We’re All Wasting Our Time

We’re All Wasting Our Time

Of course, on a metaphysical level, this could be said to be universally true.

I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different.

~ Kurt Vonnegut

Then again, some folks may feel that wasting time is an important part of living.

I’m not going to go to either of those places in this post.

What Would You Like To Do Today?

@dancres recently reminded me that I had a habit of asking this question of him and others when we were working together at Familiar (circa 1998). From my perspective, as the founder of the company, I hoped for the answer “do some work”. In fact, given our shared Purpose:

“To give people the opportunity to work together to discover what fulfilment means to them as individuals.”

and Credo, it was a given that working – and working together – was a prerequisite for fulfilling that purpose. Put another way, unless folks wanted to work together – rather than, say, goof off – they might be less likely “to discover together what fulfilment means to them as individuals”. If the Familiar community did not so arrange things that working was everyone’s best and preferred option, it was failing them, and itself.

Now, I’m not suggesting that your collective purpose, in your workplace, will be the same as this. (Maybe that would be nice). But whatever your collective purpose at work, that purpose sets a context within which one can see what is a “waste of time” and what is not.

Note: Absent any clarity on “collective purpose”, I’d posit that everything is (potentially) a waste of time. How would you know otherwise?

Most Organisations Waste Around 80% of Folks’ Time

The basic Rightshifting Chart illustrates that organisations near to the median (the “1” mark on the horizontal axis)  are wasting around eighty percent of their effort on non value-adding activities. Things on which neither customers nor any other stakeholders want to spend their money. That’s like doing busywork for four days out of every five-day working week! I think we all know implicitly how this happens:

How much of your time is spent on doing stuff that matters? And, fundamentally, isn’t doing stuff that matters what matters to us?

How Does This Happen?

How does it happen that so many organisations waste so much of their time (and by implication, your time, your life)?
Superficially, it happens because people who should know better don’t see what’s going on, and even when they do see, assume that – because it happens in so many organisations – it’s “normal”, and even unavoidable. Most shrug it off by calling it “the cost of doing business”.

Learn To See

But more fundamentally, it happens because folks are blind to the systemic conditions that lead to all of the aforementioned forms of time-wasting. It’s no accident, I think, that Rother & Shook’s (excellent) book on Value Stream Mapping is titled “Learning to See”.

Local Optima

Recently, some folks on Twitter have railed against the criticism of local optimisations, as if doing something, however valueless, however much a waste of time, is better than doing nothing. How do you feel about that?
Are you happy that you’re wasting much of your life on doing stuff that has no value, that doesn’t matter? Can you see the things that don’t need doing? Do you keep a look out? Do you care, if not for yourself, then for others in the same boat? How long must it go on?

– Bob

3 comments
  1. “Aside: Absent any clarity on “collective purpose”, I’d posit that everything is (potentially) a waste of time. How would you know otherwise?”

    So then I read this:

    “How does it happen that so many organisations waste so much of their time (and by implication, your time, your life)?”

    And find myself thinking your aside isn’t. I don’t think I’ve seen many places talk about their collective purpose. Lots of values, lots of mission statements but nothing that touches on genuine collective purpose.

    Perhaps this relates to “systemic conditions that lead to all of the aforementioned forms of time-wasting”?

    “Superficially, it happens because people who should know better don’t see what’s going on, and even when they do see, assume that – because it happens in so many organisations – it’s “normal”, and even unavoidable. Most shrug it off by calling it “the cost of doing business”.”

    Do they assume? Or is it an easy justification for not doing anything to make changes because that’s hard work or felt to be a waste of time.

    As always, when you pose a question, I end up with more questions but:

    “Are you happy that you’re wasting much of your life on doing stuff that has no value, that doesn’t matter?”

    No, I’m not, and I continue to try to get to a place where it’s not the case. Equally, that’s something of a life’s mission for me, to do something worth a damn, I’m maybe blinded by my own biases, but I don’t see many other people looking for the same.
    🙂

  2. I’m not a big fan of doing “something/anything” rather than so-called nothing when stymied. It gives a false illusion of “leadership” and/or control. Since you don’t know what you’re doing, doing “something” often makes things worse downstream. I like Einstein’s advice: ““If I had an hour to save the world, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute finding solutions”. Of course, everything’s a tradeoff, which in this case is the dreaded – “analysis paralysis”.

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