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Productivity Hurdles

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What really bugs people about productivity?

We conduct time and motion studies using our proprietary electronic TimeCorder device, gathering thousands of hours of real-time data from employees.

We like to complement the time study results with additional data, so we often provide employees with a brief questionnaire prior to beginning a study. One of the questions asks: “What things, outside of your control, get in the way of your productivity?”

The idea of this question is that some productivity inhibitors such as procrastination are within employees’ control. Some are outside their control. Or apparently so. It’s our contention that many of these hindrances can in fact be managed by employees through better time management training. Nonetheless, employees often believe productivity is spinning out of control through no fault of their own.

The most popular responses to the question are listed below.

Paperwork / administrative tasks19%
Customer requests – service / problems / complaints17%
Computer / system / equipment problems16%
Phone calls / phone interruptions / inquiries15%
Other departments inefficient / make mistakes10%
Meetings – too many / too long / unnecessary7%
Staffing / HR issues / changes / people absent6%
Changing priorities / ad hoc / unplanned projects5%
Customers without appointments / walk-ins5%
Volume of work / not enough time4%
Requests from peers / other departments4%
Volume of E-Mail3%
No response / nothing3%
Traffic / Travel3%
Fire fighting / emergencies3%
Doing other people’s jobs3%
Environnent – noise, cold, location, privacy2%
Communication difficulties – internal2%
Difficulty reaching customer, getting information2%
Procedures / policies / compliance2%
Questions from staff2%
Lack of information / missing information2%

The top-rated item deals with paperwork and general administrative tasks. Interestingly, respondents are rarely very specific about this. It isn’t monthly reports, or weekly expense accounts that fluster them – just general administrative tasks, of which there are many.

The second response, dealing with customer issues is ironic because many of the people who respond to this question provide customer service as part of their job. The same customers that employees serve are also perceived as getting in the way of their productivity.

Computer systems and equipment problems are third highest on the list. Despite massive investments in technology over the last twenty years, technology gone wrong continues to be an issue for many employees. Connections are slow, software is buggy, equipment doesn’t work, and user-interfaces are clunky. Indeed, this issue is clearly outside of employee’s control, and many organizations have little sense of the negative impact of technology.

Item number four deals with phone calls. Interruptions by phone are perceived as much more of an issue than email interruptions. It seems emails can wait, but phone calls cannot.

Rounding out the top five, problems originating from other departments are a perennial concern. After all, it’s easy to blame someone else. So it would not be surprising to go to the other departments and find that they have issues with this department. Put in a room together, the two departments might find common ground and develop simple productivity initiatives. With time diagnostics pointing out where the opportunities are, companies can impact knowledge worker productivity without massive investments in infrastructure. Sometimes the little things add up.


  1. Great info thanks.

    Thinking too far into the future is another productivity hurdle. It demotivates and increase stress level. Having short term plans and daily planning can improve productivity.

  2. Thanks for the great research. I really knows that administration work is a productivity hurdle. But I was not aware about the technologies. We may have issues in computer and softwares, but I think the overall impact of technology surpass negative effect.

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