Productivity in the Workplace

pennyAccountability, ProductivityLeave a Comment

A place of business is generally a place where a lot of work is conducted, that is the idea, right? It is also a place riddled with distractions. Open office plans were thought to break down communication barriers and save money on office space – but is it really productive? Open office plans distract. Even a small amount of interruption can hinder a company’s bottom line. All efficiencies from the layout changes are lost.
In a survey conducted by CareerBuilder who surveyed over 2,000 hiring and HR managers from many different companies, industries, and sizes, these companies noted the following about distractions:

  • 45% of them noticed a drop in quality of work.
  • 30% noted lower morale.
  • 25% noted a negative impact on the boss and employee relationship.
  • 24% of them noticed missed deadlines on work and projects.
  • 21% of them had a loss in revenue due to distractions.

Biggest Distractions and Productivity Killers

So what exactly are these distractions in the workplace? Well, that survey above was also kind enough to ask people about some of the most common distractions. Here is an overview of the distractions and why they tank productivity.

Cell phones/texting:

This is a tricky one. The technology can create productivity and rob you of it at the same time.

For instance, people take notes on their cell phones so are they fully present in the meeting and taking notes or messaging a friend?

The average text message is read within 90 seconds and responded to in less than 3 minutes. That means people are distracted by these messages coming in. Even if you don’t answer them, you are thinking about it. “I wonder who that is? What do they want? Maybe it’s important and then you check it. Well, I might as well just quickly respond, and why not you are already distracted from the task at hand.

Rules and boundaries are key with such tools that can also become a distraction. We will provide some solutions to creating some rules and boundaries in the solutions section.

The internet:

It is a rabbit hole. Although we use it a lot for work, it can be very easy to get sucked in. On average, we spend two hours a day browsing. You go on looking for one thing and get distracted by other interesting articles that you may need in the future. It doesn’t always mean you are slacking off but you are slacking in focus and priority. The time needed to focus on the task at hand has just been eaten up and you cant get it back. Despite the fact it may help you later, it doesn’t help you now. As a result, you end up working late and stressing yourself further.

Company gossip:

Not only is gossip a distraction, but this can also impact your mood and view of the team. Gossip is when people aren’t direct with a challenge they might be having and share it with everyone else except for the person involved. The problem only gets bigger for that person and they are creating toxicity in the environment. Gossip can also occur when people seek attention or feel they are not treated fairly. Gossip is draining for all team members and should never be accepted in the organization’s culture.

Social media:

We are social creatures. When someone is listening –and on Facebook, someone always is listening -we feel compelled to share everything from what we had for breakfast to the bad night sleep we had. If you don’t set time limits you can get lost in cute puppy videos and catching up on friends’ vacation pictures.

The studies tell us that 62 million hours a day are spent on Facebook. Insane! How much time is lost in your workplace due to social media? Do you block those sites? What about cell phones?


Email overload is a huge productivity problem in the workplace. If we measure our productivity by the number of emails we received that would be great, but we don’t. The overload is a processing problem.

According to McKinsey, high-skill knowledge workers spend 28% of their workweek managing e-mail. I had a CEO who admitted he spent 75% of his time on emails. When I asked him how many of these emails could help him grow the business-he realized there were very few. He could see clearly his time was better spent elsewhere as for other highly skilled workers as well. The good news with this awareness, we came up with strategies to reduce and eliminate much of this activity so he could focus on growing his business.

People complain about the amount of mail they receive and the time they spend but they do nothing to effectively organize themselves to resolve the problem, change their habits, create some rules – they just like to complain. Well, You know the types they complain about other things too and that wastes everyone’s time. Just make sure that someone isn’t you.

Gotta-minute meetings:

Co-workers drop by and say “Gotta minute?” Say no- because it never takes a minute. This is a classic challenge of the open office environment that people stop by and chat for too long – to the point it impacts work. It’s estimated that chatting alone wastes an average of 5 days per year per person.


Meetings are a common complaint. I used to have to come in early and stay late just to get anything done because I was in meetings all day. Can you relate?

According to recent survey data released by wireless presentation specialists Barco, a person will spend more than 8 hours a week in meetings. That equals about 11 weeks a year. 59% of their survey respondents said they were less engaged because they had too many meetings.

There is no doubt communication is important but how do we reduce the size and time of these meetings to help people to be more engaged at work and create more productivity in the workplace?

Smoke/Snack breaks:

In open working spaces, when someone takes a break they often force others to take a break or at least be distracted. Often they talk o people along the way, interrupting their flow of work not considering the impact it has on others.

Offices that have open kitchens have odors of foods that might tantalize and delight you or make you sick to your stomach. I remember a time when someone brought in broccoli and had it wrapped in plastic wrap until mid-morning and then opened it at their desk. All-day it smelled like someone had terrible gas. It made it impossible to concentrate. When you smell something that makes you hungry it has the same effect.

Noisy co-workers:

If you work in an open office space you know that you now know way more about your co-workers than you and to and even more than is healthy. You know what is going on in their relationships because you can’t avoid but hear their personal conversations unless they are smart enough to go to a quiet space but so many don’t. You now know their little quirky habits of clicking their pen, or loud sighs, or that they talk to themselves. Maybe you get distracted by how loud they listen to music because you can hear it from their headphones.

Many introverts think best in quiet environments. Because of the constant activity of noise and movement, the nervous system is somewhat fried, and actually thinking deeply about something is next to impossible. What do you do when you aren’t good at listening to music to drown out the noise and the boardroom is taken?

What Can Be Done In The Office?

Pay close attention as these are concrete solutions you can implement immediately to be more productive in the workplace. Ready – here is what can we do about them.

Cell phones/texting:

These are necessary tools in some businesses so you can’t just ban phones or lock them up. An alternative is to turn off wifi on the devices and create WIFI Free zone. They can use the phone to take notes but not to receive personal emails, messages or check Facebook.

The internet:

Filter specific sites. Apps like Cold Turkey are perfect for blocking sites during specific times. Another alternative is Nanny for Google Chrome users which does the same thing.

Company gossip:

One quick fix is to remove yourself from the environment if someone is gossiping. There are conversation techniques that you can do to get yourself out of those conversations or be direct and tell them they should talk to the person directly.

One of my favorites is to create a complaints jar. People have to put a dollar in the jar every time they complain. If you hear someone complaining be playful and tell them that sounds like a complaint and they should feed the jar. Then we are teaching people to recognize that complaining, criticizing, and judging actually costs us.

Social media:

This is a tough one. A most common solution in the workplace is to block social media sites and create policies against social media use. That is an option and keep in mind it doesn’t always work that well due to personal devices available to employees. You can offer people the option to use a google extension called Work Mode to help them help themselves, but the important thing to focus on is if the employees are getting their work done in a quality manner. Focus on the work, keep them challenged, interested, and growing and you will keep them engaged at work.


Use systems to process emails. Block out spam before it even gets in there. There are a number of tools to support you in being more efficient in email processing. Followup cc or boomerang will help you push off emails to dates that they are relevant, folders help to organize file categories or days of the week when you need to work on them.

A simple technique is to change the subject line to be relevant every time you return an email so the content is obvious and easy to find –often we have a subject from a previous email that is not relevant to the current content and that wastes everyone’s time.

Use shortcodes to identify the nature of the email. FYI, 911 (urgent), EOM (end of Message – only in header not email), NRN (no reply necessary), EOD (end of Day), REOD (respond by end of Day), EOW (End of Week), REOW (respond by end of week), EODT (end of day tomorrow)… you get the point. This email adequate can help the reader understand its importance for today and focus on the most relevant emails. You can work with your team to find the ones that work best with your team.

Gotta-minute meetings:

Staying connected with your team is important and there is a time and place for different discussions. Open office plans tend to multiply the number of gotta-minute meetings because they can just look over at you or even call over the desks distracting everyone in between. The most important thing is don’t make your urgency everyone else’s. Create a parking lot. A parking lot is a list of key peoples names you interact with and you jot down things you want to talk about next time you see them. Open office plan problems can be solved with disciplined and purposeful behavior.

When I lived in Switzerland, they had company-wide breaks in the morning for coffee and snack in the afternoon where people would catch up on quick business updates or questions, like open office hours. A little more organization in our communication significantly reduces interruption and goes a long way for productivity.


First, open office plans don’t mean hold unscheduled meetings.

Second, shorten all meetings by half. This will change you to find a way to effectively communicate in that time frame. You can do it, you just haven’t challenged yourself to do it. Parkinson’s law tells us we will use whatever time we have allotted, so allot less time.

Third, make each meeting for a specific thing either updates, brainstorming/innovation, strategy, etc. This way you can be sure the right people are attending the meeting. Also, don’t invite everyone, put some people on call in case they are needed, or include them in the meeting meetings to be updated on what happened without having to attend.

Also, things like setting clear actions and deadlines make meetings more productive.


Smoke/Snack breaks:

Focus more on food that boosts your energy rather than drains it. Have a filling breakfast, but avoid processed foods, unhealthy snack foods, and even coffee. Focus on healthy foods like fruits and vegetables.

Noisy co-workers:

Here you can do a number of things. Create greater awareness of personal habits to help team members be more respectful of those around them. You can also work on the environment and get some noise-absorbing fans, put carpets on the floors, pictures on the walls, have ceiling or dividers that block out more noise, ask people to wear headphones, have a dedicated quiet zone, or even bring plants that help with concentration.


First and foremost productivity comes down to individual accountability and discipline, but providing some rules as a group can go a long way to support individuals to be accountable. The group has the power to support one another to follow the group rules because personal productivity affects group productivity.

By taking these collective action steps you can create a more productive zone for you, your co-workers, and the company.

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