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What is Idle Time?

Idle time, which is also known as downtime, waiting time or allowed time, is the unproductive time. In layman’s language, it means that a system/service is not functioning at a given time. It is often used to describe the time for which an employee is paid, but no production is done in that time slot. It is a commonly used term in discussions regarding provisions of information technology systems or services. An idle time can be caused due to:

System/Machine break down

Power failure

Employees waiting for instructions/tools/material to initiate production

Employee’s unwillingness to work

Natural Calamity

At times, managerial judgments also cause idle time.

Idle time is often associated with waiting and computing. One has to wait due to unwillingness of an employee to do work or not able to use machinery when it could be used.

In case of computing, idle time denotes processing time.


There are two types of downtime: planned and unplanned downtime. Having an unplanned downtime can adversely affect the productivity and business processes of an organization. To combat such situations, managers and/or those who are in positions of responsibility often plan for downtime. This time is called planned downtime.


Time management is of utmost importance to any business. Usually, managers are responsible for managing time. Time management includes scheduling the end of one project to coordinate the commencement of another. This ensures that idle time is minimised. For example, consider a scenario where the end product of department A of a company is the raw material for department B of the company.  In such case, if department A is unable to complete its work on time, then department B’s will have to wait to begin its work. This is an example of idle time. To overcome such situation, the two departments need to coordinate. This will not only make the handoff go smoothly, but will also reduce idle time.

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