Is it time to bring back the time and motion study?

Time and motion studies go way back but they use the modern trend of hard data and analytics to make people more productive. It’s time to bring them back.

Time and motion study

Distractions, dawdling and delay are all enemies of productivity. It’s all too easy to slip into checking emails, or take a little longer over lunch to make a long day pass a little quicker. But none of these things get those gnarly tasks done, and when you hit a deadline, all those dwindled minutes add up to a painful all-nighter.

Now, I do not suggest that anyone should work solidly all day, everyday. Only yesterday, I made the case for regular and regenerative breaks. What I think we all need is a little insight and honesty about how exactly we are spending our time before, between and after those breaks.

We measure social media metrics, and do A/B testing on website copy, so why not bring back the measured and analytical approach to maximising our time.

Where it comes from

Time and motion studies actually go back much further than this to the beginning of the twentieth century and the combining of the Time Study work of Frederick Winslow Taylor with the Motion Study work of Frank and Lillian Gilbreth. Whilst this original incarnation was used to optimise efficiency in factories, hospitals and other large institutions, it’s basic tenants were obviously applicable to the individual.

I first came across time and motion studies when I was about 10. A book called Effective Time Management by John Adair sat on the bookshelf and was used by my mother, a member of the first wave of virtual workers back in the 1980s. I used it to get my chores and homework done more efficiently, and to try and stop being late for school.

What do you do?

Simple. You keep a record of everything you do and exactly how long it takes you to do it. Do this everyday for a week or two and the following things will happen:

  1. You will automatically become much more conscious of where you are wasting time. Not relaxing or reflecting, but honest, pointless time wasting.
  2. You will have an accurate record of how long certain tasks take. This makes planning easier, and removes the inevitable underestimating, and ultimately dissapointing guesswork from creating useful schedules.
  3. You will see exactly which tasks simply take too long. Somethings get quicker with practice, others with little focus.
  4. You will have a record of when you do your best work most quickly. We all have ups and downs during the day, and we all have tasks to suit each. Don’t shoehorn your schedule just to fit convention. Work to the best of your mind and body’s ingrained ability.

So is it time to go retro?

Yes. Get out a pen, a pad and a watch, and carry them with you everywhere you go. (Or try a more digital timekeeper such as RescueTime or Toggl.) Start the moment you wake up, and stop when you turn out the light (unless you then check your phone one more time, in which case stop when you finally close your eyes!) Then use good old-fashioned numbers and data to be more productive and properly enjoy your down time.

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