Skip to content

The Productivity Choice and Challenge

    We’ve all seen countless articles on productivity, time management, and work-life balance promising to better our lives and turn us into efficiency machines.  Yet even with all the streamlined processes, apps, and simplification, nobody seems to have enough time to accomplish what they need. Or do they?

    As leaders, it’s not just about our own productivity; it’s also about boosting the productivity of our employees. But let’s face it – there’s a lot that eats away at our precious time, some of it productive, but much of it not. Most of us know what’s holding us back, yet somehow, we (consciously or unconsciously) keep making unproductive choices. So, what gives?

    Why we Make Unproductive Choices

    Understanding Our Brain Wiring

    When faced with a critical situation, we spring into action like superheroes. Our brains are wired for survival, and urgency triggers our most focused and efficient selves. For example, we can cram a semester’s worth of knowledge into our brains the night before an exam. But when it comes to long-term goals and delayed rewards, our brains aren’t as thrilled. We crave instant gratification and can’t resist the allure of immediate pleasures over future benefits. Plus, we’re social creatures; we need those social interactions beyond just work-related stuff.

    The modern work environment bombards us with mundane, non-urgent tasks that offer no immediate rewards. When faced with a choice between diving into data analysis and checking how many ‘likes’ or ‘views’ we got on our favorite social media, the allure of instant gratification often wins.

    Work takes Work

    Let’s be honest – most of us would rather watch TV than clean a bathroom floor. Scrubbing the bathroom floor isn’t high on anyone’s priority list unless you’re expecting guests (and even then, it’s debatable). Work tasks are no different; some we love, some we loathe. If it’s not urgent, why not take a little distraction detour instead of tackling those less appealing duties?

    We are Great at Justifying

    We spend a lot of time talking to ourselves, debating why we need a new pair of shoes or don’t need to exercise today. We’re masters at justifying our choices at work. You can easily convince yourself why you don’t need to have that difficult conversation or find yourself prepping for a brief meeting as if it’s an hour-long TED talk to impress everyone. Recognize that internal chatter – it’s time to hold ourselves accountable.


    There’s a saying, “How you do anything is how you do everything.” Essentially, our approach to work becomes a habit, and habits are hard to break. If you want to boost productivity, you’ve got to change those habits, and that takes effort – no shortcuts here.

    The Productivity Challenge: Are You Ready?

    So, there it is – our productivity challenges are mostly self-inflicted, and no fancy time management guru or productivity app can fix that unless we’re willing to change. The big question is, do you want to change? Do you crave more time to chase after your professional and personal dreams?

    Well, I’ve got a proposition for you – join me on a productivity challenge. We’ve got four steps to unlock your potential and conquer your time:

    1️⃣Determine Why

    Alright, let’s get down to the heart of the matter – why are you ready to take on this productivity challenge? What’s the driving force behind your desire to make a change? Imagine this: you’ve got 30 minutes or more each day just waiting to be claimed. So, what’s in it for you, you ask? The answer is simple: anything you want!

    These precious minutes can be the key to unlocking your dreams, both personally and professionally. Picture yourself achieving those long-held aspirations that have been on the backburner for far too long. It could be reading more to expand your knowledge, mastering a new skill that sets you apart in your career, spending quality time with your loved ones, or prioritizing self-care to rejuvenate your mind and body.

    This part is really important!  Grab a notebook and write out your goal statement. “I will save 30 minutes or more a day, and I’m going to spend that extra time doing (insert your dream goal here).” Make it a conscious choice, a commitment to yourself. By defining your “why,” you’ll find the motivation to stay the course when the going gets tough. The possibilities are endless, are you ready to make it happen? 

    2️⃣Identify your Most Significant Productivity Killers

    Now, we’ll dive into the nitty-gritty of your personal productivity killers. You are unique, and so is your work environment. That means the factors hampering your productivity might differ from those affecting others. So, it’s time to do a little brain warm-up and get those gears turning to identify what’s holding you back from achieving your full potential.

    Let’s take a closer look at common productivity killers:

    Productivity Killers


    Email is about responding to someone else’s asks, as well as an information dump. It’s a necessary evil, but if left unmanaged, it can turn into a time-consuming black hole. Sorting, organizing folders, or searching for that one message you are sure you saved and now need urgently, can eat up a significant chunk of your day, leaving you spinning in circles.

    Every pop-up notification is an interruption. It may only take 2 minutes to scan an email, organize or flag it, then readjust your thoughts to the task at hand. Multiply that by 30. And you haven’t even dealt with the message. If you have no intention of dealing with it now, why read it?


    Ah, the art of putting things off until the last minute, arguing with yourself about whether and why you should or shouldn’t do something right now. Procrastination not only wastes valuable time but also clutters your mind with unnecessary worries and distractions. Often, it creates problems that waste even more of your time. Getting a handle on procrastination can result in a real-time boost.

    Social Chat

    Interacting with colleagues and customers is part of any job. Socializing is the fun part and a motivator for many employees. Often when people leave a company, they say they miss the interaction with people, not necessarily the work. It may not be a great idea to decide all chat must be 100% business related, but how much time is too much?

    Social Media

    As tempting as it may be, social media can be a productivity vampire. Research indicates that social media accounts for about 13% of productivity loss. Think about that one – it’s draining over an hour of a workday!  Are you mindlessly scrolling when you should be focused on important tasks? Are your employees?


    As I was passionately typing away on this article,  my doorbell rang. An Amazon delivery – my new iPad! Talk about perfect timing, or maybe it was a test of my productivity resilience. I resisted the temptation to open the package and set it aside for later. If I hadn’t, this post would still be a draft.

    Interruptions are productivity’s adversaries. In many work environments, they lurk around every corner, from colleagues’ questions and constant phone calls to those pesky notification pings and unexpected deliveries. They ambush us, disrupt our focus, and whisk us away from the tasks at hand.

    While we can’t eliminate every interruption, we hold the power to control how we respond to them. It’s all about swiftly regaining focus and getting back on track after each disruption.

    Doing things the old way

    Oh, the relics of the past that haunt our workplaces. Throughout my lengthy career, I’ve witnessed the horrors of time wasted due to outdated practices. From printing out procedures and filing them in dusty binders to enduring lengthy phone holds instead of embracing electronic requests, the inefficiencies are glaring. And it’s not always the old ‘Boomers’ like me who resist change.

    Working long hours/no breaks

    Pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion doesn’t make you a productivity hero. On numerous occasions, I found myself toiling away through an extended workday to finish a task, only to realize the next day that I had to redo it due to my delirious state. There comes a critical juncture when you must recognize the point of no return and step away, head home, and regain focus to achieve true productivity. This principle also applies to taking breaks.

    Lack of planning

    Productivity and planning go hand in hand. Without clear objectives and a roadmap, your efforts may lack direction and purpose. Planning is more than scheduling daily tasks and meetings, it’s understanding priorities and determining how to accomplish them.

    Over planning

    Does your day feel so overwhelming that just thinking about all you’re supposed to accomplish makes you hyperventilate? When your schedule is crammed with too much, you find yourself constantly moving tasks to the next day, leaving you feeling inadequate and mentally beating yourself up. The consequence? Less productivity and a surge in stress levels.


    Apparently, the number is 85%. That’s the amount of stuff we worry about that never happens. Worrying about every possible outcome can be a massive time-waster. Learning to let go of unnecessary concerns frees up mental space for more important matters.

    Saying yes to everything

    Saying no may feel like letting people down, or it may feel uncomfortable. While being helpful is admirable, saying yes to everything can spread you thin and jeopardize your ability to focus on critical tasks.

    Do you take on extra projects when you don’t have time? If you are always the person asked, likely someone else is saying no. That someone is probably getting their critical tasks done.


    Imagine seeing two employees side by side, where one is diligently working while the other hovers, scrutinizing every move the first employee makes. Unless it’s a training scenario, this is an outright waste of time and effort. Micromanagement leads to inefficiency, as it essentially involves two people doing the job of one. Let your team members take ownership of their tasks, and you’ll have a more productive and empowered work environment.

    Toxic employees

    Drama and energy-draining encounters with toxic employees is a massive waste of time. If you have any life-sucking employees in your workplace, I suggest this one move to the top of your productivity killers list.

    Wearing too many hats

    As a manager, there’s often a belief that you must possess all-encompassing knowledge and excel at everything, right? However, trying to juggle too many responsibilities often results in mediocrity across various tasks. And let’s face it, mediocre isn’t exactly the definition of amazing. So why waste valuable time on tasks that others can handle more efficiently than you? 


    Attempting to juggle multiple tasks at once may appear efficient, but in reality, it often leads to multitasking yourself into incompetence. Handling a mindless activity during a brief wait on hold is one thing, engaging in multiple tasks simultaneously when focus is critical can be detrimental. True productivity thrives on undivided attention and dedicated efforts. 

    3️⃣Making the Choice

    Phew! That was quite a list of productivity killers! Did you find one or two that resonated with you?

    To move forward, choose one or two areas where you see the most significant time-saving opportunities or perhaps even identify something else that resonates with you personally. By focusing on specific areas, you can make meaningful changes without feeling overwhelmed. 

    The key lies in making conscious choices that align with your priorities and aspirations. Are you ready to commit to improving your productivity? If so, keep reading for some valuable tips to address the challenges you’ve identified. Remember, you have the power of choice, and you can decide what’s essential for you to have a more fulfilling work-life balance.

    Now, let’s reaffirm your commitment:

    4️⃣Determine How

    Now that you’ve identified your critical productivity killers, it’s time to tackle them head-on with effective strategies. Here’s a list of time-saving tips to help you conquer these challenges.

    Time Saving Tips


    • Reduce how frequently you check email – 2-3 times a day should suffice for most workplaces. Truly urgent emails are rare. I mean, is someone going to send an email if your office building is on fire?
    • Organize your folders, but keep the structure simple to avoid getting lost in complexity.
    • Turn off email notifications – this simple action alone is significant. Think of 30 interruptions a day disappearing.
    • Encourage people not to reply to ALL unless it’s necessary to avoid unnecessary clutter.
    • Make use of email tools like flagging, follow-up, notifications, and the search function for efficient communication.
    • If you want to dive into this more, this article provides tips about organizing and saving time.


    Conquer procrastination with effective strategies. Here’s an article to help you deal with this productivity killer.

    Social Chat

    Personal chat is essential for a collaborative work environment but a good balance is necessary.

    • Promote Team-Building Activities: Organize team-building activities, events, or outings that allow employees to socialize in a structured and purposeful manner. These activities can strengthen bonds while minimizing excessive unproductive social chat.
    • Address Excessive Social Chat: If you notice excessive social chat affecting productivity, address the issue with constructive feedback. Have open conversations with employees about the importance of maintaining focus during work hours.
    • Encourage Purposeful Social Interactions: Emphasize the importance of social interactions that contribute to a positive work culture and team bonding. Eliminate negative chat, gossiping, or backstabbing – keep the environment positive and respectful.
    • Lead by Example: As a manager, demonstrate a balanced approach to social chat. Engage in friendly conversations with your team members while also respecting their work commitments and time.
    • Set Boundaries: Encourage employees to be mindful of the time spent on social chat and to strike a balance between socializing and work commitments.

    Social Media

    Achieving a good balance in social media usage at the workplace requires a thoughtful and proactive approach. The goal is to encourage professional use while discouraging unproductive distractions.

    • Establish clear guidelines and policies regarding social media use during work hours. Communicate these guidelines to your team, ensuring everyone understands the expectations and boundaries.
    • Encourage professional social media engagement that aligns with your business objectives. For instance, employees can use social media for networking, promoting company content, or engaging with clients and customers.
    • Encourage employees to limit personal social media use to designated break times. This can help them stay focused during work hours and avoid unnecessary distractions.
    • If social media is an integral part of your business strategy, provide access to official company accounts. This allows employees to manage and contribute to professional social media efforts without accessing personal accounts.
    • As a manager, demonstrate responsible social media usage. Show your team how you use social media professionally and sparingly for personal matters during work hours.
    • Designate certain areas or times in the workplace as social media-free zones or hours to encourage uninterrupted focus on critical tasks.


    While interruptions may be a necessary part of certain jobs, not all of them are equally urgent or deserving of significant time investment. Just like my iPad delivery, there’s a difference between getting interrupted to accept a package and choosing to open the box.

    • Empower Employees to Problem-Solve: When an employee asks questions or seeks help, consider whether you encourage them to think and find solutions independently. Instead of immediately dropping everything to provide answers, gauge the urgency of the situation. If it’s not time-sensitive, schedule a later time to address their concerns, allowing them to figure out possible solutions. Often, they may have resolved the issue by the designated meeting time.
    • Customers are why we are in business, but not all customer interactions require your immediate attention. At least half of the customers who ask for a manager may not necessarily need to speak to one.  But once you have them sitting across from you, you are obligated to assist them. Coach your employees to handle customer inquiries tactfully, understanding what help the customer truly requires. Encourage them to direct customers to the appropriate team member, which not only saves time for you but also ensures customers receive assistance from the right person.
    • Schedule Regular Check-ins: Rather than allowing unscheduled drop-ins, encourage employees to schedule check-ins or stand-up meetings when they need to discuss non-urgent matters. This helps create a structured communication flow without constant interruptions.
    • Implement an Internal FAQ Database: Create an internal FAQ database or knowledge base where employees can find answers to common questions without needing to interrupt their colleagues.
    • As a manager, you need focused work time. Find ways to protect the necessary time by closing your door, posting a “Do Not Disturb” sign,  or relocating to a quiet area.

    Doing things the old way

    Workplace change starts with you so be proactive in embracing efficient practices,  role model change and efficient use of time. This article can help you with change management.

    Working long hours/no breaks

    Working without taking breaks or putting in long hours can easily become a habit. Sometimes, you might need to pull an extra shift or skip a break to tackle urgent tasks, but doing so consistently robs you of the much-needed health benefits that breaks and leisure time bring. Trust me, after a long career, I’ve learned that you may regret working long hours, but you will never regret not working long hours.

    So, why not give it a shot for a week? Take that full hour lunch break and head home after a solid 8-hour day. See how it feels and the positive impact it can have. Your mind and body will thank you for it!

    Lack of Planning

    Effective planning is about planning the right activities. If you struggle focusing on priorities, here is an article that can help.

    Over Planning

    You’ll never get everything checked off your to-do list, so let go of that unnecessary stress. Planning your day like you can conquer the universe might sound ambitious, but it often leads to more time wasted shuffling tasks around that you couldn’t finish. Instead, leave some “white space” in your calendar to handle those unexpected curveballs that life throws at you. Keep your focus on what truly matters, and you’ll find yourself tackling the important stuff like a pro!

    Saying yes to everything

    Time to practice the power of saying NO! Go ahead and try it – just say it out loud: NO.

    I get it, saying no can feel a bit awkward at first but it’s liberating once you embrace it. Start by being aware of how often you automatically say yes without even considering the consequences. Instead, take a moment to ask a few questions like, “What would that involve?” Be genuine, and don’t make up excuses if you genuinely are unable to commit.

    If you need some extra guidance on mastering the art of saying no gracefully, check out this article about saying no without guilt.


    We spend a lot more time worrying when we doubt ourselves. Tackling your self doubt can help if you spend too much time worrying.

    Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere”

    Erma Bombeck


    Let go of micromanaging to boost your productivity and empower your team. This post can help you deal with this challenge.

    Toxic employees

    Manage “life suckers” effectively. Read more about dealing with toxic employees if you need guidance.

    Wearing too many hats

    To become a true efficiency wizard, you need practice, practice, and more practice. When you spread yourself thin across various tasks, your efficiency goes down the drain. Instead of trying to do everything,  learn the essential skills that drive your team’s and your business’s success. Get really good at them!

    For those other tasks that you occasionally dip into, it’s time to make a call. Delegate them to someone who’s better suited or eliminate them altogether. 


    Let me tell you a story about multitasking. A coworker of mine kept his desk like a Zen garden—just one file at a time, nothing else cluttering his space. Meanwhile, my desk was more like a recycling dump. I was curious how he managed it all, so I asked him his secret. And you know what he said? He believed in the power of dedicated focus. He tackled one task at a time, giving it his full attention. No distractions, no juggling. His work quality was off the charts, and he still had plenty of time for customers without working crazy hours.

    Lesson learned: there’s something truly magical about focusing on one thing at a time. So, next time you’re tempted to be a multitasking wizard, remember the Zen-like approach of my coworker.

    “Multitasking is the ability to screw everything up simultaneously.”

    Jeremy Clarkson

    Productive Employees

    When it comes to your team, you might be tempted to dictate productivity strategies from the top down. But, I know you are an amazing manager, so instead, share the article with employees and tell your story about your own productivity journey and its rewards. Then, throw down the challenge and encourage them to take charge of their productivity too. After all, your team is full of intelligent individuals who can make their own choices, and they’ll be motivated to embrace change, just like you.


    So there you have it;  the 4 essential steps to improve your productivity:

    • Determine Why
    • Identify Productivity Killers 
    • Make a Choice
    • Determine How

    This covers why, what, and how.  Allow me to suggest ‘when’ – that would be now.

    Write out your goals and what habits you commit to change. Chart your course to stay on track. And don’t forget the rewards! Remember to celebrate your achievements, no matter how small. Reward yourself for staying committed and making progress toward your goals.

    Ponder Points

    As you review the thought-provoking self-reflection questions in this article, take a moment to jot down your responses. Writing out your reflections can deepen your understanding, boost self-awareness, and pave the way for transformative personal growth.

    Am I satisfied with the amount of time I currently have to pursue my personal and professional goals? If not, what adjustments can I make to free up more time for what truly matters to me?

    Have I identified my most significant productivity killers from the list provided in the article? If not, what other unproductive habits or distractions am I struggling with?

    Considering the identified productivity killers, which specific changes am I willing to commit to implementing in my daily routine? How will I hold myself accountable to stick with these changes and overcome any potential challenges?

    As a manager, how can I actively support and encourage my employees to improve their productivity? What resources, tools, or training can I provide to help them overcome their own productivity challenges and achieve greater efficiency?

    Share your thoughts, ideas, and stories about productivity.

    Share Your Thoughts