If you have ready my latest book, you may have noticed the central role that Dr. Brigitte Claessens plays in the re-definition of time-based productivity.
Her work is breathtaking in its impact and I consider her an unsung heroine of the new time management, highlighted by her statement that “time cannot be managed in any sense.” It’s a statement that sits at the heart of our work here at 2Time Labs as she’s the first academic to make that claim in a published, peer-reviewed research paper.
This week’s article is based on another claim of hers that’s garnered from empirical research into different styles of time allocation. She discovered that people allocate time in major tasks in five ways, with some surprising conclusions. Unfortunately, my article only has the space to mention two of them briefly given its limitation of 800 words.
There are other resources available, however. I recommend a paper I presented to the Project Management Institute of Southern Caribbean Chapter 2013 conference entitled “Reducing the Risk of Un-Productive Team Members.” http://bit.ly/16e691R
It’s available as a free download. Within it, you can find a link to Claessens’ original article.
While I don’t dwell on these findings in my books they are a great example of how original research can make a big difference in our understanding of the reality found within companies and the individuals who work within them. I don’t think I’m alone in complaining about the popular anecdotes, tips and tricks that get passed around freely, but are no substitutes for data-driven wisdom.
As business professionals, we often fall into the trap of treating our colleagues as if they manage their time in the same way. Recent research by Dr. Brigitte Claessens from the Netherlands reveals the truth: professionals differ in the way they approach mid and long-term tasks.
Let’s say that you are a manager who has recently accepted a leadership role. Your new team’s capabilities would be unknown, making you wonder how they will perform. Claessen’s research offers important clues, revealing five work styles (A-E) that professionals use to complete tasks.
A. The Early Action Worker
This person starts the job with a full-on attack, getting as much done as early as possible, leaving precious little to do at the end.
B. The Early and End-Term Worker
Starting with a bang, this personality begins working immediately but loses momentum quickly. As a result, they are forced to put in a supreme effort to meet the deadline at the last moment.
C. The Constant Action Worker
This person acts in a steady manner during from the beginning to the end. Their consistent effort makes them equally productive from start to finish.
D. The Mid-Term Action Worker
Someone with this style starts slowly and increases their effort so that it peaks at the middle of the project. Between the middle and end, their effort falls off as their workload decreases.
E. The Deadline Action Worker
This individual also starts slowly but increases their effort so that by the end of the task they are running at full throttle.
In recent speeches, I have explained these five styles, asking audiences to rank order them with regards to the general population. I have used two questions: “Which styles are more productive than the others?” and “Which styles can be found more frequently than others?”
From the answers I have received, I have learned that we don’t possess an intuitive grasp of Claessen’s findings. Here they are in a nutshell.
Finding 1: The least productive is Style B. The full rank order from low to high is B < E < D < A < C
Finding 2: The least frequent of these styles is D. The rank order is from D(13%) < E(17%) < A(17%) < C(23%) < B(31%)
If you spend a moment studying these results you may find a few surprises. Based on these findings, there are a few things supervisors and project managers should do to prepare themselves for a reality they may not be currently managing.
Reality #1 – there’s some bad news… the least productive style (B) happens to be the most frequent. This may explain why the “planning fallacy” (where we routinely underestimate how long tasks take) is so common. As a manager of other people this may come as a shock. Most of your people (almost a third) are likely to get you into big trouble if left to their own devices. Perhaps, like most professionals, you have a tendency to relax in the middle of a project, believing that the early indications of effort are reliable. This is a huge mistake, as the results indicate that you should be planning to launch a major engagement effort in the middle of the project to prevent later disaster.
Reality #2 – how people end, not start their tasks, is more important. The second finding shows that the least productive are those who wait for a looming deadline to put in their hardest effort. As their manager, you probably know that they cause you the most anxiety. Both of the least productive performers (B and C) show this tendency.
A recent study conducted at Warwick Business School backs up this finding. Drs. Arnott and Dacko discovered that students who submitted their essays at the last minute receive, on average, lower grades.
Some may say that you are being pessimistic if you expect low performance before even meeting your team for the first time. However, the science is clear, pointing to an unproductive reality that must be confronted.
The savvy manager can use anecdotal evidence to determine who appears to use a particular style. Yet, there are more rigorous methods. The 11 forms provided in my book are examples of the kind of assessments anyone can use to gain deeper insight into their skills in this area. If you can enrol your employees in completing them, you’ll both know where an employee’s strengths and weaknesses lie and what to do about them.
So far, no-one has come up with a similar assessment tool for Claessens’ 5 styles but her study provides important, early insights that can’t be ignored. These clues can make the difference between your success or failure, which is built on the habits your team members use every day. You need not be caught unawares: instead, bring an informed, nuanced approach to managing their time-based performance.
Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity and a management consultant. To receive a free Summary of each of his past articles, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org