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  • Darci Daniels

What are Your Biggest Productivity Blockers?

Seattle, WA and the Olympic Mountain range
This view used to give me a GREAT excuse to be distracted from work.

Do you get frustrated with yourself because you’re not doing as much as you “should” be? Do you get irritated with other people because they’re not doing what they supposed to be and that’s putting you behind? Are you annoyed that you can’t seem to get as much done as you’d like because other things/people/noises seem to constantly interrupt you?

None of us are productive ALL of our waking hours, let alone our work hours. And yes, I’m going to tell you that it’s okay. It is. But that’s not the point today. Today, I want to help you find your biggest productivity block, and then make a shift so that you can not only get more work done in less time but enjoy it more.

Wait, ENJOY it more?! Yes! When we’re not constantly fighting against something, we can get (it’s overused but true) in the zone. Whether it’s something creative like writing, manual like working a machine, or intellectual like crunching numbers, there’s a flow we naturally get into when there’s no resistance and you just GO. Have you ever experienced that? Where time flew by because you were so focused on what you were doing that everything else around you practically ceased to exist? That is the ultimate in productivity.

If this has never happened in your work life, well, we need to talk. But for now, think of a hobby or something you love doing outside of work where you may have experienced this same phenomenon. I often experience it when I’m writing or working on something with a lot of details. I almost always experience it when I’m coaching. I even used to experience it occasionally when I worked in retail (and I didn’t even like my job!) but I could still get in the zone. When things were busy and I was working with customers one right after another, helping them find what they needed, wrapping up their gifts, ringing them up, and then it would start all over again… I got in the flow. You’re not thinking about the past or future, because you’re so wrapped up in the present moment. Not only does it feel great, but that’s when you experience peak productivity as well!

We’ll discuss 2 categories in this article: outside productivity blockers (like people interrupting you) and inside productivity blockers (your own resistance to work). What I’m not going to do today is give you a tired old list of things that make you less productive. You’re smart, you already know those. Things like email constantly pinging, checking social media, playing games on your phone, gossiping with co-workers, etc., etc….

Outside Productivity Blockers

Ok Darci, what about when other people are affecting my productivity? Things out of my control? The jackhammer outside where they are doing construction on the building next door? The co-worker who keeps popping in to tell me “one more thing”? The team member who is not doing their job, which is creating more work for me and I can’t do my job properly? Yeah, those productivity blockers suck. But you can still make a shift that will get you out of irritation and into the flow. First, be aware of what you’re thinking and feeling when these things happen. Are you spending more time being irritated about the problem than you are trying to fix it? When something outside of you is the issue, you have 2 choices: focus on the problem, or try to find a solution that works for you. (No, duct taping your co-worker’s mouth shut is NOT a “workable solution”. Unfortunately.)

Fact #1: Arguing with reality that it “shouldn’t” be happening does you NO good. One of my favorite writers, Byron Katie, says we can argue with reality... we'll only lose 100% of the time. Truth.

Let’s take the jackhammer & construction example. It’s happening, and complaining about it wastes time and takes you further away from your flow. So, what can you do? If noises easily distract you, and the jackhammer is bothering you, can you put on noise-cancelling headphones? Or turn on music? Can you move to a different space? See if you can find a solution, instead of perseverating on the problem. You’re not a victim -- get creative. Ask your boss if you can work from home for a couple of days. If you work from home, get out and go work elsewhere. There’s the obvious stand-by, Starbucks, but there are other options, like the library. Do you have a friend that works somewhere there is an empty conference room you can set up shop for a day or two? If it’s only for a few hours one day, can you push though the best you can, and not beat yourself up over the fact you may not get as much done as you intended? Shift your thinking from being focused on the jackhammer, to doing what you are able to do.

What about an annoying co-worker? If they’re popping in and distracting you constantly, ask yourself why: have you always dropped everything in the past to talk? Are they reporting to you and unsure of how to do their job? Are they just wanting to connect with someone? Or are they using it as a productivity blocker of their own? Whether it’s someone who needs more training, or an honest (and kind) conversation about how they’re sidetracking your focus as well as their own, if you can find the root of why they keep interrupting you then you’ve got a better chance of being able to deal with it in a positive way. Key word: positive. Yelling at them to get out of your face so you can work is not actually going to help you, because now you’ve created another issue that will keep you out of the flow – figuring out how to apologize and stop being a jackass. I have one friend who, because she knows her co-worker will talk her ear off, will proactively stop by in the morning to let her talk. She sets the scene (“I only have a minute before a need to hop on a call, but what’s new?”), stands in the doorway, and then lets Chatty Cathy get out as much as she can handle before she excuses herself. She goes into her office and closes the door, effectively ending their interaction for the day.

What if someone is not doing their job, so you can’t do your job? This may be the most difficult outside productivity blocker of them all. That’s not to say it can’t be helped, but, especially if they don’t report to you, this becomes trickier than the others. This is where your mindset makes a bigger difference than what’s actually happening.

Fact #2: You can’t control them. Sure, if they report to you then you can manage them to do a better job, although you still can’t control their productivity outright. And if you have no managerial say over them, you REALLY can’t control them. So right now, accept reality. One of my favorite quotes from my coaching mentor Martha Beck, “Try allowing people to be exactly as they are. They’re going to do it anyway.” Yep.

Fact #3: Your lack of productivity has more to do with you than them. Eeesh, this is a tough pill to swallow. If you don’t believe it, try this on for size: Stop working. Stop doing anything, and blame it all on the co-worker. Can you guess what will happen? You’ll get fired, not them. I’d bet a lot of money there are other things you could be doing. Make a list of everything you need to/could be doing that doesn’t require “them” to do their job. Right now, I'll wait. Got it? Great – now go do it.

We often hear to be careful when judging others, because we never know what they’re going through. This is an oldie but a goodie because it’s 100% true. What if that co-worker you’re cussing out in your head right now isn’t doing that one simple thing you need because their mother is in the hospital? Or their dog just died? Or they just got diagnosed with cancer? Or none of those could be true, and they’ve just got productivity blockers of their own? Here’s one of my favorite tips when working with people who annoy you – ASSUME GOOD INTENT. Assume they want to do a good job, they don’t know they’re holding you up, they don’t mean to annoy you, and they’re really trying… whatever the reason for their lack of productivity, you’ve got the choice not to let it affect yours. That’s the control you have here.

Not all outside productivity blockers are negative. It’s March, and the group wants to go take a 3 hour lunch at the pub to watch basketball! Your friend invites you out for a hike because it’s beautiful outside! Your kid got student of the month (along with 100 other kids at school) and you want to go watch the 5 minute ceremony! Okay, maybe that last one is a bad example – if you have the flexibility and time in your calendar to go support your kid, and you will be productive outside of that time, by all means do it. But the point remains the same; often there are opportunities to blow off work and go have fun. Here’s where it gets to be a problem: if you’re using these things as a distraction to not be productive and focus. If you’re using outside, social fun the same as someone who’s spending a couple of hours on Pinterest because they’re avoiding work, then you’ve got an issue. However, if you’re buckling down and focused in your morning work hours, getting done what you want and need to do so you can take off the afternoon to watch your kid’s tennis match? More power to you. Only you know the difference.

Inside Productivity Blockers

So, this is where we really get into your head. When you’re not being proactive at work because, well, let me ask you: why do YOU think you're choosing to let things distract you? Make no mistake, when you pick up your phone to check your Facebook feed, you’re making a choice to get out of the flow and be distracted. I want you to be aware of what you’re thinking and feeling when you make that choice. Next time you check your email even if you’re in the middle of something else (which you know you can turn off and check when you’re good and ready instead, right?), pause and ask yourself why. Why are you letting yourself be distracted? Is it that you don’t enjoy what you’re doing? Is it that you’re blocked creatively and looking for a momentary out? Is it that you’re miserable about something else and want to numb the feelings? Is it there’s something big going on and you can’t concentrate enough to work? Just notice, without passing judgment. I’m certainly not. If you can’t come up with an answer, guess. What’s your best guess as to why you constantly let these things distract you? That’s step 1.

Step 2 is to get honest with yourself. This can be a bit more difficult. You know what you’re thinking and feeling, but WHY are you self-sabotaging? Is it because you hate your job and what you’re doing? Well, good to know. Now, what are you going to do about it? I’m not suggesting you quit right now. I’m suggesting you start dreaming about what you’d like to do instead. Map out an exit strategy, which, in the meantime, may mean getting back to work. Is it because something else is going on and you can’t concentrate? Great, what is that thing? Is it something you can fix? If not, then take a few deep breaths and see if you can let it go, at least for the moment. Remember fact #1, there's no use arguing with reality. Can you set it aside and focus for an hour? Two hours? Four hours? If you can fix it, then do it -- or make a plan to do it when the time is right, and then your brain may let you get back to work. Oftentimes, just getting honest with ourselves and realizing we have a choice can bring great relief.

Whenever strong resistance pops up, there’s always a reason, and when we’re sabotaging our own productivity, if we don’t face the why, we’re bound to keep driving ourselves nuts. This step, shifting your thinking, is often the hardest one to make. A good coach help you with this. In my experience, most of it comes down to fear. Fear of failure, fear of success (yeah, it’s a thing), fear of what other people will think, fear of whether you’re good enough, your work is good enough, whether you have enough experience…

Fear will paralyze you. Full stop. You get to face it and decide if you’ll let it. It’s pretty tough to get in the flow if you’re constantly worried, afraid, or terrified about the result.

Step 3 is to take small steps back to productivity. Especially if you're facing something big and scary, don't try to tackle a whole day's worth of to-dos. When I get overwhelmed and freeze, after I've done steps 1 & 2, I focus on taking one small step toward being productive again that feels ridiculously easy. We call them turtle steps. Write one email. Make one phone call. Don't try to write a whole presentation, just open up Power Point. Take a deep breath and write one sentence. Then one more. Often, you'll gain momentum and keep going, doing more than you would have expected when you started.

Oddly, the solution to the problem isn’t actually the point here. How you think about the problem is the point, and to know what you’re thinking, you must first be aware. Then get honest with yourself. Where your resistance to work meets your willingness to figure out the issue regardless of the distractions or fear, that’s where you’ll find success.

P.S. I have a life-time of self-sabotage and procrastination under my belt (I am truly my best client), but I also have the coaching skills to find the sore spot, ask the right questions, and show you a different way to perceive it so it will serve you instead of disrupt you. Whatever your productivity blocker is, I’d be happy to help. We’ll work together to make you more proactive, productive, and happy with what you’re doing!

Comment below and let me know what your biggest productivity blocker is! Or email me at to set up a free consultation.


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