3 Productivity Killers and How to Squash Them

Professional Development


Chances are you’re probably not getting as much done at work as you’d like to. Whether it’s your colleague wanting to talk about last night’s sports game, your boss requesting a last-minute status report, or the many phone calls scheduled for the day; all of these things add up and affect your productivity. To be productive and get more done, you need to control your time.

Here are three major productivity killers that are impacting your time and how you can squash them:

Saying Yes

There’s a big movement in the self-help world around saying yes. Saying yes to life and seizing opportunities you usually might not entertain. While there’s a lot of value, too often we say yes to everything and everyone, and our productivity suffers because of it.

Your time is finite. When you choose to say yes to the fourth meeting on your calendar today, to review work for a colleague, to accept a project from an employee, or to deliver another status update report, you’re losing time to work on your highestpriorities. When you say yes too often, you assume everyone else’s to-do list without attending to your own. To accomplish more tasks on your priority list, you need to create a balance between saying yes and no.

To maximize your time, learn to say no. Yes—even to your boss, colleague, employee, client, or potential prospect. That’s not to say that you can and should say no to everything. Ask yourself (and them) if it’s truly a priority, and if it’s a higher priority than what you’re currently working. Don’t blindly say yes at work. Get in the habit of evaluating your priorities and how they will be impacted by saying yes to other tasks.


There are far more distractions at work today than there were a few years ago. The internet is at our fingertips 24/7, and it’s tempting us with the latest news stories, sports updates, and social media posts. It’s never-ending. With access to all of this information, many people have a fear of missing out. Missing out on what their friends are doing, on the latest breaking headlines, on Amazon Prime Day PS4 deals, and more. Distraction is an epidemic and it’s killing our productivity.

One study found that it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption. If you allow multiple small distractions to occur in a workday, imagine all the minutes and hours you’ll lose. Eliminating distractions is hard. Most of us are addicted (at least to some extent) to the nonstop news stories and media on our phones. A 2017 Deloitte study found that people check their phones 47 times per day.

To minimize distractions, you first need to be aware of them. Start by tracking how many times you do the following in one day:

  • Stop what you’re doing to check your email
  • Pick up and look at your phone
  • Are interrupted by a co-worker
  • Message with co-workers on a messaging app (Slack, Skype, Yammer, etc.)
  • Open an internet browser to read news stories

After tracking, you might be shocked by how much time you’re spending on these productivity killers. Even people who consider themselves highly productive and focused at work have done this and have been surprised with the results. By pinpointing where your distractions are coming from and how much time you’re wasting, you can begin to minimize those distractions. Are you spending too much time checking email? Turn off email notifications or email completely. Only check your email when you choose to, not when it’s telling you. Constantly checking your phone? Put it away. Place it in a drawer, another room, or in your purse. Don’t let it stare you in the face when you’re trying to concentrate.

If you open an email browser and begin reading a news story, tell yourself to stop. Close the browser and start working on your most important activities. The best way to become distraction-free is to recognize you’re distracted and tell yourself to stop allowing it.

Spending Time on Low Impact Activities

Most to-do lists include high-impact activities—those activities we know will help propel us toward our goals and deliver outsized returns. We call these your Greatest Impact Activities (GIAs). These are where you should be spending the most significant chunks of your time.

However, the reality is that our day-to-day work habits keep many of us from spending our time where we should. We get pulled into multiple meetings. There are 25 things to review for our co-workers. And don’t forget about the 17 calls scheduled for the week. Many of us get lost in our never-ending to-do list working on tasks that are urgent while sacrificing the ones we know can pay dividends. At the end of any given week, many people feel there just wasn’t enough time to get everything done that they wanted to. The truth is, we tend to make time for what’s important.

Ask yourself, did you really need to be the one to proofread that document, print and bind the presentation, run the report, or attend that meeting? Many of us have activities and time spent each week (in some cases, large chunks of time) that we could either minimize or outsource completely. To help combat this and use your energy on activities that will get you the greatest return, identify your GIA every day and focus on it first.

If you want to become more productive, don’t fall victim to these three productivity killers. Learn to say no, recognize and focus on eliminating distractions at work, and kick off your day with your GIA every day.

Are there any other time management tips you’d include? Tell me about them in the comments.