‘Too much time wasted in meetings and emailing’

Top executives lose thousands of hours each year responding to emails and sitting in unproductive meetings and the losses snowball through their organizations – simply because companies do not track and monitor employee time as tightly as any other resource, such as capital.

Bain & Co, which studied and calculated the losses in time and money, compiles a list of best practices that companies can follow to fight time management’s ‘eight deadly sins’.

Its research finds that 15 percent of an organization’s collective time is spent in meetings, a number that has increased steadily since 2008. One company’s weekly senior leadership meeting directly consumed 7,000 hours per year for its attendees, but 300,000 hours companywide among subordinates in preparation and related meetings. Yet, most companies have no ability to quantify how their executives and other employees spend their time because they do not track and measure it.



1) Executives, today, on average receive 30,000 external communications per year, up from 1,000 in the 1970s.  At the current rate, executives will soon spend more than one day each week managing electronic communications

2) Senior executives on average devote more than two days each week to meetings with three or more coworkers.  A meeting that starts just five minutes late costs a company eight percent of that meeting – a loss that would be untenable in any other resource category

3) Meetings are often scheduled ‘just because’ and dysfunctional meeting behavior is on the rise. At one company, approximately one in five participants sent an average of three or more emails for every 30 minutes of meeting time. A sample 10,000-employee business squandered $60 million – 20 percent of the total cost of meetings – in unproductive activity

4) Bain’s work with large organizations has found the problem to be cultural as much as systemic: Organizations evolve into complex mechanisms that require increasing maintenance to function smoothly and a corporate culture springs up to support this effort, siphoning resources away from externally focused, customer-serving tasks

5) “Most time management advice focuses on individual actions – be choosy with meetings, rein in your email box.  But this advice sometimes goes against your company’s culture: ignore emails and meeting invitations and you risk alienating your colleagues – or your boss,” says Michael Mankins, Leader at Bain’s Organization Practice in the Americas, who led the survey and report.  “Innovative companies are fostering cultures where time is treated as a scarce resource and invested as prudently as capital”


Dr. Yasar Jarrar, Partner at Bain & Co Middle East, says: “The Middle East region’s corporate arena continues to remain vibrant and aggressive. However, at some point, it still finds itself losing a lot of money in lost time. Many will surely agree that this can be attributed to factors, such as traffic, tardiness in appointments, long unproductive meetings and discussions of unessential agendas.

“With this in mind, we are confident that many businesses in the Middle East will learn a lot from Bain & Co’s latest research on time management. Utilizing their recommended zero-based time budget strategies will surely help in avoiding the risk of losing more money, while, at the same time, drive in more productivity and improved efficiencies in their operations.”



1) Muddled companywide agendas: Make them clear and selective, so everyone knows how to use extra time and what tasks can be shelved without penalty

2) ‘Time is free’ approach to scheduling: Create zero-based time budget and manage organizational time as rigorously as capital assets

3) ‘Let’s start a project’ mindset: Require a business case for any new project

4) Thickening middle: Simplify the organization. More managers and layers rob time, creating more work for others

5) ‘Anyone Can Schedule’ (ACS): Create a line of authority for who can call and set meetings

6) Decision making or decision murky?: Manage decision making – not the matrix for it – by standardizing the process

7) Meeting time is free time: Establish discipline by requiring clear agendas, advance preparation, on-time starts. When possible, finish early

8) ‘Where’d the time go?’: Track meeting time, attendance and email volume to assess productivity.  What is not monitored cannot be measured


“If time really was money and accounted for in the same way, many companies would be running huge deficits,” says Greg Caimi, Partner at Bain & Co and co-author of the study. “Organizations need to audit their time expenditures and put in place tough controls in order to stop the hemorrhaging of an increasingly valuable asset.”