Productivity: The clock stops on waste: Efficiency can be learnt from sources as diverse as the rail dispute and one of the leading practitioners in the field

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The Independent Online
AS WE move from the aggressive 'Yuppie-boom' culture of the 1980s into the post-recessionary mid-1990s, we have an opportunity to reassess the way we spend our working hours - as individuals and as organisations.

The 20-somethings of the 1980s are the 30-somethings of the 1990s. Redundancy has led some to replace the materialistic values of the earlier decade. But you can now spend less time at work and achieve just as much, if not more, than before.

How? By learning lessons about time management from the current dispute between the RMT and Railtrack. A good time-management training course would tell us how to increase our productivity by 20 per cent - a whole working day every week.

Alternatively, this could enable staff to leave at the stipulated end of the working day and not at 8.00pm or later, as in many City offices.

Some companies are already moving in this direction. For example, one in the consumer goods industry has planned a 50 per cent growth in turnover by the end of 1995. This requires quality work from all, and the directors believe this can only be achieved through the staff enjoying a quality lifestyle - which starts with everyone, including directors, being able to leave work by 5.30pm every afternoon.

But strike-hit commuters can also learn important lessons for themselves.

One complained that he need not have bothered to brave the traffic jams, because meetings had to be cancelled and no one was on the other end of the phone when he needed them.

But pressed on what he spent the day doing, he admitted that he had made progress on a number of key reports and planned a large project that he had put off.

In other words he had concentrated on work that was both important and urgent - 'A' tasks. He even found time to plan some appraisals he was conducting a week later - 'B' tasks that he admitted were previously often done at home the night before the appraisal.

What about the meetings? He realised that he often spent time talking to people in them but not achieving much. Many would have agendas but not stated objectives, rendering the agendas meaningless. He resolved that all future meetings in his department should have stated objectives, circulated in advance so that people could decide whether or not to attend and supported by an appropriate agenda.

The commuter also acknowledged that the main reason for achieving so much had been the absence of interruptions during the day - mainly fewer internal and external phone calls.

How could this be maintained on a normal working day? By involving his secretary more. She could deal with routine calls leaving him to handle only the more difficult ones, thereby preserving his valuable time.

Preventing interruptions by casual visitors was not a problem during the strike, but many organisations are finding that open-plan offices have a detrimental effect on staff efficiency - and they are doing something about it.

Physiologically, most people work at maximum efficiency early in the morning. So staff in these organisations are agreeing not to disturb each other with questions or calling meetings until after 11am. Staff are given the opportunity to work uninterrupted on 'A' and 'B' tasks when they are feeling at their best to do such work. Such agreements work better when set by the staff.

The author is director of 'Time and Management Training' and a business consultant.

(Photograph omitted)