Why you can't get any work done at work

Published Jun. 7, 2020 by Andy Leverenz in Communication

Why you cant get work done at work

I started working remotely over 5 years ago. If given the opportunity I don't know that I can ever go back to an office. Like many remote workers, I don't see the advantage of commuting to and from work every day. Some face time is indeed important but is it pivotal?

Having worked remotely and in the office, I have experienced common pitfuls of why you can't get work done at work. Many of these are my beliefs and differ from person to person. Don't take them as gospel but do give them some thought to better decide where you stand.

Having to go into the office

Some employees prefer to separate work life from personal life (I do as well). Going to the office means they can leave that part of their life behind when it's quitting time. There is also the social by default aspect humans are drawn towards that remote workers sometimes miss.

Remote workers, on the other hand, sometimes struggle to know when to quit. We enjoy our time in solitude to have a bit more freedom and time to think for ourselves.

The commute is likely where both styles of workers agree. This part is the worst and is probably why remote work has been on a steady rise in popularity.

What type of workplace environment you end up in boils down to how disciplined you are and what makes you happy. If you're more of a social butterfly, you probably crave going into the office. If you're more of an introvert like myself, the office sounds like a terrible place to visit daily.

When I did go to the office, I had to commute pretty far. Over time this began to weigh on my will power to keep going in. I was wasting a couple of hours a day commuting and spending quite a lot of money on gas. This made me grumpy and less enthused to want to work. I often remember watching the clock waiting for when I could finally leave. One day I decided enough was enough and have since been a remote employee.

All of this is to say the commute is only a portion of the problem that kept me from getting real work done. Factor in the open office layout, office politics, office drama, and countless meetings and you start to wonder how I got any work done at all.

8 hours at the office does not mean 8 hours of work

You can't expect an employee of any type to get 8 continuous hours of work done per day. We are humans, not robots. Because of this we take breaks or find ways to break up the time. These breaks often account for why some work lags if taken too far.

In my case, I tend to work in blocks with roughly hour-long breaks in between. It feels like a solid balance that probably equates to 4 hours of an 8 hour day worth of productivity. That's on a good day.

Meeting overkill

Meeting for the sake of meeting is on the list of some of the worst things I've ever had to do. Is it hard? No. Is it worth my time and attention? 99% of the time, absolutely not.

Towards the end of my previous role, I was in meetings almost every day. Most meetings had very little positive outcome or agenda. I began to hate the constant need to "show up".

If you think a meeting is required for status updates or something that could be written in an email (or using a tool like Compose) you are doing it wrong.

For example, say a product manager invited you to a half-hour stand-up call every day in an on-going fashion (Already a red flag I hope).

Let's assume there are roughly 4-5 people on the team that you expect to be on the call. Factor the number of team members by one half-hour per person and you're wasting about 2.5 hours of your team's time. That's 12.5 hours a week for one meeting!

Those employees could have spent that chunk of time getting real work done. This happens every day and most meetings I've been in last an hour on average.

The meeting roller coaster effect

Now here's where it gets interesting…

When a meeting is scheduled there is often a build-up and cool-down period no one talks about.

Sure, you could work right up until the meeting begins but I would argue most people stop doing what they are doing before the meeting to prepare for the time with other colleagues.

For me, this means If I had a few meetings scheduled in a given morning you can bet that any real work wouldn't progress until those meetings were over with.

This sometimes ruins an entire day of productivity for me which leaves me behind. Compound this in a week and you've got employees working 40+ hours to compensate for the lost time.

Even after a meeting ends there is a cool-down period where your brain needs time to reflect and then switch gears to the immediate tasks on your agenda. That build-up and cool down process results in time spent not working and yet you're still accountable for output by your boss.

A half-hour meeting turns into about 3 hours of unproductivity. Multiply that by how many people attend the meeting and you'll start to see why your team/company is falling behind.

Only meet when necessary

Meet only when necessary and take things offline by writing. This problem is a large reason we created Compose. Asynchronous is not a new thing. Email is still a great tool for a reason.

Through writing, you communicate better. There is usually more context combined with less noise and more clarity. Written word is always there to refer to when you need it.

Constant context shifts

In an office setting, you're an open target. When some random need arises people can get you in their sights and come disrupt your flow. That disruption leads to an overly long conversation making you lose steam and focus.

In a remote setting, your team probably uses some type of chat-based tool. While the benefits of chat are great, there are some definite downsides. Notifications, unread messages, and direct messages needing your attention right then and there are bound to stop you in your tracks. I could go on about the downsides of a chat-based tool but I'll save that for another article.

On a more personal level, some people have browser tabs open to their favorite social media sites. Assuming you're trying to be productive you can bet social media needs to take a back seat.

It's work to manage work

Project management tools plead that they save loads of time and effort in achieving business goals. What those tools don't account for is the work to manage the project management tool itself.

Issue trackers, document editors, kanban boards, time trackers, performing code reviews, and more all equate to the time taken from an employee's day. There is no doubt that we need tools to work more collaboratively. The problem lies in when there are so many tools to account for that much of your time "working" is spend within tools directly. I suggest limiting how many you use as a team if possible.

In our case, Compose is designed to be a long-form messaging tool. It's not the holy grail of project management like other apps that try to do it all. It excels at being canvas and community for capturing richer ideas, thoughts, and feedback at a team or personal level.

Yes, it takes time to author long-form content just as anything else but our goal is to limit the need for so many context shifts between communication tools. If communication is done well, the rest of the job is about execution.

On writing