Business owners give the lowdown on workplace — and their own — productivity.

The owner of a business is arguably the single most important employee on the payroll. As such, the findings from a recent survey of business owners conducted by The Alternative Board are revealing.

According to the survey, which was conducted in May 2017, the typical business owner reports having only about 1.5 hours of uninterrupted, high-productive time per day.

Four in five of the business owners reported that they feel most productive in the mornings. It stands to reason, then, that nearly nine in ten respondents reported that they prefer to get the most important tasks of the day out of the way first.

The majority of respondents reported that they are most productive working from the office, but nearly one-third of them reported that most of their work is done from their home.

A majority of the respondents also reported that they spend the biggest block of their daily time on e-mail activities.  Tellingly, less than 10% feel that this is the most important use of their time.

Asked to report on what factors are working against their employees achieving a high level of productivity in the owner’s business, these following four factors were named most frequently:

  • Poor time management: ~35% of survey respondents cited
  • Poor communications: ~25%
  • Personal/personnel problems: ~18%
  • Technology distractions: ~16%

Taken as a whole, these findings suggest that while there are certainly issues that affect business productivity, business owners have it within their power to improve time management, foster better communication between employees, and ultimately run a tighter ship.

More findings from the TAB research can be found on this infographic.

Sprawl & Crawl: Are work commutes actually worse than you think?

DC traffic
It turns out politics isn’t the only kind of gridlock in Washington, DC. It also has more traffic gridlock than anywhere else in the country.

This past weekend, The Wall Street Journal published a feature story in its “Personal Journal” section that profiled how businesspeople cope with their daily work commutes

It turns out that the average daily work commute in the United States takes about 25 minutes

Another interesting statistic from the article is the amount of time car commuters in larger cities spend stuck in traffic:  52 hours annually, or about an extra hour per week.

The WSJ story profiled several people who access mass transportation for their work commutes, as well as one businessman who relocated from the Washington, DC Metropolitan area to Metro Cincinnati, substantially reducing his daily commute time and hassle in the process.

As someone who lives not far from the DC Metro area and who contemplates any drive through the region with a mixture of disdain and dread, this got me to wondering:  Just what is the worst geographic market for commuting?

Helpfully, there’s a recently completed study that answers this very question.  The Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University has applied a calculation tool called the Planning Time Index (PTI) to compare drive times in heavy traffic (i.e., rush hour) against travel times when the same highways are clear.

The way the PTI calculation works is this:  A PTI of 2.00 means that a “normal” drive will take twice as long in heavy traffic. 

Using that PTI=2.00 example, a drive that may ordinarily take ~20 minutes will take ~40 minutes instead.

My suspicions about the DC Metro area turned out to be right on the money.  Here are the most “challenging” metro markets for work commutes based on their PTI indices:

  • Washington DC:  5.72 PTI index
  • Los Angeles:  4.95
  • New York-Newark:  4.44
  • Boston:  4.25
  • Dallas-Ft. Worth-Arlington:  4.00
  • Seattle:  3.99
  • Chicago:  3.95
  • San Francisco-Oakland:  3.74
  • Atlanta:  3.71
  • Houston:  3.67

How do these PTI indices translate into actual drive times?  Shockingly, a DC-area commute that ordinarily takes 20 minutes translates into almost two hours in heavy traffic. 

And among all of the other “top ten” worst markets, that normally 20-minute commute  will take 1.2 hours or longer in rush-hour traffic.

Interestingly, when one scans the “Top Ten” list, the only Midwest urban area that shows up on it is Chicagoland.  So if you wish to avoid the hassle of long commutes, consider relocating to urban markets in the Midwest like St. Louis, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Cleveland, Milwaukee or Kansas City.

But what’s the absolutely easiest metro market for commuting?  According to the Texas A&M study, it would be Pensacola in Florida.  It has a PTI of just 1.31. 

… Which means only about six extra minutes in rush traffic compared to the ordinary 20-minute commute.

Come to think of it … Pensacola has great beaches and nice sea breezes as well.  Perhaps dealing with the occasional hurricane is worth it, all hassles considered!

TMI: The Seduction of Data

The Seduction of DataIt was the Roman philosopher Seneca who once remarked, “The abundance of books is a distraction.”

(He said it in Latin, of course.)

Fast-forward 2,000 years … and we’re dealing with the same phenomenon – on steroids.

Jonathan Spira, author of the book Overload: How Too Much Information is Hazardous to your Organization, calculates that “info-inundation” and the productivity inefficiencies that emanate from it costs the U.S. economy around $1 trillion per year.

But how can anyone combat the information explosion and not risk missing out on something important? After all, no one wants to be left behind when it comes to “knowing what needs to be known.”

But there are some small things you can do to help control your information environment. Spira and others suggest a few tips:

  • Skim and scan information first rather than digging deep from the get-go. More than 80% of it is likely dispensable.
  • Set aside some quality “thinking time” to properly digest what is truly important from what you just consumed.
  • Engage in more “real-time” interactions with colleagues rather than wasting energy over long e-communiqués and missed communications.

A related issue is whether “too much” information actually hinders good decision-making. That possibility was studied by psychologists at Princeton University and Stanford University more than a dozen years ago in research that seems even more pertinent and consequential today.

The researchers studied two groups of people. Each group was presented the same set-up: A person with a well-paying job and a solid credit history is applying for a bank loan. The issue facing the two groups is whether to reject the loan application because a background check has uncovered the fact that for the past three months the loan applicant has not paid on a debt to his charge card account.

Group A was informed that the amount of the card account charge was $5,000 … while Group B was told that the amount was either $5,000 or $25,000. Participants could decide to approve or reject the application immediately, or they could hold off making their decision until more information was available.

It was later revealed to Group B participants that the applicant’s debt was only $5,000 rather than $25,000. So eventually both sets of participants had the same information upon which to make their decision.

The experiment’s findings, published in a report titled On the Pursuit and Misuse of Useless Information, revealed the interesting final result: In what clearly should be a cut-and-dried decision to reject the loan application, more than 70% of Group 1 participants dutifully did just that. They rejected the loan application, properly protecting the bank from undue financial risk.

Group 2? Only about 20% rejected the application.

The Princeton/Stanford study concluded that even though both groups possessed the same exact information, Group 2 revealed an intriguing blind spot when it comes to the way many people make decisions: They’re passionately interested in filling information gaps.

But the compulsion to seek out the added information can actually lead people to delay making decisions for too long … or ultimately to make the wrong one.

Making the siren call of info-inundation all the more dangerous, the explosion of information that’s at our fingertips thanks to the Internet means there’s always “one more report” … ” one more evaluation” … “one more perspective” to seek out and consider.

It’s the seduction of data … where sometimes “more” can be “less.”