Too Far Ahead of the Pack? Six Indicators of Overproductivity

“Culture is perishing in overproduction, in an avalanche of words, in the madness of quantity.”—Milan-Kundera, Czechoslovakian-French author

Allow me to introduce you to a term you may never have considered before in reference to your job: “overproductivity.” It’s not a common word. But common or not, it’s real, and it may affect you if you’re not careful.

Overproduction is one of the seven deadly sins of lean manufacturing, as it’s considered more wasteful than “Just In Time” or JIT production. As a white-collar worker, you may not consider yourself constrained by the tenets of lean manufacturing, but “lean” as a philosophy has long since entered the office-work canon. You can in fact be guilty of overproduction in an office, though it manifests differently in the white-collar environment. In our case, it’s more about how you expend your personal time and energy than your organization’s.

Look for these indicators that you may be overproductive:

  1. A poor work/life balance. When was the last time you kicked back with a drink and listened to music, or went dancing, or even watched your favorite TV show? If you’ve been living the life of “Wake, Coffee, Hustle, Sleep, Repeat” for too long, you’re probably too keen on producing. Taking breaks and reducing your hours to normal levels whenever you can won’t kill you.
  1. You can’t turn off when it’s time to rest. When you’re in constant Hustle mode, it can be difficult to turn it off when work ends. I don’t just mean putting up your electronic buffers against interruption. I’ve personally have been in a mode where, when I was off work, I couldn’t stop obsessing about work — something like this fellow, who lost five days of his vacation to his thoughts about work. You’re full of work-adrenaline, and it takes a while to flush from your system—and then only when you let it.
  1. Your supervisors expect you to always overachieve, because you’ve trained them to. Then, when you can’t work because of illness or family issues, or if you try to cut back on your hours, you look bad to them. I’ve seen this happen.
  1. You often run out of work. You’re efficiently pushing through your work… and suddenly, it’s gone. You have to go to your supervisor for more, assuming there’s more to be done. The self-employed realize part of their job is to find their own work and line it up for months in advance—but if you work in a typical office, you have to depend on your supervisor, and they don’t always perform that part of the job well. This can be a job-killer if you’re working on contract, or result in a layoff if your manager suddenly needs to reduce headcount. So work at a steady, measured pace, and cut back on your working hours. Don’t waste time, but give all your work closer attention and one more review, just like you did when you finished an exam early in school.
  1. Coworkers resent you. Some may be upset not just because you “make them look bad,” but because your manager expects them to work just as hard as you. You may also run afoul of company politics; like it or not, an office is a political environment, and you must work within the rules.
  1. You’re at or near burnout. This is arguably the most important tip in this entry. Some people can handle the stress of long work and overproduction; some can’t. Your body is your most important tool, and if you break it, you can no longer do your work well. Too much work can damage your health in many ways, from cardiovascular disability to too little sleep, a poor diet, dehydration, and more. Take care of yourself, and exercise.

 You and Only You

You have your reasons for working hard, and they’re important. But like a nova that briefly outshines the, if you overproduce too long, you may burn out… whereupon you’re useless, not just to yourself but to everyone. And in the modern business environment, an underperforming asset, even a human one, is unlikely to last long. So keep an eye on your progress. Just because you feel like going to town on your work today doesn’t mean the results will be uniformly positive tomorrow or next week. You may run out of work, be unable to turn off your work-mind, or earn the enmity of your coworkers. So keep working hard, but rein in the overproduction. Most of the time, it’s just as much a waste in white-collar work as it is in manufacturing.

© 2019 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored eight books, including FASTER TOGETHER: Accelerating Your Team’s Productivity (Berrett-Koehler 2018). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and a member of its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at an upcoming meeting or event, call 303-471-7401 or contact us online.



  1. What a refreshing article, Laura! In my consulting and coaching work, I see “productivity behemoths” (how’s that for coining a term?) who produce and produce and produce … and now seem hooked on the adrenaline high of pushing themselves beyond all reasonable limits. In the 24/7 workplace, with organizations’ operations across the globe, it IS possible to always be at work, but it just isn’t healthy. And it IS costly: I see so many who cannot concentrate on a single idea for 5 seconds. Unfortunately, it will take at least that amount of time to understand the idea, let alone to figure out how to implement it. I hope your article influences behavior! And incidentally, you look great! I recall seeing you on stage some years ago, and you appear to have grown younger!