Idle Time Meaning

Updated on February 23, 2024
Article byShrestha Ghosal
Edited byAshish Kumar Srivastav
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

Idle Time Meaning

Idle time in business management is an estimate of the paid time during which a system, machine, or employee remains inactive, unproductive, or unutilized. The idle periods in a process or operation may result from factors that can be uncontrolled or controlled by the management.

Idle Time

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Idle periods are inherent in many business processes and activities. However, excessive idleness and unproductive time can indicate organizational inefficiency and may lead to underutilization of resources. Proper management of this time is essential for optimizing productivity, ensuring efficient resource allocation, and contributing to the overall effectiveness of the organization.

Key Takeaways

  • Idle time is the time when a system, the devices, or personnel in an organization is inactive or underutilized.
  • Idle intervals in an activity or procedure can be caused by factors that are either unmanageable or within the management’s control.
  • Excessive idleness and inactivity may be a sign of organizational dysfunction and may lead to inadequate utilization of resources.
  • Effective time management is crucial for increasing output, ensuring optimum use of resources, and enhancing organizational efficiency.

Idle Time Explained

Idle time is the period during which a system, equipment, or individual in an organization remains unproductive or unused. In the technology and computing domain, this time often represents the intervals during which a computer or software system is not actively engaged in processing tasks. Such moments may arise due to pauses in user input, the system waiting for external data, or during periods of low demand. This idleness is a crucial aspect of resource management and power efficiency.

In industries, idleness is associated with machinery or equipment remaining non-operational due to scheduled breaks, maintenance requirements, or unforeseen downtime. This time in manufacturing processes can have significant economic implications. It may impact production efficiency, operational costs, and overall output. Effective management of idle periods aids in optimizing production schedules, minimizing downtime, and ensuring the efficient use of resources.


The types of idle time are:

  • Planned idle time: It is a deliberate and scheduled pause in operations or activities due to maintenance, upgrades, or breaks. This time includes scheduled machine maintenance or employee breaks, which enables the business to enhance efficiency and prevent unforeseen issues. This type is a strategy to maintain equipment, boost productivity, and ensure the well-being of workers.
  • Unplanned idle time: These types of idle time are unexpected and result from unforeseen events like equipment failures, technical glitches, or external disruptions. Unplanned time can lead to disruptions in production schedules, increased costs, and decreased overall efficiency.


Some causes of idle time include the following:

  • Scheduled or unscheduled maintenance activities, repairs, and equipment adjustments can lead to machine or system downtime, which may increase this time.
  • In manufacturing, the time required for changing production setups, adjusting machinery, or switching between different product runs can cause periods of idleness.
  • Insufficient demand for products or services can result in this time for both machinery and workers when there is not enough work to keep them occupied.
  • Unforeseen technical issues, including equipment malfunctions, software errors, or network failures, can lead to unplanned downtime and idleness.
  • Systems or processes may experience idleness when they are dependent on external inputs, approvals, or resources, leading to waiting periods.
  • Scheduled breaks, lunchtime, and rest periods for employees contribute to planned causes of idle time. These periods of idleness help in providing necessary breaks for physical and mental well-being.
  • Industries influenced by seasonal demand may experience idleness during off-peak periods when production levels are naturally lower.

How To Calculate?

The idle time formula is as follows:

Idle Time = Scheduled Production Time – Actual Production Time


Scheduled Production Time = the production time that is planned

Actual Production Time = the production time it actually takes


Let us study the following examples to understand this concept:

Example #1

Suppose Founder’s Choice is a consultancy that has planned and unplanned idle periods for the employees. The employees are scheduled for a 1-hour lunch break each day, which contributes to the periods of idleness in the organization. Additionally, the employees spend 15 minutes daily, on average, waiting for approval on their tasks. They also spend 15 minutes daily on washroom and coffee breaks. Therefore, the unplanned idleness periods amount to 30 minutes each day, on average. Thus, according to the idle time formula, out of the 9-hour shifts in the company, the employees spend 1 hour 30 minutes of idle period. This is an idle time example.

Example #2

After less than eight months on the job, the general director of the primary shipyard that builds vessels for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet was fired. Andrei Veselov resigned from his position at the Admiralty Shipyard in St. Petersburg following his order for workers at the plant to be put on idle break due to a drop in production and a lack of money, according to a report in the Russian business publication Vedemosti.

Employees at the company were paid two-thirds of their salary during the downtime. Veselov was only appointed to the position in April 2023, but the board of directors of United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC), the parent firm, decided to fire him in December.

How To Reduce?

Some strategies to reduce this time are:

  • Planning and scheduling tasks, breaks, and maintenance activities to minimize disruptions may help reduce idleness. This technique includes coordinating work shifts, optimizing production schedules, and efficiently allocating resources.
  • Regularly maintaining and servicing equipment can prevent unexpected breakdowns and minimize unplanned downtime. This approach can significantly reduce idleness in the industrial settings.
  • Prioritizing tasks to ensure that employees are engaged in productive activities can aid in reducing idle periods. Effective task management can reduce waiting time and improve overall workflow efficiency.
  • Training employees to perform multiple roles may allow for better flexibility in task assignments. This method can help mitigate the impact of absenteeism and ensure continuous productivity.
  • Enhancing communication channels can reduce delays caused by waiting for approvals, feedback, or information. Effective communication can accelerate decision-making processes and task completion.

Idle Time vs Downtime

The differences between the two are as follows:

Idle Time

  • These are the periods when a system, machine, or individual remains inactive or unused.
  • It can be planned or unplanned and may occur for various reasons.
  • This time is not necessarily associated with disruptions or failures. It is often a natural part of processes and activities.


  • Downtime is the period when a system, machine, or operation is not functioning or available for use.
  • It is associated with disruptions, technical failures, or unexpected events that temporarily halt operations.
  • Downtime is generally considered undesirable as it leads to a loss of productivity and revenue.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What is idle time variance?

This variance is a measure used in cost accounting to assess the difference between the actual idle time incurred and the standard time expected under normal operating conditions. The variance is a component of overall labor variance analysis and helps organizations evaluate the efficiency of resource utilization.

2. Is idle time direct or indirect?

This time is generally classified as indirect labor cost. Direct labor costs are associated with productive work that directly contributes to the production of goods or services. However, this time represents periods when employees are not actively engaged in such tasks. It contributes to indirect costs as it does not directly contribute to the creation of products or services. Thus, in cost accounting, this time is accounted for separately from direct labor costs. It is considered an indirect cost that affects overall operational efficiency and productivity.

3. How do companies track idle time?

Companies often track this time through various methods. In manufacturing, they may use production monitoring systems, sensors, or software that record machine downtime and reasons for idleness. Additionally, in office settings, time-tracking software can capture periods of inactivity for employees. Moreover, for computing systems, performance monitoring tools can identify this time by analyzing system activity.

This article has been a guide to Idle Time and its meaning. We explain its causes, how to calculate and reduce it, examples, and comparison with downtime. You may also take a look at the useful articles below –

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