What If It’s You? How to Recognize If You’re a Productivity Killer

A computer can be a useful and indispensable tool. But if we allow it to devour our time with vain, unproductive, and sometimes destructive pursuits, it becomes an entangling net. — Joseph B. Wirthlin, American businessman and religious leader.

What If It's You?  How to Recognize If You're a Productivity Killer  by Laura Stack #productiviityLet me ask you a simple question: are you worth your pay? In other words, do you deliver the level of productivity your leader and team expect of you, or do you drag down team productivity like a lead anchor?

I know it breaks the rules to assume MY readers are anything less than competent… but if your team’s productivity has been flagging lately, consider the possibility that the problem is you. You may not mean to damage productivity; but sometimes, things beyond your control—or that you’ve let slide—can hamper the productivity level you ordinary take pride in.

You’ll probably find you’re not the problem, but a systematic investigation takes account of all the potential variables. So if you’ve noticed a lag in team productivity, don’t just assume the high quality of your own productivity, especially if something significant has changed in your life or on the work front recently. Seriously consider the possibility your own work has deteriorated, just for the sake of thoroughness.


Knowing and accepting the reality represents the first step towards fixing it. With this in mind, put yourself under the microscope.

  1. How’s your health? Lack of restful sleep may be the biggest productivity killer ever. You know the figures: most of us need 7-9 hours per night, with a minimum of a straight six. Have you recently been suffering from insomnia? If you don’t know why and can’t find a healthy way to reset your sleep patterns, see your doctor. You’d be surprised how often sleep disorders turn out to be the culprit. Sometimes they’re hard to diagnose, too. A colleague who passed a sleep disorder test before recovering from insomnia recently started dragging again, and his doctor pointed out that newer tests detect sleep disorders older tests sometimes missed. As medical science advances, we’re learning more and more about how sleep works, so second study, using newer technology, might prove worthwhile even if you’ve passed one before. Weight gain also slows you down. So can poor hydration, hormone issues, and lack of exercise. All contribute to low energy states that can’t help but damage your productivity, and all are so important I’ve written an entire book about them: The Exhaustion Cure: Up Your Energy from Low to Go in 21 Days (Broadway Books, 2008).
  1. Have you been unusually distracted? Something new in your environment may be stealing from your limited amount of attention. Has anything changed recently at the office? Or is something outside the work environment—like a painful relationship or financial worries—blurring your focus? If so, does leadership need to know about? What can you do to compensate? Think seriously about your options.
  1. Have you fallen into bad habits? Perhaps you have developed an electronic addiction. Maybe you’re obsessed with Facebook or Twitter. Perhaps you play one too many computer games, leave your desk too often for a cup of coffee or a smoke, or socialize too much. Even a few wasted minutes per day really adds up. 
  1. Have you been skipping breaks? Ironically, failing to take breaks, skipping weekends and holidays, or refusal to take vacations actually undermines your productivity. You need time to recharge lest you grow stale. Hence the reason for breaks in the first place.
  1. What about boredom? At some level, have you lost interest in your job? Do you no longer care about the work your team needs you to do? Does dealing with your supervisor make you too angry or irritated to function? If so, your productivity slip may be due to your subconscious mind trying to either get you fired so you can move on to something else, or kicked in the tuchus so you’ll get back on track. Rather than let things go too far, find something you still enjoy, focus on it, put your head down, and push forward until you pick up the productivity trail again. Sometimes you just gotta fake it ’til you make it.

Coming Though for the Team

As always, I intend the items listed here only as places to start your self-productivity audit. By no means should you consider the list exhaustive; put in some serious thought, and you may find other ways to recognize when you’re slipping. If your audit reveals the fault is yours, stop and think about what steps you need to take to get back on track, and then promptly implement them.

© 2015 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, a.k.a. The Productivity Pro®, helps professionals achieve Maximum Results in Minimum Time®. For over 20 years, her keynote speeches and workshops have helped leaders boost personal and team productivity, increase results, and save time at work. Laura is the author six books, most recently Execution IS the Strategy. Widely regarded as one of the leading experts in the field of performance and workplace issues, Laura has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and USA Today. Connect via her website, Facebook, or Twitter.




  1. Great post, Laura! Too few of us ask ourselves these questions regularly and fail to make progress, which in turn leads to too many wasted hours!

    • Thanks Camilla! We’re all vulnerable to losing our edge. Even those who have performed highly in the past can get in a rut. It’s always a good idea for us all to look in the mirror occasionally!