3 Problems Plaguing Your Productivity (#3 Might Be Killing You)

Today’s productivity problems go far deeper than just managing units of time. Our world has a few specific challenges that allow the time to just “go by,” and can leave us feeling unaccomplished and weary at the end of a day.

Productivity Problem #1

We are making more decisions than we ever have before. Think about it. Every email, demand, request, phone call, and/or idea is a decision your brain is required to make. During the Industrial Age, workers on an assembly line put one part on one machine a hundred times a day. They had few choices and fewer decisions to make. Decisions they did have to make were simple and of low value. Their tools had one, straightforward use.

Most of us no longer stand in an assembly line doing repetitive tasks. We have comparatively unlimited decisions coming at us about what to work on, when and how (for example: Do I answer this email? Accept this meeting invitation? Work on this project or that one?).

You do your best handling decisions as they come in, but the decisions you are required to make are complex and have high value. For example, a salesperson’s decisions on how to use her time can mean millions of dollars to the bottom line. One might be constantly busy, but still ask the at the end of the day, “What the heck did I get done?”

Productivity Problem #2

At the same time, our attention is under unprecedented attack. The dings, pings, beeps, and buzzes each represent a demand and seem to come at us from everywhere. Thanks to technology, the information explosion is huge. But it is almost incomprehensible how huge. By the end of the twentieth century, the entire sum of information produced since the dawn of civilization was about twelve exabytes. We now produce this much information in about four days! And that does not include our personal information.

We are all in serious danger of drowning in emails, texts, and tweets! The fact that our brain loves the novelty of those dings and pings doesn’t help, and creates an addiction to technology. Thus the paradox: technology makes our life easier, more effective, and efficient, but it also distracts us and overburdens us because the unstoppable flow of information is out of control.

Productivity Problem #3

Problems one and two are wearing us out. We suffer from a personal energy crisis. We no longer work a standard eight-hour day. Our minds are constantly churning trying to make high value decisions, virtually twenty-four hours day. Our mode of life today—constant stress, poor diet, and lack of exercise and sleep—leads to what scientists call “exhaustion syndrome.” The rest of us call it burnout.

We continually “push through” each day, postponing the renewal time our bodies and brains need. The mantra is “work like crazy and then crash.” And, as we mentioned earlier, we get rewarded for the ordinary mindset; it becomes a badge of honor to brag, “Our team was up till midnight.” Do your employees receive emails and texts from you at 10 pm? Chances are they are stressed, not knowing whether they should be answering those or not. Are they supposed to “work” at that hour? Do they know what you expect?

What About You and Your Team?

Some leaders will shrug these problems off, saying “This is just the world we have to live in. Deal with it.” Other highly effective leaders will realize the costs of this and take action. Take a moment to consider these questions about where you stand.

  • Which of these three productivity problems is most plaguing your team?
  • What are you doing as a leader to fuel these problems?
  • What can you do today to ease the burden on your team?
  • What would be the benefit of making these changes?

Engage Patrick

Patrick is an Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University and a Global Senior Consultant with FranklinCovey. He writes articles, creates videos, and shares tools to help leaders and brands achieve amazing results.


Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash


  1. Michael Leddin on May 22, 2018 at 4:12 pm

    Interesting article. A few years ago, I did make a change and decided to not send e-mails to my team after 8:00 p.m., and on the weekends. While I personally enjoy the quiet of working in the evenings and the weekends, I realized that I was unintentionally sending a message to my team. I will draft the e-mails, so I don’t neglect to send the following workday. It is a small step, but I hope it is appreciated by them somewhat…

  2. Sue Ellen Bissette on June 7, 2021 at 7:47 pm

    Can you consider this? It proves your point. However, this was a time before e-mails. Before what you call teams. It was a time when you were paged on the intercom to call the extension usually your boss, to pull you off of the job you were on only to put you on a co-workers job that found himself too busy to do the task at hand. This team was a Department. One I worked in. My boss and I had a running joke that it was the Good Ol’ Boys Club. I could put in 40 to 60 hours a week depending on how many times I was pulled off of my work to do someone else’s and then got behind on mine. The final straw was an assignment given to me the night before it was needed the next morning. Customers were coming in. The Supervisor was responsible for having it completed before now. I was angry but also went home trying to figure out a way to get this done and ready for the Supervisor and the meeting. We didn’t have software for this project so I would have to make it up by hand. I would wake up every 15 minutes that night trying to get the steps right in my head. No sleep and stress caused me to have a Grand -Mal seizure in my car just as I backed out of my driveway. I tried to go back to work. But part of my job was working with machinery as pulling studies. Another seizure could be dangerous. So I left and a year later was on disability. I was only 33. So working long hours, no sleep, stressed out, even if you love what you do. It can and will effect your health. The problem is sometimes you won’t even see or feel it coming.

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