If one piece of equipment in the workplace were identified as the most troublesome, it would have to be the clock. Not that they break down frequently or require much maintenance. It's just that clocks cause trouble when we either ignore them or make them into gods by being overly subservient to them.
Don't get me wrong, the clock is essential in business. Measuring time is fundamental for a great deal of trade and commerce, but misusing the clock is a common workplace ill which is all too often tolerated.
Ignoring the Clock
Those who ignore the clock are often procrastinators, perfectionists, or workaholics. Some procrastinators carry the trait naturally. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator identifies some people who see time as elastic and are quite comfortable leaving their options open.
Other procrastinators may find an assigned duty extremely uncomfortable or they may be unsure of how to perform a task, so they keep putting it off. Or they may have fear of failure. Whatever the cause, their delays can bring other people's work to a standstill.
Perfectionists often hold high standards and wish to prevent criticism of their work. They are known to spend inordinate amounts of time double and triple-checking each nuance of every project while other work starts backing up.
Workaholics often overstuff their day with activities, believing that long hours equate to higher production, which increases their value to a company. However, research has shown that at the heart of the issue is either poor time management or not enough delegating, which actually creates the opposite effect: Lower levels of productivity.
All who ignore the clock are neglecting its power. Procrastinators, perfectionists, and workaholics can all benefit from learning to plan and prioritize better. It seems counter-intuitive, but taking time to plan and prioritize actually saves time during the workday.
Disciplining oneself to set boundaries and budget time for essential, bottom-line activities pays huge dividends. This can include setting personal standards for handling interruptions, restructuring time-consuming meetings (no more than three agenda items if at all possible!), and delegating that which can be done by others.
The clock is a tool. Use it wisely and it helps you be more productive.
The clock as a god
On the other side of the spectrum are people overly-governed by the clock. They create a different set of problems by trying to squeeze the dynamics of work into tightly-controlled time segments. Because daily demands are often unpredictable, such strict time rules often appear unreasonable to a majority of workers.
For example, one company I know of has a strict policy that everyone takes lunch between noon and one o'clock. Because this company offers services to the public, the only exception to this rule is a skeleton crew that works during the lunch hour.
The problem with this policy is that it lacks common sense. If an employee not assigned to work lunch assists a client past 12:00 noon, he loses that time from his lunch hour and still needs to be back at his desk at one o'clock. Anyone coming back from lunch so much as one minute late falls victim to the cold icy stares of supervisors and coworkers - despite having donated a portion of his personal time to working with a client.
The root of this restrictive policy is management not trusting the rank and file. The ripple effect of low trust is always lower levels of commitment and productivity.
Others use the clock as reason for not providing service. For example, a worker sees she has only fifteen minutes left on her shift, so she won't even start a task that might take longer than fifteen minutes to complete.
When people are so governed by the clock that productivity suffers, they need to take inventory on whether or not their behaviors are truly effective. Obviously they've taken their eyes off the big picture of the organization, and their choices, however well-intended, are damaging to more than just themselves. When time is limited, completing even a small chunk of activity in the time allotted helps keep forward momentum.
Success is defined in many ways, but clock abusers often fall prey to claiming success by how much or how little time they devote to their work. In reality, success is defined by the results of a project, not the amount of time devoted to it.
Keeping one's eyes on the company vision and mission is foundational. Even more specifically, each day's activities should be assessed as to which has the greatest impact on the company's bottom line.
You can stop clock abuse by planning your day wisely while still maintaining a flexible, productivity-focused mindset. Don't waste time, but don't let the clock run your life, either. Realism says that life happens, and life's events are not always predictable.