout the organization. For the organization the inefficient way of working becomes an accepted routine defining how work is done.

    Managers have to establish a structure where there are people able to answer in a timely manner questions regarding “what” need to be developed and technical architects able to answer questions regarding “how” the “what” to be developed.

    Making people available to answer questions and do it in a timely manner are responsibilities of management.

  • Knowledge workers are multitasking. Multitasking or working on several tasks at a time actually means working on different tasks by alternation instead of working on them strictly at the same time. That usually happens because people want to be productive. Hence while waiting for inputs knowledge workers start on a new task. It seems to be an axiom of modern knowledge work, that for every person, every minute of every day should be filled with assigned tasks. In reality multitasking leads to lower productivity and lower morale.

    Queuing theory shows that working concurrently on several tasks increases lead time, because it makes the work queues grow in size[2].

    Aslo, engaging in multitasking behavior usually incurs cognitive cost, because switching between tasks requires people to make changes to physical and mental states. The operations required to make these changes take time and resources and thereby affect performance. For example, we know that when interruptions are particularly long or taxing, people find it harder to resume their original task[3].

    In addition to the cognitive costs associated with multitasking, there are also emotional costs. For example, interruptions can increase feelings of stress and frustration[3].

  • Knowledge workers are not able to dispose of time in fairly large chunks. To have small dribs and drabs of time at his disposal will not be sufficient even if the total is an impressive number of hours. Small chunks are wasted in irrelevant activities e.g. social media. As Peter Drucker pointed out:

    “To be effective, every knowledge worker needs to be able to dispose of time in fairly large chunks. To have small dribs and drabs of time at his disposal will not be sufficient even if the total is an impressive number of hours.” ~ Peter Drucker [1]

    Drucker then offers how to get a large uninterrupted chunks of time:

    1. Measure your time, keep an activity log. If we want to manage the time better, we have to know where it goes first.
    2. Identify the non-productive work. Go through all the recurring activities in the log one by one. What would happen if we would stop doing them?
    3. Identify the critical tasks from the trivial tasks and cut the trivial, time-wasting, tasks.
    4. Consolidate time into the largest possible continuing units.

Quantifying the time wasted

The results of a waste of time can be quantified using the Efficiency Multiplier.

Let's look at an example with the issue with the large chunks of time at Reddit

Some may ask are build times the productivity bottleneck? Isn't the thinking in the knowledge work the productivity bottleneck? Does the faster computer cut thinking times in half?

Faster computers may not cut thinking time in half but probably allow for more interrupted time to think.

What actually speeding the builds does is it allows for allocating big chunks of time. Think about that in this way. We know from sources such as Zomato that build time is a bit more than 2 minutes for a big Android app consisting of 29 submodules, 6400 java files, 1300 kotlin files and over 17000 xml files. If a developer knows they'll have to wait 2 minutes for a build they may switch to social media outlets until it's done. Sometimes they could stay there for more than 2 minutes. Having to wait 30s or less won't make developers switch their focus that often.

The question we'd like answered is: how could we quantify the effect of saved time? We can quantify that using the knowledge discovery efficiency.

From the information in the tweet we can calculate the claimed time saved per developer per work day. The calculation is in the table below.

Number of developers 9
Average hourly rate $65.50
Claimed savings $100 000.00
Work days in 2021 249
Savings per work day $401.61
Saved hours/day 6.13
Saved hours/developer/day 0.68

We estimate that the speeding up of the builds saved 0.68 hours or roughly 40 minutes per developer per work day.

If we take those 0.68 hours per developer per work day and plug it into the Efficiency Multiplier formula we get:


That means a 9% improvement in the team's average knowledge discovery efficiency for only three months equals $100,000 saved!

Here the assumption is that the 0.68 hours per day are in one single chunk of time. What we mean is that those 40 minutes could be available in 8 chunks of 5 minutes each. Five minutes is not enough time for a knowledge worker to ask questions and digest the answers.

After investing in faster computers the management has a way to objectively check if the saved time is returned back to the company.

Works Cited

1. Drucker , Peter F. The effective executive, New York , Harper & Row , 1967

2. Reinertsen, D.G. The Principles of Product Development Flow. Celeritas Publishing, Redondo Beach, CA, 2009, 60.

3. Janssen, C. P., Gould, S. J. J., Li, S. Y. W., Brumby, D. P., & Cox, A. L. (2015). Integrating knowledge of multitasking and interruptions across different perspectives and research methods. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 79, 1–5. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijhcs.2015.03.002