In the modern, connected world we live and work in today, staying productive is often a daily challenge. With so many distractions procrastination can become a way of life rather than something to avoid. Being aware of the worst of the productivity killers can help to combat these problems and stay alert and productive during business hours.

There have been many surveys carried out to discover what it is people are doing most when they should be working, and the results are consistent across many polls, so we start with the biggest cause of work distraction and loss of productivity for us all.

Mobiles and Texting

As phones have become more and more capable devices, we have all come to rely on them heavily, until now we are in a position where research has shown that for many, being away from their phone for too long can result in anxiety and heightened stress levels. In this context, it is perhaps no surprise that phones, be it texting, calls or notifications of various kinds, tops the list of productivity killers.

Phones do not have to take over our lives though, do you really need to know that Emma from spin class has just posted a picture of her new cat while you are at work? No, if we are honest it can wait, as can most things that our phones announce to us. So turn off push notifications at least and keep personal calls short or leave them to voicemail and deal with them later, better yet turn off the phone itself to avoid all the distractions it brings.

The Internet

A true double edged sword, the internet is both a wondrous tool for business and one of its worst enemies all in one. The internet is perhaps the greatest repository of information man has ever created, and therein lies the problem, there is always something new to look at that just takes you away from the task at hand.

Managers and administrators can block sites that staff are spending too much time on, the social media sites and major shopping sites being some of the biggest culprits, but this should be done openly and explained in advance to clearly outline the proper uses of internet in the workplace.

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Our first productivity killer that is not tech related, but it is a serious issue and one that has affected offices for, well, as long as there have been offices. We are social by nature, and there are some genuine benefits to building social relationships amongst team members, indeed that can actually increase productivity. However, this is an easy line to cross, and team building can quickly become lost hours of working time due to gossip.

Focusing on work related interactions can avoid this, but again, a balance must be found to keep the team productive in an open, rather than oppressive, atmosphere.

Social Media

Whether on a phone or work PC, social media is just as much a time sink and distraction from the task at hand. Social media is an incredibly powerful tool for business, connections with both business partners and customers can be the backbone of an organization today. The problems arise with how easy it is to get lost in the sheer volume of information available. When you are working, you do not really need to see your roommates wedding photos, they can wait. The addictive nature of the social media sites coupled with the genuine need to use them for business creates a situation that is easy to lose work hours.

It seems obvious, but the solution is to simply do whatever the work project needs, and then log out, keeping social media to your personal time and avoid it during business hours.


Email is a core part of most people’s daily tasks these days, but it is also a source of distraction that can eat away at work hours without some care. There are several problems with email, the first is not dealing with them, leaving hundreds, or even thousands of emails in your inbox. This results in you reading the same few over and over again and not really doing anything. Having a routine with email is vital, especially if you are in a position where you receive a large volume. Read them, deal with them or set up a follow up, the ideal process leaves you with no emails in your inbox at the end of the working day.

The other aspect of email is the non-work related emails, be they from friends and family or from mailing lists for your favorite shops, bands or interests. These can really take up large amounts of time, so unsubscribe from lists, and use lunchtime or a few minutes after work to deal with any personal emails, rather than getting into conversations when you are busy.


Yes, we all have to attend meetings, and most of them have a few bits of useful information discussed somewhere in the hour you are sat wishing you could be anywhere else. However, much of the time today’s business environment seems to encourage meetings because it’s the thing to do, and not because there are specific matters to deal with that require a meeting.

Meetings should be kept as short as possible, and should involve only those who are affected directly by the situation under discussion. It is also important to make sure all attending are well informed before the meeting as to the context, content and relevance of the topics at hand.

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Smoke Breaks / Snack Breaks

Stress release, a quick stretch, there are benefits to having a break, but it can be disruptive to your flow. It’s also an issue that can become a big time consumer, with more and more breaks an easy option for a project you are struggling with. Focus on the work at hand and limit the breaks you take. If you are snacking, choose high energy snacks such as fruit, they will help your productivity and alertness rather than hinder it.

Noisy Surroundings

Whether it’s a coworker who talks loudly or the distraction of the coffee machine, noisy surroundings can ruin concentration for many people. In an open plan office there are often few options, but noise cancelling headphones, or asking to use a conference room for a couple of hours to finish a project can make a difference. For many working remotely from home can prove a more productive arrangement than some offices if the noise issue is insurmountable.

Office Environment

Open offices have many benefits, but cubicles can also cause many problems. Working in a cubicle can become a claustrophobic experience for many people, and if you suffer from this you will know, getting up and talking a walk around the office or even outside is the best remedy.

While necessary, this does break your workflow and loses productivity though, and having lower walls or more open environments can alleviate the onset of such claustrophobia in many cases.

Interruptions by Workmates

The last one is something that varies from office to office, workmates stopping by your desk, whether to discuss work itself or just chat, can be problematic for your work output. Losing your train of thought, where you were in a complex document or what you were typing into a report because of an interruption can take time to recover from. In some offices, if this is happening a lot it can lead to a significant loss of productive effort.

You don’t want to be the unsocial, angry worker who no one talks to, but you have to learn to be firm with people and explain that you are too busy right now, but will talk to them as soon as you are done. It can be a good idea to get them to email the topic for discussion if it were work related so you can find an answer and get back to them without further issue.

Excuses for procrastination are not hard to find, but easy to give in to, however with some thought and planning you can avoid the worst and ensure your productivity remains high.

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