Let’s be real. Productivity training can get a bad rap. Why? Well, let’s see…

Maybe productivity training gets misinterpreted as a subtle message that staff aren’t up to par. It’s received as veiled “feedback,” or worse, punishment. Oh, he’s taking that “productivity training.”

Maybe it puts staff on the defensive. Who, me? I don’t need productivity training…

Maybe it’s a little galling. Well, we wouldn’t need productivity training if things weren’t run this way…

Maybe it seems oddly counterintuitive. Well, I could be productive if I didn’t have to spend time in a training about being productive.

Or maybe it deserves a bad rap. There’s definitely productivity training out there that’s not, well, productive.  It’s conceptual, out-of-touch perfectionism taught by those buttoned-up trainers who can’t conceive of how you wouldn’t always have a neat desk and your email under complete control. 

As a productivity trainer and coach (who isn’t buttoned-up or out-of-touch), I think there’s another way to look at it. 

Good productivity training should give people the means to greater agency, impact, and freedom.

The side effects of effective productivity training are staff who are:

  • Less overwhelmed and stressed
  • Less frustrated and stuck
  • More clear and agile
  • More decisive and proactive
  • More reliable and powerful
  • More engaged and happy

Here are 20 signs that your team might benefit from good, real-world productivity training. And might even thank you for it. 

These productivity symptoms are in escalating order — from initial presenting signs that, left untreated, can progress into more serious and tenacious productivity “disease.”


With the accelerating pace and daily onslaught of information, many default to whatever grabs attention or the latest “emergency” as a way to prioritize. Over time, this MO degrades motivation, impact, and effectiveness.


Professionals spend a good portion of their precious workday gathered in conference rooms or on conference calls, yet few consider it time well spent. Meetings often feel like wheel-spinning exercises that don’t advance the work.


So much work is shuttled back and forth and back again through email. Yet, few use the tool well. As a result, people are glued to their email and try to fashion it into a to-do list. Problem is: this approach (which may seem brilliant – I mean, that’s where the work is, right?) lays us bare to constant interruption and a big, unruly virtual pile with to-do’s buried inside. And who hasn’t gone down the email rabbit hole in an email trance, spending untold hours without much to show for it?


I have good news and bad news. The good news is: Technology makes it possible to reach anyone, anywhere, anytime. The bad news is: Technology makes it possible to reach anyone, anywhere, anytime. People need recovery time yet rarely get it. They are “on” 24/7. Reachable. Without recovery time, it’s difficult to focus, make decisions, communicate, and problem solve.


It’s admirable to be a “yes,” can-do, person. A team player. The go-to person. But watch out when people only say yes. If “yes” is the unquestioned, default position, if they never say “no” to anything, they will likely succumb to the often crushing burden of overcommitment. Overcommitment eventually catches up and diminishes overall performance.


A study from the University of California Irvine found that professionals are interrupted about every 11 minutes. So? What’s the big deal? The big deal is that the brain isn’t built for that. Task switching takes a cognitive toll.

It takes only about a minute to wipe out short-term memory, which is why people have to retrace their steps to re-remember what they were doing and where they left off. Today’s workplace runs on a heavy dose of interruption and multitasking and that takes a heavy toll on performance.


When people are in the emergency mode, when their default work method is to focus on whatever grabs their attention, they start to feel out of control. They get disconnected from their own agency and sense of meaning, which lowers motivation. They start “dialing it in,” going through the motions. They disengage. And that shows up in their performance and, eventually, on the staff survey.


When people are “fire-fighting” every day, it’s easy to procrastinate on the bigger, high impact projects. These projects never seem to score the day’s focus because they aren’t, well, on fire. Yet. Just procrastinate long enough and these big-ticket items eventually will burst into flames. But let’s face, that’s no way to live, or work.


When people start dialing it in, when they’re on auto-pilot, when they disengage, they go into compliance mode. They go along to get along. They may outwardly be agreeable, but their performance is compromised by this sneaky thief – compliance. But compliance is good, right? Not really. Not if you want a culture of responsibility, accountability, and leadership. Not if you want creativity, quality, and innovation.

Mere compliance is a lazy surrender of power — of the power to give consent — to be all in. Compliance often grows under the feet of fear and blame. Consent, on the other hand, is the potent driver of responsible action. It’s the engine of productivity. Compliance may stand in as a poor and costly impostor for consent. You may hobble along with compliance, but you’ll never win the race. You may survive — often at a cost — but you won’t thrive.


When people are running to keep up, overwhelmed by a steady stream of information and change, deadlines start to slip. Of course, it makes sense that timelines change with new information. But if slipping deadlines are the SOP, something is amiss.


When people are overloaded, when they aren’t productively engaged in their work, you begin to see the signs of stress: an uptick in sick days, moodiness, emotional volatility, exhaustion, poor concentration, workaholism, despondency, health problems, worry, anxiety.


Want to know if people are productive? Listen to them. Do they speak in the language of accountability or the trendy talk of excuses? Excuses animate the victim mentality. Ironically, people end up becoming the victims of their own excusing habit. They drain their power through their fidelity to excuses.


With so much input flying so fast, people can lose their bearings. They lose contact with their purpose, goals, meaning, priorities, values, roles, systems, discipline, craft. They operate helter-skelter and succumb to the numbing state of confusion. Sustained confusion becomes a drag factor on performance.


Can you hear the whispers of gossip in the halls? Then, you can make an educated guess that people may be disengaged, dissatisfied, or dialing it in. Gossip syphons off the energy of performance. It erodes trust quickly. And without trust, results are stunted.


If you get wind of complaints about unreasonable demands or leaders, pay attention. It’s often a sign that the turbulence of change, of fire-fighting, of emergency mode is gaining steam and finding a target – and it’s probably not your quarterly goals.


Is there a growing distance between groups of employees? Are people separating into “us” and “them” camps? While you may dismiss this as human nature or no big deal, this can quickly turn into the breeding ground for irritation and resentment, which can infect and impair performance.


Conflict can be productive. It can spark new ideas. It can be the bridge to deeper understanding. However, conflict that doesn’t get resolved drains energy and time from productive, collaborative action. When conflict drags on and on, performance suffers.


It’s true: Where there are people, there are politics. In it’s most benign or even benevolent form, politics is the skillful gathering and wielding of influence. It’s how you gain permission to exercise your power in a community. It’s the rules of engagement. It’s how you self-organize, anoint leaders, share ideas, work together.

However, when office politics rule with an iron fist, when they are the sole determinant of who gets a seat at the table, or who’s idea is heard, or who’s plan is shut out — then, Houston, we’ve got a (productivity) problem. In this type of toxic, hyper-politicized environment, team performance cedes to the self-serving rules of a powerful few. Eventually, this distorted, inbred power weakens results.


HR complaints are the urgent care of productivity disease. They are a screaming sign that productivity issues have been ignored and festered. And while you’ll need to triage and stabilize the immediate symptoms first, it’s important to take a holistic approach. What is the root of the HR complaints? What can you do to inoculate against these complaints. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself in a cycle of throwing time and money at a problem that you’ll never cure.


When the signs of productivity distress are ignored, they can eventually lead to turnover. We recognize that constant turnover has a significant financial cost. But there are auxilarly costs that debilitate a team or business. It takes a toll on morale, trust, teamwork, engagement, organizational knowledge, public relations, performance, and productivity.

The good news is these symptoms don’t have to be chronic, or a death sentence. There’s a remedy. In fact, there’s a cure: becoming expert in the mechanics, the techniques of work. 

In today’s highly dynamic and fast-changing environment, you need a solid, reliable method for triaging information, making decisions, directing attention, prioritizing, and taking action.

That’s what good productivity training can deliver: a kind of productivity “wellness” regime that builds a productivity “immune” system — a system that delivers the clarity, agility, control, confidence, impact, and engagement that leads to high-level productivity and healthy, robust performance.

If your team could use some real-world, real-good productivity training, check out productivity training and coaching services here.

In particular, the flagship course, Workflow Mastery: The Disciplines of Accomplishment may be just the ticket for your team. This is an in-person course offered in businesses and organizations.

Or, if you want to take the self-paced, online version of the course, you can find out information here: Workflow Mastery: The Disciplines of Accomplishment.