What are some of the "time robbers"?

I've heard the term "time robbers" used to define tasks and activities that can drain time away from a project manager. What are some of the time robbers?
Doesn't it seem like "Too much to do and not enough time" should be the mantra of the project manager? Time management is an essential skill for everyone, but especially project managers doing a variety of tasks to keep a project running smoothly. Time robbers are activity "sneak paths" that drain away time undetected by time management tools like project schedules. Here are a few of the more common ones:
  • Ephemeral: holidays, vacations, shutdowns, PTO. Be sure your schedules reflect all of these.
  • Fixed overhead: regularly scheduled meetings, including preparation and post-meeting minutes and actions.
  • Context-switching time: Splitting staff across too many projects. There is ramp-down and ramp-up time when switching from one project to another, especially in technical development.
  • Fuzzy milestones: ill-defined milestones can generate "apple polishing" time, or even rework time if the wrong deliverable is created.
  • Travel overhead and absences: Not only travel time, but also frequent absence of key stakeholders, decision-makers, and signatories.
  • Communication bottlenecks: Inefficient use or overuse of email (e.g., CC: everyone), inefficient use of the telephone, and memo glut.
  • Clerical/administrative bottlenecks: Lack of adequate, trained support staff or support staff multiplexing.
  • Previous product support: Development staff spending unscheduled time supporting existing products.
  • Future product support: Development staff spending unscheduled time supporting product visioning or contract proposals.

Have your eyes open and be aware of what running the project will really require. Many of these parasitic losses of time can be managed.

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