Handling Deadlines & Time Theft Part 1


Are deadlines good or bad. On the one hand they tend to create stress and pressure, but on the other hand they are needed if we hope to be productive. If we are given a job to do with no deadline, we often procrastinate about it and never really get down to it. However if deadlines are too difficult to meet, they become de-motivating and stressful to the person. To get a good understanding of the value of deadlines we need to meet Mr Parkinson.


Parkinson’s law.

C Northcote Parkinson, discovered an amazing correlation between work and time, and gave to us, what he called Parkinson’s First law. This states that work tends to expand to fill the time available for it’s accomplishment. In other words, if you have three days to complete a job, it will take three days. If you are given a week, it will take a week. To be able to manage both our time and our deadlines, we need to come to terms with Mr Parkinson.

The key to setting deadlines is to give enough time, but not too much time for the completion of the task. To achieve this balance takes sensitivity and a good knowledge of the capabilities and shortcomings of the people involved. At the same time one needs to be aware of what the job entails and what resources are required to complete it.

Once the job is in progress, keep measuring the actual performance against the intended performance to determine whether more, or perhaps less time is required to complete the job. By keeping an accurate time log as you are going, you are creating more realistic deadlines for the job in progress, and setting up the parameters for being able set far more accurate deadlines in the future.


Take time out…

Some years back I was consulting to a large courier company. At that time every single package that they handled had to be accompanied by a waybill. The information from these waybills was then captured by a team of workers, called data capture clerks. These ladies worked from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm with an hour for lunch. The accepted standard of performance within the department was to capture 1,000 waybills per day with an accuracy of 99%. Strangely, everyone in the department produced very similar output.

One day, one of the woman approached her manager and explained that as she was a single parent, and had a problem fetching her child from day care, that she would like to work through her lunch hour and leave an hour early.

“Look, as long as you complete a thousand waybills a day, and keep up the accuracy, it’s fine by me.” She was told by the manager.

She started off working to the new time schedule, but soon found that if she took a half hour for lunch, that she was still able to keep up. Then she found that even with a full hour for lunch, she was still able to complete the same output. At this stage she approached her manager again and asked if she could leave work after completing her “days job” (i.e. the 1,000 waybills, with 99% accuracy). The manager agreed to try it out.

She found that by coming in at 7:30 am, and working flat out, that she was able to finish the job by 1:00 pm. That is just five and a half hours of work as opposed to eight hours. That is a full 30% faster than the accepted “norm.”

As we can see Mr Parkinson was certainly alive and well in that department!

 So we can see therefore that the purpose of a deadline is to create sufficient motivation for the person to want to get moving, but not so much that forces the person to become distressed.


Right first time.

One of the most significant causes of time loss is having to do things over. Isn’t it amazing that people can’t find time to do a job properly, but always make the time to do it over again. Not only does this waste your own time, but it impacts on all the people around you too. They are waiting for your input before they can carry on with tasks, so this has a ripple effect right through an organisation.

Most people who have taken a car in for a service can attest to this problem. When you take the car in you have a carefully prepared list of eight items that need to be repaired. You have made special arrangements for lifts from the garage, and lifts back again. And have arranged your whole schedule around the fact that you will be without the car for the day. Does the story have a happy ending? Usually not.

By the time you get the car back, only five of the original eight items have been handled, and you have a new problem just to top things off. Now of course the car has to go in a second time, with all of the same arrangements and inconveniences that we had first time round.

More care, attention and commitment to quality and service, the first time round, saves an enormous amount of time in the long run. It’s the same as many time management issues – slow and steady is often better than flat out and flustered!


The Pareto principle.

People interested in using their time better need to be friends not just with Mr Parkinson, whom we just met, but also with Mr Vilfredo Pareto. The Pareto principle is perhaps better known as the 80 – 20 rule. It states that we spend only 20% of our time, on matters that give us 80% of our reward, and we spend a massive 80% on matters that only give us 20% of our reward. Now clearly this appears to be back to front, but nonetheless this principle has stood the test of time, and has been proven correct.

Simply stated it’s saying that 80% 0f our time is being wasted on sweating the small stuff, while only 20% of our time is being used to bring us closer to our real goals, outcomes and dreams.


Take time out 2…

About ten years ago, I found myself clearly being suffocated by Mr Pareto. At the time I was working about 16 hours a days, and really under pressure! However when I looked at the amount of money that our practise was bringing in, I figured that something was wrong. For that amount of effort, the bottom line should have been MUCH higher.

 At that stage I did an 80 -20 analysis, to see exactly where I was spending my time. I took out a computer printout, which rated my customer in order of business received. It became apparent, that I was spending the same amount of time and effort in servicing Joe’s Corner Cafe, as I was spending on the large corporates. I assessed which customers were responsible for 80% of my income, and guess what? This basket of customers represented only about 20% of the total.

 I made the decision at that time, to proactively spend as much time as was needed in servicing this 20% of “top rankers,” and that the balance of the customers would go onto a reactive basis. That is that they would be responded to as and when they had a need for our products and services. Within three months, I had cut down from 16 hours a day, to a far more manageable 9 hours a day, and our income in the practice went up by 65% in just one quarter!


In understanding the Pareto principle, the key is to focus on the part of your activity that is responsible for real results. We’re not talking here about “busy” work, but rather real work, that leads you closer to achieving your goals. Often we are spending so much time just being busy, that we tend to forget what direction we want to be moving in, and where we want to get to.


Part 2 coming soon!

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