5+ Time Thieves to Avoid in 2024

Vidas Vasiliauskas ·

2019 - Present Co-founder and CEO @ Teamhood. 2015-2019 Head of software engineering department at Danske Bank. 2017-2018 Partner Associate Professor at Vilnius University. Lecturer of Software Architecture course 2011 - 2015 Managed numerous smaller IT teams at Prewise. Co-founder of RaveIT, Eylean, No Brakes Games Certified Agile product owner and practitioner. Managed large scale enterprise projects as well as launch of small startup products. MSc of Software Engineering at Vilnius University. Hobbies: Racing, MTB cycling, Windsurfing

Thieves of time

Time is the one thing we all have a fixed amount of. A person’s time can be imagined like a money deposit in the bank.

The not-so-great news? It is getting robbed every day. 

A staggering 82% of individuals lack a time management system. This lead to all sorts of issues. Is it a coincidence that, on average, workers allocate 51% of their workday to tasks with low to no value? To me, it clearly isn’t. 

In the Thieves of Time 2024 edition, inspired by Dominica DeGrandis’ book, “Making Work Visible“, we’ve added our own twist to this list. Here they are: 

thieves of time

Beware! These five thieves are right under your nose. But we are here to trap these thieves to expose the crimes they commit. We’ll also show you how to eliminate them from your practices. 

We dive deep into identifying each evidence of task thievery and tactical actions that will point you towards clarity and better task management. Join me in investigating daily work time thievery.

Time theft evidence 

Before delving into the time thieves and their strategies, ask yourself:  

  • Do you clearly understand where all the time within your team is being allocated? 
  • Does it feel like you have too much in progress making so that you can’t get enough done? 
  • Lastly, do frequent interruptions from colleagues dropping by or constant status updates steal your precious time?  

Recognize yourself in one of these scenarios? Excellent, now let’s delve into each suspect. 

List of time theft suspects 

Let’s spotlight each suspect, examining their modus operandi and seeing the harm they cause. 

thieves of time

1. Too much WIP 

too much WIP

Too much WIP is when the demand on the team exceeds the team’s capacity. This results in: 

  • Delayed delivery of value. 
  • Increased costs.
  • Decreased quality. 
  • Conflicting priorities and more. 

Why do we tend to take up more work than we can do? Let me explain. 

It often stems from fear. 

Nobody wants to feel like someone who lets the team down or is criticized. The contemporary notion of pleasing everyone can exacerbate the situation. We might not grasp the request size until we’ve already accepted it. 

On top of that, Shiny Object Syndrome (SOS) often tends to get in the way. It’s this new opportunity that constantly distracts at the expense of existing projects or goals.   

In another example, Little’s Law underlines the connection between WIP and cycle time, where average cycle time is determined by the ratio of WIP to Throughput.  Too much WIP results in constant context switching, inevitably causing a decline in quality and frustration among your team members. 

2. Unknown Dependencies 

Unknown dependencies

“Every dependency doubles your chance of being delayed or late” – Troy Magennis. 

The impact of dependencies is profound, affecting not only timelines but also: 

  • Increases risk. 
  • Increases uncertainty. 
  • Reduces predictability. 
  • Smacks down morale. 

For example, each dependency carries the risk of delays. Identifying and eliminating dependencies not only removes obstacles but also significantly boosts the likelihood of meeting deadlines. 

3. Unplanned work 

unplanned work

Often, unplanned work disguises itself as unnecessary rework or urgent requests that demand immediate attention from value-creating tasks.  

I know that unplanned and urgent work is sometimes unavoidable.  

However, remember that it steals time away from work that is creating value. Unplanned work not only causes its own problems but brings with it all the WIP-related problems:  

  • Context switching. 
  • Interruptions. 
  • Delayed work. 
  • Increased cost.

Unplanned work is hard to see, but it can be made visible through Kanban Boards. Start exposing thieves’ unplanned work by visualizing interruptions. 

4. Conflicting priorities

Conflicting priorities

Productivity isn’t about being a workhorse, keeping busy, or burning the midnight oil. It is about priorities and fiercely protecting your time” – Margarita Tartakovsky 

At Teamhood, we believe in a simple truth: if everything is a top priority, then nothing really is. We emphasize minimizing the number of tasks in progress to help everyone prioritize effectively, steering clear of unnecessary distractions (For instance, SOS) or fleeting priorities.  

Attempting to handle multiple tasks simultaneously often leads to increased time consumption for each. This highlights the importance of prioritizing effectively.  

A clear sign of being time-robed by conflicting priorities is when you find yourself stuck in lengthy meetings discussing, you guessed it, priorities.  

5. Neglected work 

Neglected work

Sometimes, businesses prioritize launching new features over dealing with technical debt. In other words, they would work on money-generating tasks instead of revenue-protection work. 

When you keep putting off important maintenance work to handle new requests, you leave neglected tasks on their own. As a result, technical debt starts piling up.  

Ignoring important neglected tasks can rapidly turn into emergencies that, as we already know, shift your attention from value-creating tasks. Eventually, this fuels a small fire until it spirals out of control. 

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Other time hijackers, you should be aware of 

  • The Wanderer: Dives deep into finer details and the background leading up to a point. 

Now, don’t get me wrong; there’s value in understanding the finer aspects.  

However, there’s a catch. 

While it provides valuable information, it is a distraction from action. The only thing it does basically is reinforce what you already know. Acknowledge the wisdom it offers, but be mindful not to get lost in the details. 

  • The Naysayer: a rejectionist who spends more time on reasons why it can’t be done.  

Sound familiar? 

It’s that persistent colleague wasting time and energy trying to discourage you from making any advancements. 

When the Naysayer appears, recognize it for what it is – a hindrance. Don’t let it dominate the conversation, and remember, you have goals to achieve. 

  • The last on our “time thieves” list: the “detailist,” a.k.a “perfectionist”.

Quite obsessed with wanting to know implementation details – the who, what, and how – to fuel objections for the “Naysayer” persona possibly.

However, sometimes those details are unknown or even not important. Stay focused on the goal and address the specifics later on. Keep your eyes on the prize and worry about the details when they truly matter. 

Did you recognize yourself or your colleague in one of these roles? Do you think we are missing something that should appear on this list? 

Email us, and we’ll investigate it! 

How to start fixing the damage? 

As in most cases, there is no single fix for all 5 time thieves.  

But the good news is that we know at least three aspects from which to work and create a system. A system that will create an unbeatable crime prevention force at your organization.  

Understand your team’s work 

Start by understanding your team’s work. List roadblocks. Then, categorize work items for different workflows, priorities, and metrics. This info kickstarts your Kanban Boards, creating a clear visual map for efficient organization. 

Creating a Dependency Mapping reveals and catalogs the dependencies, identifying factors that may hinder the completion of tasks. 

Set WIP limits wisely – per work item, lane, column, or person. These limits create the necessary tension for task completion. Remember, all work has a cost, even the invisible kind. Make it visible for better control and understanding. Allocate 25-50% of your WIP for potential unplanned tasks if you consistently face 25-50% unplanned work each week. 

The bigger picture 

Many organizations focus on resource efficiency, overlooking the bigger picture of the entire system.  

Don’t fall into this trap.  

Consider the Cost of Delay to prioritize work effectively and bring attention to projects significantly impacting your bottom line. Cost of Delay merges urgency and value, two aspects humans struggle to differentiate. It poses the crucial question: “What value will be lost if we delay this, and how much stands to be lost by delivering it a year later?” 

Additional tactics 

Implement strategies like designated office hours, do not disturb hours, and the Pomodoro technique to effectively manage and minimize unplanned work disruptions. 

Address neglected work by allocating time to prevent issues proactively. This approach helps minimize the time spent extinguishing fires when they arise. 

Lastly, create a Time Thief’ O Gram by identifying and tagging time thieves on the Kanban board – such as Unplanned work, Neglected work, Unknown dependencies, Conflicting priorities, and Excessive WIP. Assess and track the associated risks to stay on top of potential challenges. 

Preventive measures against time theft 

We recommend implementing this system one aspect at a time or even one practice at a time – quality over quantity! 

Culture – to Prevent New Kinds of Thieves 

  • Asynchronous ways of communication are prioritized over synchronous 
  • Synchronous ways of communication are prioritized over asynchronous when a clear benefit of efficiency is recognized 
  • Overcommunication via asynchronous manners 
  • Continuous improvement 
  • Deep work 

Policies – to Lock Them All 

  • Unless those are standard external work request ingestion channels, tasks should not be described in emails or chats. 
  • Different communication channels based on urgency and importance 
  • All tasks are centralized in the backlog. If the task is not in the backlog – it does not exist and cannot be expected to be completed. 
  • Tasks must be described so that they raise as few questions as possible and require minimal human-to-human communication. 
  • Do not interrupt your colleagues if an answer can be given via passive communication. 

Tools – to Catch Them All 

Time thieves investigation wraps up

In uncovering the notorious five-time thieves to steer clear of this year, our aim is to shed light on the often overlooked ways our precious time is lost and bring justice!

Whether you resonate with these characters or have your own insights and experiences to share, we invite you to join the conversation. Agree or disagree, your input is valuable, and we’re eager to expand on these revelations in future editions.

Feel free to share with those whom you believe would find this information relevant, and stay protected!

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