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“Break”ing the Obstacles

Time management is essential in any workplace.  So much to do, so little time!

It may seem as though we sometimes find ourselves trying to beat the clock, and losing sight of the task at hand.  Are we able to stay focused with the greatest of intentions, when we are concerned about finishing in a short amount of time?  And how was it that we lost track of time to begin with?

The HR Department at a non-profit office in Southern California was approached with the issue, as the many employees had expressed concern about trying to complete tasks before the end of day.  Being they were hourly employees without approved over-time, staying late was not an option.  “By 5:00, I have to stop,” said one employee from the Accounting office.  “I can’t tell you how hard that is to do.”

Looking at this with an open-mind, the HR folks decided to locate the source of the problem.  Perhaps it wasn’t that the job was too complex.  Perhaps something was causing the employees to take time away from their jobs.  They were in search of answers.  This is an office where breaks from work are encouraged throughout the day.  If that would prove to be the only thing posing as a time constraint, perhaps the tasks should be looked at by Management to see if perhaps too much is required of workers during their time on the clock.  A survey, with follow ups, was conducted.

In one Department of 12 employees, 11 out of the 12 are hourly workers.  10 out of the 11 employees claimed to take a 15 minute break before lunch, and another after lunch.  Only 2 of the 10 employees took their breaks together.  Those 2 employees do not work on the same projects in the Department, and therefore would not see a conflict in their collective break cutting into their productivity while at their desks.  The employee who did not take a break, oddly enough, was the one who made the remark earlier about finding it really difficult to wrap up by 5:00.

Going back to that employee, the researchers asked if she was doing anything during the day that may be cutting into her time.  What she did tell them was quite interesting.

“I don’t have time for breaks,” she said.  “If I stopped what I was doing to go and have a cup of coffee in the courtyard outside, I would spend the entire time thinking about how much time I was wasting.”  She has the same position and works on the same projects as two other employees, both who do take their breaks.  However, the non-break taking employee has been working for the company longer, and has a greater level of experience with those specific projects.

After research continued, it turns out that the other two employees – the two who actually do take breaks during the day – had once found the same challenges as the third employee.  In the past, they had found it near impossible to finish their daily tasks before 5PM.  It was causing them a great deal of stress and anxiety.  In order to break the tension, they started their tradition of going on breaks.  Almost immediately, they saw a difference in their attitude.  That, in turn, caused them to work more efficiently during their time at their desks.

“Who knew taking time away from work would only add more productivity during the time we’re there?” said one of the two employees.

Since then, the third employee has started disciplining herself to take two breaks a day, only her breaks are 10 minutes rather than 15.  “Baby steps,” she said.  However, she did admit that since she started using those twenty minutes to catch her breath, she found the time back at her desk to be much more manageable.

In the course of this study, the researchers also put together a list of what they found to be catalysts of time consumption.  Some of the items on their list included sending text messages, fantasy football, social media activity from their handheld devices, and personal telephone calls.