Employers and professionals are more aware than ever about the impact of environment and work habits on productivity. While you can take action against most problems affecting productivity, not all productivity killers are under your control.
In most cases though, even if you can’t get rid of every productivity-sapping issue your team faces, there are still steps you can take to minimize the negative impact on your team and business.
These are five of the biggest productivity killers you can never fully eliminate:
1. Distracting Environment
It should come as no surprise that an interrupted task takes longer to complete than an uninterrupted one. Few people can return to their work and begin immediately at full pace again; on average it takes about 25 minutes to return to a task.
Interruptions can come in many forms, such as impromptu discussions and phone calls, but it is also important to consider the distractions that don’t stop your work, but sap your concentration, reduce your focus and slow down your tasks.
These could come in the form of background noises such as office chatter, traffic noise or road works, visual stimuli such as flickering lights or people moving around, or even a bad smell. There’s a reason you don’t cook smelly food in the office microwave!
As a general rule, in-office workers suffer more from environmental distractions than remote employees. Remote workers often have more control over their environment and don’t share their workspace.
73% of remote workers say they are more productive when working from home. They are not free from distraction however, with outside noise and interruptions still being potential issues.
Travel is an often unavoidable fact of working as a professional or running a small business. Team members can’t work on their usual tasks while driving, and flights and train journeys can still cause losses to productivity through interruptions and stress caused by the trip. Additionally, travel delays are beyond your control.
With a laptop and mobile phone it is still possible to get tasks done while on the move, working from hotel rooms and co-working spaces. The disruption to routine and distractions mean this work is likely to be less efficient however.
Staying in touch with the rest of the team is always a concern when travelling. Incorporating an SMS app into your communication tools helps you keep track of text conversations by recording all messages and enabling team members to reply in one place via the app.
3. Health and Well-being
The physical and mental health of you and your employees have a major impact on productivity that should not be ignored.
A work schedule that has you regularly sitting at a desk all day causes not just short-term attention-sapping discomfort, but can also lead to longer-term health issues. Orthopedic issues caused by long hours at a desk, and stress-related mental health problems, are the two largest health conditions suffered by small business owners, at 35% and 17% respectively.
While this problem can be tackled by breaking up the day with exercise and having the option of a standing desk, there are many other health and diet issues you and your team could face which can’t be controlled or prevented.
It is therefore important to make sure you take the time off to recover, instead of struggling through an illness leading to reduced productivity over a longer period. Giving your team the time and resources to recover is equally critical for mental health problems to avoid long-term wellbeing and motivation issues.
Check in regularly with your team members and make sure everyone feels comfortable flagging problems with their wellbeing and taking the necessary steps to recover.
4. Repetitive Tasks
The average office worker spends 520 hours a year performing simple, repetitive tasks. Automating these processes frees your time to be spent on more important tasks that cannot be performed by software. Simple tasks such as data entry may seem like just a matter of copy and paste, but your time spent doing this adds up and would be better spent on more pressing issues. These kinds of tasks can also have a demotivating effect, as tedious, repetitive work can stifle your creativity.
The average office worker spends 11 hours a week using their email. In many cases, these are routine tasks which could be automated. This extends beyond just writing and sending emails however. Simple email tasks such tagging emails, sorting messages to different folders and assigning emails to team members may only take seconds, but those seconds quickly add up. Email automation tools allow you to create rules for automate your email management, saving valuable time.
5. Missed Contacts
Whether you’re making appointments to meet clients in person, calling on the phone or even just sending a message, failed customer contacts cost time that adds up. You can’t control whether your clients respond promptly when you get in touch, but you can still reduce your lost productivity here.
In many cases businesses can improve their productivity simply by picking a better time to get in touch. A study by CallHippo has shown that for most businesses, contacting leads between 4pm and 5pm on a Wednesday have a significantly higher success rate.
Managing your emails via a CRM can cut the time you spend sending follow-up emails and reminders to clients, by automatically scheduling and sending your messages at the right time. Additionally, your team can make use of a shared inbox, enabling faster responses with less chance of a conversation being left forgotten in a single team member’s inbox. This can reduce the time you spend checking for replies from clients and tracking your conversations with leads.
Using SMS to arrange calls and appointments can also cut your wasted time here, allowing you to make arrangements with busy clients who can’t always be available to answer the phone.
6. Disorganised Team Communication
Without the use of communication tools to organise team discussions and updates, you can waste a significant amount of time simply finding previous messages or needing to clarify instructions that can’t easily be found. For example, if you communicate with your team via a chat app but also send project updates and briefs via email, your team members have two different places to check for information and old messages.
Integrating all your internal communications into a single tool can save a huge amount of time by letting your team receive and send workflow updates, direct messages and email notifications without remembering to check multiple apps.
7. Too Many Policies and Protocol
Keeping your employees safe and in compliance with regulations is vital for every business, and it will always necessitate creating policies and protocols for your employees to follow. Many businesses go completely overboard with this idea however, creating strict procedures that must be adhered to for every task and interaction in an employee’s workday.
In addition to creating potential stress and confusion, this can have a negative impact on productivity as team members spend significant amounts of their time checking they have followed the correct procedure instead of being trusted to know how to perform their jobs.
8. Unnecessary Meetings
According to a recent survey, almost half of office workers view pointless meetings as the biggest waste of time in their workplace. In addition to costing productivity, these can sap motivation and have a further impact on the rest of your team’s tasks.
Try to make sure all your team meetings are short and stick to the objectives of the meeting. Besides the obvious steps, such as preparing an agenda and notes beforehand, allotting time for each point on the agenda and making sure you start and finish on time; there are a few tricks that can also boost your productivity.
For example, starting meetings at an unusual time instead of on the hour or half-hour makes your team more likely to remember and show up on time. Keeping everyone standing for a meeting helps keep meetings short and focused on their purpose. Finally, keeping a space for attendees to note ideas and comments which aren’t relevant to the meeting prevents these comments and discussions from derailing the meeting. Getting an off-topic discussion back on track can cost valuable time.
The most productive schedule and work timing can vary wildly from person to person. Research by the Bureau of Labor Statistics has shown that the average employee is only productive for less than three hours each day. Some get their best work done early in the morning, while others take time to build up momentum.
This can be tackled to some extent by matching your schedule to your natural work pattern, for example by scheduling your most demanding tasks for the part of the day when your performance is at its peak. Alternatively, schedule more simple and repetitive tasks for the times you expect more interruptions.
This approach is not perfect, however. Your workload won’t always fit into your preferred working pattern, and in a team you will need to compromise to collaborate with colleagues.
Besides considering when you work, how long you work for also has a significant impact on productivity.
While some people need frequent breaks to stay motivated, others prefer to get stuck into a task for hours at a time. A study by the University of Illinois has shown that for most people, brief hourly breaks increase productivity. Again, there is no perfect answer as unexpected tasks will disrupt your schedule.
Enable your team to work in patterns that suit them, but it is also important to accept compromises to your schedule to allow collaboration within your team. More flexible scheduling encourages employees to be healthier and more productive.
10. Taking On Too Many Responsibilities
For most people, it takes at least a little time to get up to full speed on a task. Switching between tasks or handling too many tasks at once can reduce your overall productivity. Multi-tasking is to some extent unavoidable, especially when running a small business or working in a small team, but overloading yourself with numerous tasks at a time is not helpful.
Smart scheduling using a scheduling app that allows time for unexpected issues reduces the lost productivity here, by creating time blocks for each task. By scheduling time for specific responsibilities, it will be easier for team members to manage their time across different duties and know when to expect responses from colleagues.
11. Social Media Stress
Many businesses underestimate the time and effort it takes to maintain an effective social media presence for your organization. The need to post and answer messages throughout the day can drain your productivity through constant distraction. In addition, while social media is an invaluable source of feedback, constant exposure to customer complaints and issues can sap the motivation and attention you need for your other responsibilities.
Furthermore, social media can be addictive. It is important not to view the time you spend on your business’s social media accounts as an opportunity to also check in on your own notifications and messages. Social media platforms are extremely effective at convincing you to spend ‘just a minute or two’ scrolling through your feed. These little unplanned breaks quickly add up to hours of wasted time.
Posting and replying on social media is a much smaller task when it is organised and scheduled as part of your daily workflow, instead of letting it cut into your free time or other tasks. Getting into the habit of scheduling all your social media activity takes the pressure off by planning your posts in advance and giving you much-needed offline time.
Both your working environment and lifestyle can have major impacts on your productivity. Additionally, a poorly planned schedule can lead to stress and inefficient task switching. By improving your communication and reducing the time you spend on repetitive tasks, the impact of these productivity killers can be minimized or even avoided entirely.
Not all productivity killers can be avoided; however by providing your team with the tools to manage their workload and the flexibility to work in a way that suits them, you can help reduce the factors that reduce your productivity.