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Time studies and time and motion studies have been used in earnest since the early 1950’s, and probably long before that in one form or another. Often called Taylorism after the work of Fredrick Winslow Taylor, time studies fall into the category of scientific management and their underlying purpose is to establish standard times for completing a given task.

Fast-forward 60ish years and the methods and techniques used in time studies and time-motion studies may have changed due to the better equipment and devices available to conduct these studies, compile the data, and then analyze and evaluate this data, however the basic goal of the time study remains the same – to establish some baseline from which to measure productivity and then to improve it. If, for example, a time study were to reveal that under normal circumstances it should take the average automobile worker ten minutes to put the lug nuts on a tire, then the automaker can logically conclude that if another worker or group of them is found to take fifteen minutes to put the lug nuts on the same vehicle something must be wrong with the process or the workers. In this case, management can pinpoint the source of the problem and correct it before it becomes a much bigger issue and to keep it from spreading into other areas of production.

Time studies are especially helpful these days in identifying productivity problems in the workplace from a whole host of new distractions. For instance, one particular study of IT workers in a California company found that the employees being studied devoted no more than eleven minutes to a given task before being interrupted by the sound of a new email in their inbox or a cell phone call not pertaining to business. The study also found that it took almost 25 minutes after the interruption for the workers to resume the task. In addition, each worker was found to be trying to handle more than ten different tasks at one time, which in and of itself is a reason for concern over the productivity of the group.

In another survey of office workers in a N.Y. based investment bank, over 55% of those surveyed said that they opened an email within minutes of it hitting their inbox, and few if any of them ever turn off the email alert on their computers even when in the middle of working on a different task.

These are just two simple examples of how a time study could be used to educate employees as to the time that should be spent on a given job, i.e. compiling a monthly sales chart, versus how much time is actually being spent to achieve the task. And more importantly, the time study can help to identify what is the source of the problem in getting the job done on time and how to remedy the problem.

It is no wonder that distractions in the workplace are more problematic than ever with workers at every level of skill and responsibility vulnerable to the production killing effects of constant cell phone interruptions, incessant texting while at work, emails flooding the inbox, full access to the Internet on the same computers that should be used for business, which can divert an employee’s attention for extending periods of time, as well as other entertainment devices such as the iPod and iPad. Now more than ever employers need to measure the productivity gains of utilizing new technology for work-related tasks versus the unintended consequence worker being distracted from their jobs with the help of or because of the many gadgets that go along with new technology.

In this case, time studies can be a very useful tool in education, and refocusing management and workers on the amount of unproductive time spent in the workplace and how it can undermine everyone involved.