Here’s why your obsession with productivity might be making you less productive

BY Tracy Brower 3 MINUTE READ
In this day and age, productivity is a standard requirement for value. There’s this idea that those who accomplish more in less time are most valuable to themselves, their colleagues, their companies, and even their families. It’s an ethos we don’t even question, as many of us continue on a never-ending quest to optimize every single aspect of our lives. But your obsession with productivity can actually make you less productive.

In business, we study productivity regularly and strive to determine all the variables that contribute to higher outputs. A study found that even the timing of our meals matters—a snack, for example, is better than a full meal for alertness and productivity on the night shift. Yes, productivity is necessary for a certain level of functioning and contribution to society, but an overemphasis on productivity can hurt us.

First, focusing on productivity tends to narrow our view. This can be demotivating for several reasons. A productivity-above-all lens tends to put our attention on the details and nitty-gritty parts of our task, rather than the big picture. Counting hours, widgets, or rows of the spreadsheet won’t get you excited about your work. If you want to find meaning in what you do, you need to focus on why you’re doing it in the first place. That’s the kind of thing that will get you up in the morning. 

Focusing too much on productivity can also be detrimental because it adds pressure. That can be extremely paralyzing. When something feels too big, too much, or just generally unreachable, we’re less likely to try to accomplish it. The height of a basketball net is just right for the average player to make enough baskets to keep coming back and try for more. It’s not so high that we’ll never make a basket, nor so low that it presents no challenge. Focusing too much on productivity can be like setting the net too high—if something feels unreachable, it’s not even worth trying. That’s why, in many instances, you should put less pressure on yourself to keep your motivation higher.

You might read this and wonder, it’s all well and good to focus on the big picture and take the pressure off, but can one really opt out of productivity altogether? After all, not everyone has a say in how much work they have to do, and they definitely can’t turn their backs on family or personal obligations. When I say that you should stop obsessing about productivity, I’m not telling you to stop being productive. What I am saying is to find other things to focus on instead. Here are some ideas.

  • Focus on what you enjoy: I get it, not every task you do will make you want to jump up and down with excitement. But as much as you can, zero in on the aspect of that task that you enjoy. When you love what you’re doing, it feels less like work, and you’re more motivated to tackle a task or dig in.
  • Curate your work: The way to do more of what you love is to raise your hand for projects that motivate you. Fill your plate and your list of responsibilities with things that add value for the company, and that makes you excited to go to work in the morning. Then you’ll naturally have less time for projects that aren’t your favorite, and those can go to others who are more excited about tackling them.
  • Don’t get too caught up in tedious work: For the things that must get done and are just not going to be stimulating to you, focus on muscling through. Just get them done so you can get on to the more exciting tasks and juicy work.
  • Take small steps: Focus on taking small steps forward. You’ve looked at the big picture and how your work contributes to it. Now, focus on taking one step at a time to get there. Sometimes it even helps to tell yourself you’re just going to work on something for 10 minutes. By then, you’ll be into the task so much that you’ll want to finish it. If that’s not the case, give yourself a break and come back for another small increment of progress.
Productivity is probably a necessary evil. After all, lots of employers focus on it as a performance metric to judge the value we’re bringing to our company or ourselves. But don’t let it be the be-all and end-all, or you might end up burned out and less productive as a result.

Tracy Brower, PhD, MM, MCRw, is a sociologist focused on work, workers, and workplace, working for Steelcase. She is the author of Bring Work to Life by Bringing Life to Work: A Guide for Leaders and Organizations.

Article originally published on fastcompany.com

5 Signs That You Need to Leave Your Current Job Now

BY Tracy Brower 4 MINUTE READ

Sometimes a job or a company isn’t what you’d hoped it would be when you signed on. It’s always important to give everything your best effort, but when you feel like you’re banging your head against the wall, it might be time to make a change.

First, it’s essential to know that it’s a buyer’s market (with employees being the “buyer,” that is). Futurists have been predicting a “war for talent” for years now. Well, it’s here and that’s good news for workers. In fact, according to the latest US jobs report, we’ve had 100 straight months of increased employment, and by 2020 the predicted shortfall of highly skilled workers will be nearly 20 million. This means that as an employee, you can afford to be choosy when it comes to the work you’re doing and the company you work for.

Of course, you should always start by committing to be successful in your current job and company – and make an effort to focus on the things you do enjoy about your job. But if you’ve done your best and things still don’t feel like they’re working out, it might be a sign that you need to start looking for new opportunities. Here are five signs to watch out for.


Every job has its downsides, but it’s time to make a change when you feel like your work doesn’t matter. To be fulfilled at work, you need to have a sense of purpose and connection to the bigger picture. You need to feel like you and your work matter to the overall success of the team and have the opportunity to take risks and stretch.

Stay at a job where you feel stimulated. Not every day has to be exciting and packed with deep meaning, but if you’re not getting these things at all, it’s probably time to move on.


Even if your current job isn’t perfect, it’s smart to stay with a company where you can see the next step. On the other hand, if the company lacks opportunities for development, training, or mentorship, it might be time to move on. One of the symptoms of burnout is when you can’t see future growth opportunities. It’s your responsibility to go after new options and make yourself known, but if you can’t get anyone’s attention in your workplace, you’ll want to find a place where you can.


A sense of belonging is critical to our happiness. We experience social pain in the same parts of the brain where we experience physical pain, according to a 2014 study. If you’ve tried your best to connect with your colleagues, but still feel excluded or disconnected from your team or your colleagues, you may be in the wrong group. Cultural fit is personal and relative. The best organisation for one person may not be the best for another. So, just because you look around and see satisfied colleagues, the team may still not be the best fit for you. Consider trying another team or job within the company, and if you still don’t feel a sense of comfort and connectedness, move on.


This is perhaps one of the most significant factors in knowing when to seek another role or another company. You must be able to be fully yourself to be at your best. Of course, you still need to conduct yourself professionally – you don’t want to show up to work in your pajamas, and you can’t just stop showing up whenever you don’t feel like coming to work.

But in general, you need a place where you can apply your skills and talents, rock your unique sense of humour, and be appreciated for the unique gifts you bring. If the company doesn’t value you, or if they don’t recognise you for your contributions, it’s time to consider going elsewhere.


The bad behaviours that the company tolerates say a lot about its culture. If there is a lot of bad behaviour in your company and they don’t hold those perpetrators accountable, the environment can become toxic. Pay attention to your organisation’s heroes. Do their actions reflect your values and principles? If they don’t, take it as an important clue. Of course, the physical environment matters, too. Another way companies communicate their values – and how much they value employees in particular – is through their facilities. If your office fails to support your work or leaves you sapped at the end of the day, it may be another signal to leave.

There is one caveat in this discussion: In addition to deciding it’s time to leave, you’ll also want to consider your vision for what’s next and how you’ll get there. Rather than just getting out of your current situation, you’ll also want to get on with pursuing a positive vision of your future. You want to be energised to take the next step.

In this tight job market, you have more choices than ever, so take advantage of them. Commit, invest, and give a job and a company a fair shot. But trust your instincts when it’s time to make a change, because there are so many options out there, and you deserve to be at a company that recognises (and rewards) your skills and talent.

Tracy Brower, PhD, MM, MCRw, is a sociologist focused on work, workers, and workplace, working for Steelcase. She is the author of Bring Work to Life by Bringing Life to Work: A Guide for Leaders and Organisations.

Originally published on fastcompany.com