Small businesses evaluate the efficiency of their workplace activities by assessing the amount of time and worker movements needed to complete each task within a work process. They use time and motion studies to establish standards for optimal productivity and performance by uncovering potential redundancies, unnecessary motions and other inefficient procedures within current work practices. Conducting a time and motion study involves delineating work activities, time frames, units of measurement and relationships between work tasks.

Work Activities

When planning a time and motion study, focus the scope of study on a specific work activity and its associated tasks. The activity should be clearly defined and measurable. For example, a business might target incoming call procedures among first-shift staff rather than trying to assess the broader category of overall customer service. With each identified work activity, decide which associated tasks to evaluate and whether to include downtime such as breaks or meeting times in the study.

Time Frames

After the work activity is defined, the next step in conducting a time and motion study is to determine a representative time frame for the evaluation. The chosen time frame -- time of day, fiscal period or seasonal peak -- may greatly influence the type and volume of data collected. Work tasks completed during overnight shifts, for example, may vary significantly from tasks performed during daytime work hours even though the activity is the same. Know what to evaluate -- and when -- to get the most relevant information from a time and motion study.

Units of Measurement

Determine the units of measurement for the study. A unit can reflect any element of a work process, ranging from the time it takes to answer a call or stock a shelf to the number of errors on a spreadsheet or defects in a product. Decide how detailed the unit of measurement should be before initiating the study. Consider how each unit of measurement relates to one another and to the specific tasks of the work activity being studied.

Task Relationships

Most work activities in a business are interrelated, with each individual task supporting a larger business process. The result is a ripple effect that extends throughout the organization. Inefficiencies in one area tend to cause additional efficiency issues in other areas. For example, inventory shortages due to driver delays may lead to higher customer call volumes, longer telephone wait times and increased fulfillment errors. Businesses should be aware of the connections among diverse work activities when planning a time and motion study.


The assessment phase of a time and motion study centers on data collection techniques. Direct observation of the work activity and staff surveys are common approaches used to gather baseline information about time and motion output from the targeted study population. Other data collection methods include in-person interviews and self-reporting through worker timecards and records logs. During the data-analysis phase, the collected information is assessed in relation to overall efficiency standards for the work activity and specific efficiency objectives of the business. The goal of a time and motion study is to identify areas of process strength and opportunities for improvement.