What would you do if you suddenly had 6 hours less time to get your work done each week? What if you had 8 hours less? Would you reprioritize? Leave some tasks undone? Delegate more? Seek assistance? Ask for a reduced work load? Quit?
Many managers shudder at the thought of having less available time, thinking, “I’m stressed to the max now! How could I possibly accomplish what I need to, in even less time?” Yet we all employ various strategies to cope with the fact that time is finite. Whether we draw the line at 40 hours a week, or at 80, at some point we have to face that limit. We budget our time (or fail to) in much the same way that we budget our money.
With global competition forcing wave after wave of rightsizing and lean-whatever, many workers are already doing what was once considered more than one job. There’s a constant push to accomplish more work in less time. Isn’t that in a sense taking available hours out of the work week? To cope, we may employ all of the strategies mentioned above and one more: We procrastinate. “Procrastinate?” I hear someone say indignantly, “Hey, if there’s one thing I don’t have time to do, it’s procrastinate. I’m moving as fast as I can!”
Maybe, but are you really as efficient as you could be? Is there some better way to arrange the work so that it becomes a little quicker and easier to accomplish? If you think about it, there almost certainly is room for improvement. If you just had time to give it serious thought you might come up with some ideas but other demands on your time make that all but impossible. That’s where many of us are procrastinating. It’s not the I-think-I’ll-go-have-a-beer kind of procrastination, but the effect is the same: we don’t change any more than we’re forced to. (There’s too much change to deal with as it is, right?) The status quo rules because in our overworked, overstressed world there’s time to seriously consider only the most urgent alternatives.
Think about your relationship with your computer for example. How often have you delayed upgrading your computer or installing new software—even when you know it will make you more productive—because you don’t feel you have the up front time to deal with the changes? Innovation is just like those computer upgrades. When you make an up front investment, the R.O.I. and R.O.T. (Return On Time) can be dramatic.
3M is one of the companies that figured this out long ago and began giving employees 15% of their time (6 hours out of a 40 hour work week) to pursue projects beyond the work immediately at hand. Companies such as Google have adopted a similar policy and in some cases upped it to 20% (8 hours). That’s a huge ongoing investment of human capital, a massive amount of current work not getting done in order to reinvest that time in other ways. It has paid off handsomely for them many times over.
What might you accomplish if you gave yourself more time to reflect, more opportunities to experiment, more innovations to pursue? What could your organization achieve if everyone did that? How much more time could you create? You wouldn’t think of spending every penny you earn without ever saving for the future, or cashing out all your revenue without reinvesting in your business. Isn’t your time worthy of the same sort of investment? And as with money, wouldn’t your available time grow as a result?
Stop procrastinating. Yes, innovation requires time but it also creates it and often far more time than it consumes.