5 Productivity Killers at Work and How to Avoid Them


Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for Management pros

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Best known as being the thief of time, when loose in the workplace procrastination spreads a plague of distraction that steals productivity and, ultimately, money.

Article 5 Minutes
5 Productivity Killers At Work And How To Avoid Th

Some people are more adept than others at dealing with procrastiantion and time management. All offices have workers that are impervious to the sound of a radio or a crossfire of colleague chit chat. On the other hand, others have personalities like blotting paper, their day doomed to take a new direction at the slightest distraction.

You and I are probably caught somewhere in the middle; retaining focus is an ongoing, daily battle that can be time consuming in itself.

Visit the Hub

Learn how to keep your remote workers connected and productive during the Coronavirus outbreak.

EXPLORE NOW ifp.ClickDetails"

Research conducted by CareerBuilder provides a glimpse into how corrosive seemingly innocent aspects of everyday work can be: almost a quarter of workers dedicate at least an hour each day to communications in their personal life, whether that be talking on the phone, through emails or texts.

CareerBuilder also asked workers for what they considered to be the biggest distractors in the office; the responses were as follows:

  • Mobile phones and texting: 50%
  • Gossip: 42%
  • Internet surfing: 39%
  • Social media: 38%
  • Snack / smoking breaks: 27%

Multiply this lost hour over every workforce worldwide and the amount of lost productivity becomes a killer. Taking these findings into account, read on to find out:

  • Our five productivity killers to watch out for
  • How to work around factors that distract the most

1. The chat on the street

The chatterboxes – we all know them and their inadvertent capacity to distract. Worse still are the gossips who are seemingly intent on stealing your time with scant regard for the demotivating effect they are having on the office.


Clear communication and its inherent benefits have to start at the top of the firm, with a transparent attitude adopted by bosses that treats gossip with the zero attention it deserves. As a worker, it’s important to be able to recognize gossip from information that is actually important, and only react to the latter.

At best, gossip has childish speculation at its heart; indulging it does little beyond showing you up as superficial and detrimental to reliable adults who take themselves and their work seriously.

2. Smoking break

Stepping outside for a cheeky puff may seem an innocent escape from work. However, it can destroy momentum and breed animosity among those who do not smoke, and are not afforded a casual five minutes away from the desk.

Just like breaking into the bag of sweets under your desk, knowing that distraction is there will make you turn to it for answers time and again, while setting a bad example for those around you.


Aim to integrate cigarette time into your formal breaks, or use smoking restrictions to help you cut the habit. Twin this with coming to the office with fewer cigarettes and you will be extra motivated to stay concentrated on what you’re employed to be doing.

Managers should look at formulating a concrete policy that accommodates smoking breaks. This will formalize and manage smoking time, instead of allowing it to become an ever-widening loophole into which productivity slides. Furthermore, ensure that non-smoking staff members are compensated through coffee or fresh air breaks.

3. Emails

Almost worse than personal correspondence, trawling through work emails can make you feel diligent and busy when in fact you are wasting time that could be better spent elsewhere. Indeed, emails are of fundamental importance and some inboxes can spiral out of control, but there are ways to deal with the issue that put productivity first.


Organizing your time should spearhead your assault on emails. Dedicate an hour or two each day to your correspondence, and stick to the most pressing communications. To help with this, have an ‘urgent’ or 'to-do' folder to which you can copy the emails that need to be dealt with asap. This is particularly relevant in job roles where you find yourself continuously interrupted by queries, questions and issues that need immediate attention.

4. Social media

Is it a working tool, a diversion, or a blend of the two? However you assess the impact of social media in your workspace, it can swallow alarming slices of time if not handled properly.


Ask yourself whether you really need to be using social media in the work that you’re doing. If you really can’t resist a few causal likes, favorites and retweets, consider removing the app from your phone’s desktop; having to mess around with the mobile site can be a useful dissuader!

For employers, there’s not a great deal that can be done in an age when mobile phone use and possession is fast becoming either a human right, or a physical body part. Operating a site-blocker may be the only way out.

5. Boxed in

Office spaces divided into cubicles can create a claustrophobic environment, from which workers will do anything to escape. These little work boxes could almost have been designed to reduce productivity and squash inspiration, in all but the most driven individuals.


A stroll around the office can help lift the lid on the claustrophobia of the cubicle. The main point is to break the monotony, get air in your lungs and blood flowing through your mind and legs again; this will help to restore your concentration and work momentum.

Enabling workers into flexible working have a positive effect, as found out by a YouGov study which found that 30% of workers are more productive when working remotely.

Also, understanding that workers’ needs vary considerably when it comes to being able to get on with work. If possible, offer more than one working environment in an office to alleviate stress and boost cooperation.


A workplace is full of the wonders of modern technology and it is, evidently, so easy to get side-tracked from what you’re there to do. On the other hand, the technology is, for the most part, very necessary.

So a balance has to be struck, but it cannot be achieved unless you, whether employee or employer, recognize that a problem exists.

The common solution lies in working smarter, not harder. The pitfalls of productivity are never going to disappear, but with a collaborative approach they can be minimized to real effect, allowing you and your colleagues to work to the best of your ability.

Further reading:


Insights for Professionals

The latest thought leadership for Management pros

Insights for Professionals provide free access to the latest thought leadership from global brands. We deliver subscriber value by creating and gathering specialist content for senior professionals.


Join the conversation...