The 10 most disruptive practices that will kill your productivity no matter where you’re working
If you’re an ambitious person, or even just someone who takes pride in their work, there’s nothing more irritating than getting to the end of the day and realising you could have done more. Unfortunately, whether you’re sitting in an office full of co-workers, or you’re working from home on your laptop, distractions can appear anywhere.
Often, it’s just down to the simple bad habits we pick up from time to time, but some of the biggest workplace productivity killers are broader issues with company culture. When productivity issues are culturally ingrained, it’s vital for managers to lead change in the workplace, but individual employees can also do their part to push for improvement.
- Unnecessary or unproductive meetings
1:1s and group meetings can be great for getting everyone on the same page, or brainstorming new ideas. But remember, all good things in moderation. Every meeting you add to a schedule ultimately pulls everyone involved away from their immediate responsibilities. And, as meetings often require the presence of business leaders, or people with specialist knowledge, they can easily become one of your biggest workplace productivity killers. Getting the most out of your team is about striking the right balance of discussion and action.
Even meetings with important purposes can stall and go nowhere. So, it’s essential to set a proper agenda, and a framework for going through each point effectively. A bit of small-talk at the beginning or end is fine, but make sure to quash any tangents before they get out of hand.
- Email and other asynchronous communication
Like meetings, email and direct messaging tools are essential parts of daily workplace communication, especially with the current emphasis on remote work. But, as much as they can be productivity boosters in their own right, they can also be some of the biggest workplace productivity killers. It’s all about how frequently you find yourself checking and responding to them.
Although it’s sometimes necessary to keep an eye out for anything marked urgent, remember that constantly checking your inbox takes you out of whatever you were doing, especially if you stop to write a reply. If you want to be more productive at work, you need to pick your moments and choose points in the day to reply in bulk.
- Poor work/life balance
The ability to balance work with our personal lives is arguably the crux of employee wellbeing. Poor work/life balance goes beyond mere distractions at work, posing a threat to the long-term physical and mental health of your employees. Overworked employees suffer from stress, a lack of sleep, and run the risk of burnout. There are various solutions to this, including options for job flexibility, although research from Gallup shows that there’s no substitute for making sure that you’re setting realistic, attainable performance goals for your employees.
- Phones and social media
One of the biggest criticisms of the current state of tech in the workplace is that it breeds this “always on” mentality, but the same goes for our social culture too. The temptation to whip out your phone and scroll through Facebook can be pretty strong on slow work days. Banning phones and social media is certainly an option, although it’s one bound to make some employees feel treated like teenagers, which isn’t great for building trust. But ideally, if people are going to be texting and tweeting at work, they really ought to be doing it on their break instead.
- Distracting co-workers
It’s a shame that our colleagues can be some of our biggest workplace productivity killers. A bit of chatter among co-workers can be great for morale, and a productive best friend at work can even be a boon to performance. But again, it’s about moderation. The gossip might be juicy, but that’s exactly why you should try and save it for after-work drinks.
- Social politics
In a perfect world, we’d all get on perfectly with each other, and everyone at work would be invited to your wedding. But it’s just a fact of life that some people will always get on better than others, and in an organisation of hundreds or even thousands of staff, some of them are bound to clash with each other. Avoiding distractions at work means rising above all the rumours and back-talk. Staying out of social politics is especially important for managers and other leaders, as it could potentially limit their ability to be transparent and manage fairly.
- Inability to delegate
A fairly common problem for new managers is the struggle to give up responsibility. New leaders might be anxious about the results, or it might stem from a love of their previous role. For example, a chief of staff at a hospital might have lifelong passion for patient care that conflicts with their administrative responsibilities. Delegation is a vital tool on any manager’s belt, and is key to building a mutually trusting relationship with your employees.
So, maybe you’ve bit the bullet and delegated a task, but now, you can’t stop hovering around it. As with an inability to delegate, what makes micromanagement one of the biggest workplace productivity killers is that managers usually have a lot of other responsibilities that end up falling by the wayside because they can’t stop worrying about their team’s progress. And micromanagement can make productivity harder for employees too, as they keep having to take time away from their work to submit progress updates and sit through 1:1s meetings.
- Poor work environment
Of all the things that slow productivity, an unsuitable workspace can hamper your team more consistently than almost anything else. Issues like a lack of ergonomic equipment can make working comfortably for long periods more difficult, as well as risking long-term physical wellbeing. But even relatively trivial things like a cluttered desk can be a thorn in your side when you’re trying to meet a deadline.
And some office setups just aren’t for everyone. Some people find open-plan offices difficult to concentrate in because of noisy neighbours, while others find it stifling to be stuck in a cubicle all day. Plus, a lot of current remote staff are still dealing with improvised setups, making do by working from their bedroom, living room or kitchen with family members or housemates milling around.
- Ineffective or inconsistent communication
The final point on our list, but far from the least. Effective communication is vital in absolutely every aspect of your business. You can’t delegate to your team and expect them to get things done if you aren’t clear on exactly what you need. We’re not saying to micromanage, but instead, take time at the beginning to set clear expectations.
Then there’s feedback to consider. Two of your major responsibilities as a manager are getting the best performance out of your team, and helping them to develop professionally. Employees are an asset to be invested in, and that applies to the time you invest, as well as money.
But that’s not the only purpose of a clear, consistent feedback process. It’s also your employee’s opportunity to make their voice heard, and to highlight barriers to their engagement and productivity that they need your help to overcome. That might take the form of a new skill they want to learn, or it might be a health risk, or an issue with workplace culture.
The final aspect of communication we want to touch on is transparency. It’s important to be open with your employees about your decision-making processes, like how you assign tasks, give out rewards, or offer promotions. Failing to be transparent is a great way to make your team question not just you, but the whole organisation as well.