How Increased Productivity Can Hurt You

A big part of being awesome in the workplace is being highly productive. Any time we can get more done in the same amount of time means greater profitability for you personally and the company you work for. Since profitability is ultimately what business is about, increased productivity is a big focus for any organization. But sometimes the increased productivity isn’t worth it. Below we’ll look at some of the possible productivity pitfalls and how to avoid them.

A Recent Reminder

In my non-work life I recently took on the project of building a dining room table. When I was getting started I went to the local gigantic hardware chain store (since most of their competition has now disappeared) to get the supplies I needed. After spending what seemed like an eternity picking wood under fluorescent lights, all that was left was to buy stain and urethane. Since these final stages are my least favorite part of this type of project my exhausted self was thrilled to find a one-step product that stained and urethaned at the same time.

At first glance this increase in productivity seemed like a great idea; the amount of time I would spend with a paint brush in my hand would be cut in half. Well, as those of you who know anything about stain may have already guessed, the results were less than favorable. The table that I’d spent many hours working on (and was very happy with before staining) now looked rather ugly, and I ended up spending a lot more time fixing the mess than I had saved in the first place.

The Lesson

The point of that story is that it reminded to me of how important it is to carefully consider the implications of my productivity-increasing choices. Below are four areas to consider when boosting productivity. If you can implement the idea without negatively affecting any of the areas below, then it’s probably safe.

Criteria 1: The Finished Product

How will an increase in productivity affect the final product (the product and/or service that your business offers)? If there is a chance that it will cause even a slight reduction in quality it may not be worth it. This is where I fell short in the example above; in my haste I didn’t stop to ask myself if it might affect the end product.

Criteria 2: Customer Satisfaction

No matter what business you’re in, customer satisfaction is vital to success. Happy customers are repeat customers (and it’s way cheaper and easier to sell more to existing customers than to try to find new customers). Happy customers also refer new business (by far the cheapest way to grow your customer base). In short, keeping you customers happy is almost priceless, so it’s always smart to steer clear of increasing productivity at the expense of customer satisfaction.

Criteria 3: Your Reputation

The reputation of your business is more critical than most people realize. If you don’t believe me, just ask Coca-Cola; it’s estimated that more than 50% of their sales are based on the strength of their brand name. The value of your reputation is hard to measure, but for most businesses a damaged reputation can be very costly. With any business decision, not just those related to productivity, it’s good to ask yourself “does this support, or hurt, our reputation?”

Criteria 4: Downstream Workflow

In many cases, increased productivity in one area can mean more work down the road, or more work for other people in your organization. These situations aren’t always obvious, so taking time to think about all the downstream implications can help you sidestep problems.

It’s also worth considering the need for versatility and extendability in your situation. Often the fastest option is also the most limiting. Taking a little extra time in the beginning of a project to build versatility into it can save redoing the whole thing later when circumstances change.

Tell Us Your Story

Have you been in a situation where your increased productivity wasn’t worth it? Post a comment below to share.

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Mark is a graphic designer and audio engineer from Canada. He is the editor of Some Design Blog and the author of the soon to be published Encyclopedia of Home Recording.


  1. Tim on the 24th September

    Some useful tips here, thanks.

    Did anyone else who’s signed up for RSS feeds from both workawesome and the blog from themeforest notice this? I found it quite amusing.

  2. arin on the 24th September

    the pitfall of “productivity”:

    you increase your productivity, they give you more to do.
    you increase your productivity, they give you more to do.
    you increase your productivity, they give you more to do.
    …ad nauseum…

    until suddenly, you’re doing the work of three people and your compensation hasn’t increased.

    you stay overtime to help out in a situation enough times, they begin to expect you to work overtime.

    suddenly, you’re “required” to work overtime, you’re doing the work of three people, and your compensation hasn’t increased.

    but golly, you’re a ~valued~ employee. hot diggity.

    • King Sidharth on the 29th September

      TRUE DUDE! So true

    • Thera on the 18th October

      So very true 🙁

    • Chris on the 21st October

      Hey, that sounds like me right before I got fired!

      Now I’m freelancing and it’s all good. If I work harder, faster, smarter, there is a direct effect on my time and wallet.

  3. Gaurav on the 24th September

    @arin : Ha ha. True. I am facing the exact same situation. I am right now doing the work of 3 guys – designer, developer and manager and just because I demonstrated earlier to my Boss that I can do these things. Now he is getting work which only I can do!!! Result – Now I have to work overtime to meet deadlines and putting on weight because of being too productive, I cannot go to the gym!!!!

    One side effect of being productive – “you increase your productivity, they give you more to do”.


  4. Dinu on the 24th September

    I agree with what you’ve said in the post, but I think what you’re referring to as “productivity” is actually the taking of shortcuts. My definition of productivity is the most efficient way to get the job done properly.

  5. Daquan Wright on the 24th September

    Just do your job and do it well. Doing work for three people can have heavy consequences, your health is always going to be more important.

  6. Web 2.0 on the 24th September

    Customers are never satisfied, they always want to have more than they pay for…

  7. Cubicle Generation on the 26th September

    You forgot the biggest pitfall. At extreme increased rates of productivity, death from exhaustion is quite the possibility. 😉

  8. Presuming Ed on the 27th September

    This article reminds me of the time I had to move a large number of eggs. Moving them in batches would have taken me all day but luckily there was a large wicker container nearby. The container easily held all the eggs but as I picked it up it slipped from my hands and all the eggs fell out and smashed on the floor.

    There’s probably a moral in that story..

  9. Jon on the 28th September

    Customer satisfaction should be numero uno, but 1 and a half might be ok.

  10. Juliet | Freelancewise on the 21st October


    And, make sure that the time that you free up is used productively.


  11. DeborahD on the 21st October

    Very true – on all counts. I worked in an office where doing more with less manpower seemed to be the forte. A friend of mine got fired because she simply couldn’t keep up with the unrealistic pace, while those willing to work tons of overtime at an alarmingly fast rate set the benchmarks for the rest. It was ridiculous.

    And, having been one of the “faster” people in the past, I know what it means to end up having more work dumped on you because “you must have time to do it…”

  12. Loraine Fick on the 26th October

    I recently did a couple of emergency editing jobs for a longtime client that I just love. Trouble is, now they expect me to continue to do more in less time and for less money. I wanted to help them out — that was my motivation. But what was theirs? Why did they suddently have almost no time for my part of the process? And all I’ve done is convince them they’d been spending too much money on me all along.

  13. beat bang on the 3rd February


    What about the quality of life? Unfortunately both terms (productivity and quality of life) don’t get along that well.


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