Increasing Productivity at Work: A Modest Survey

“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” —Benjamin Franklin, U.S. Founding Father.

Increasing Productivity at Work: A Modest Survey by Laura Stack #productivitySomeone once told me, “This world would be a nice place if it weren’t for all the people.” He meant it humorously, but the statement stuck with me because of the grain of truth at its core. While we tend to work best as parts of teams, we also get annoyed with people who get in our way or won’t listen to us. It’s so much easier to take charge and just lay down the law than to compromise, but for most of us, that’s not an option.

In a recent survey, I asked my newsletter readers, “If you were going to increase your productivity at work, what would need to happen?” Although some admitted they needed to improve their work skills, a full 84% blamed their companies and especially their coworkers for blocking their increased productivity—the frustration was palpable. Here’s the breakdown.

Personal Improvement 

Just 16% of my respondents thought they personally needed to kick it up a notch skills-wise. Most wanted to improve their work processes and/or let outdated ones go, allowing for better handling of tasks and projects. One individual wanted more energy, and “more love for everything I do, not just for the things that excite me.” Many people admitted they were unable to manage their email.

Low Staffing Levels 

Experts advise us to delegate some of our tasks to other people whenever we can; in fact, it’s one of the time-saving principles I’ve discussed in several of my books, especially What to Do When There’s Too Much to Do (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2012). But as one of my respondents wondered, “To whom?” Her group was so understaffed they had no one to delegate low-value work to. Others just wanted a reliable team, and stable work processes they could count on. These folks accounted for 12% of the vote.

Heavy Distractions

Twenty-four percent of you just want everyone else to keep the noise down and leave you alone so you can maximize your focus. I sympathize; I run into this problem repeatedly, and write about often in various venues. To some extent, we have no choice but to ignore or mask disruptions if we expect to maintain productivity at all, but it remains a pain and a productivity drain.

Open-plan offices have made external distractions and interruptions a major source of frustration for anyone who lacks a door to close; we can hear everything that happens, from high drama to gossip and noisy machines. Those of us who prefer productivity over politics hate it. In fact, several respondents specifically wished for a closeable door. Others suggested higher cubicle walls, sound dampening technology, and classes to hone workplace etiquette.

Communication Issues

This category captured 28% of the vote, the largest percentage in the survey—though this results from including meetings in the group. Most of the respondents in this category specifically mentioned meetings, particularly the need for their numbers and attendance to decrease. Some complained their leaders required them to attend meetings they could rarely participate in. Others noted that just a few people dominated their meetings. One respondent suggested each individual receive a block of time to discuss his or her issues, with the rest of their issues tabled until the next meeting if they failed to complete their discussion (good idea).

The remaining communication issues involved the standard refusal or inability of coworkers to communicate openly and in a timely manner. Some respondents had issues with their supervisors making time for them.


The remaining 20% of my respondents chose various aspects of accountability, which is a basic prerequisite for high productivity. As one respondent wrote, “Management needs to allow employees to ‘own’ their work, good or bad, and give them freedom to innovate as needed.” Others wanted management to hold other team members accountable for their work, while a few felt the need to encourage basic empowerment and engagement. Despite the difficulties businesses face in this post-Great Recession world, many professionals say their managers still refuse them the initiative and accountability needed to do their jobs properly.

Marching Forward

I realize that those who respond to surveys of this nature are often the least happy with their work situations, and yes, this survey was limited in scope. I’m cheered to see some readers admitting their deficiencies and stating what they need to do to overcome them. That’s the first step toward improvement. It’s less heartening to learn we’re still dealing with the customary failures of the workplace dynamic that have plagued us for decades, if not longer. Poor communication and teamwork, constant distractions, and lack of personal accountability remain par for the course. As I’ve outlined in previous articles and in my books, determined leadership and a team-wide willingness to learn and grow can overcome all these issues. It may take some effort, but if you hear complaints similar to these, you can repair and overcome them—if you’re willing to stop cursing the darkness and light a candle or two.

© 2015 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, a.k.a. The Productivity Pro®, helps professionals achieve Maximum Results in Minimum Time®. For nearly 25 years, her keynote speeches and workshops have helped professionals and leaders boost personal and team productivity, increase results, and save time at work. Laura is the author of seven books by large publishers. Her newest book, Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time, hits bookstores in January. 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.