Want to spot the unproductive employees? Listen to the excuses they make.
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By John Brandon
They moan. They wail. They shuffle around the office looking for free candy. Unproductive employees have an excuse for everything. Here are a few of the phrases they use to explain away the problem. Listen for them, then correct the action to get things back on track.
1. I’m overworked.
I hear this one constantly. What unproductive people might not realize is that we are all overworked. We’re in an overworked age. Instant access to email and a mobile browser means work is always just a click away. What separates the wheat from the chaff? The really productive people don’t dwell on the problem. They just do the work.
2. That’s not my job.
I’ve written before about staying productive by focusing on your job and not doing the work of unproductive co-workers. That’s always a bad pattern to set. Curious, then, that the really unproductive people always seem to notice when they’re doing extra work to help a project. They focus on their role too much and on what everyone else is not doing. Truly productive people don’t even care. They just do whatever it takes to get things done and plow ahead, analyzing the exact role definitions later.
3. I’ll finish that later.
Forget the Mark Twain quote about procrastination. Unproductive people waste time because they live in a constant state of incongruity. The loose ends of their tasks never meet up, and stay loose. They start one Word document, work on it for a while, drop it, then start working on a PowerPoint. In the “picking up and setting down” process they waste time because each tasks needs a jumpstart, which uses more energy.
4. I don’t have all of the answers yet.
Overly detail-oriented people use this one. They wait until everything is perfectly lined up before starting a task, usually languishing in perpetuity because things rarely do line up. And, ironically, some of the employees in your company who are wasting time mindlessly browsing all day are the ones who think they have to wait for the project pieces to fall in place. The solution? Productive people just do whatever they can now on any tasks that need to be done. They don’t wait for the perfect timing.
5. I’ll wait for the boss to tell me what to do.
For any employee in a small business, a lack of independence is a true productivity killer. While someone is waiting to be told what to do, a project will spin out of control. We all know the “get it done” crowd just figures out the problem and starts working on a task. Besides, if the boss has to explain every little detail, that’s using up valuable time anyway.
6. I don’t understand all of the variables.
Really? Is there an employee who won’t act until he or she has all of the answers? That is a sign of someone who will be waiting a long time because no one ever has all of the answers. The folks who started Airbnb and Uber didn’t wait for all of the regulatory issues to be ironed out. And Google didn’t wait to test driverless cars until every state allowed them.
7. I don’t see the benefit for me.
We are living in a world of narcissists who take selfies every 30 minutes and post about their inner feelings on Twitter. The underlying problem? They’re slowing down a project because they only care about their own rewards. Productive people see the greater reward of a successful company and want to play a part in building something cool. The selfies can wait until the weekend.
8. I might not get the credit.
Related to that problem is another productivity destroyer: the need to take credit for the task. The process of hyping up your work, demanding crediting, and pestering people to notice your actions all contribute to an unproductive day. The employees who are slowing things down the most are spending too much time trying to get the attention of the boss.
9. I’m worried about my quality of work.
Productive people know how to slam out good work in a constant flow of creativity and skill. They care about quality, but they also understand that being productive requires a push to finish. When the goal is to always create perfection, unproductive people create a serious slowdown. Praise quality, expect proficiency, but encourage productivity.
10. I might fail.
The hallmark of every unproductive person at work is being worried about failure. It’s a time-tested truth. If employees don’t ever start a project, they don’t have to worry about failure, right? I’ve written about total failure before, but letting a few tasks fail is okay. It means you are trying new things and staying busy. Holding back because you want every task to succeed? It just means completing fewer tasks.