3 Steps for Solving the “Everyone’s Busy, But No One’s Productive” Problem

November 29, 2017 Marcus Varner

As a team leader or project manager, you know that everyone is working hard. You don’t doubt that your workers come in to the office and try their hardest to complete tasks and move projects forward. But, are they working on the right things?

This is the ultimate question, and the answer can mean the difference between a team that is just “busy” and a team that is “productive.”


Download our free ebook Make Your Work Matter for insight from seven thought leaders on why work isn't working for you and how you can change it and be a more productive team.


Busy teams waste a lot of their time just hunting down information, sorting through emails, performing administrative tasks, and trying to find what they need to actually do their job. In fact, this is a widespread problem; we found that workers spend less than half, 44%, of their time on their primary job duties.

On the other hand, when your team is working on tasks with the highest priority and that are aligned with the company’s key objectives, people are productive. Real work is getting accomplished and team members are satisfied with their jobs and management is happy with results.

Here are three steps that will lead your team to ultimate productivity levels.

1. Align All Work to Business Goals

team alignment

You can’t stay productive if you don’t align your work to the company’s overarching goals. In other words, your company’s goals will tell you what productive work will look like for your team.

Chris O’Neal, product evangelist at Workfront, believes this should be project managers’ main focus:

“It’s a fine balancing act to align your team’s priorities to the company goals, and that’s something that management tries to do all the time. As project managers, that’s really your core job.”

Everything a team does needs to help move the needle at the corporate level. It needs to tie back to what the business is trying to accomplish and contribute to the bigger picture.

J. Alan Goddard, director of operations transformation services at Leappoint, recently described how he helped a technology company adopt Workfront to align their work with specific goals.

The project bridged divides between teams, saved the company millions of dollars, and helped workers know exactly how their efforts pushed the company toward meeting its goals. He said:

“They were finally able to communicate and understand the strategic value that those insights would deliver to their organization. They were finally able to see where their work efforts were going, what they were focused on, and ultimately how they did it.”

Another key to aligning your work to business goals is communicating to your team which tasks to postpone when last-minute emergency requests come up. This kind of leadership requires a solid understanding of priorities and deadlines for every existing deliverable and new request.

“When it comes to people management in an organization, that prioritized list of ‘here’s the most important thing today’ cannot be understated for anyone that is in management,” O’Neal said.

Alignment with business goals fuels productivity. Everyone knows what they should be working on and how it fits in with business goals and time isn’t wasted on tasks that aren’t a high priority.

2. Provide Visibility into Commitment

If a project manager doesn’t know who is working on what, or what his team’s workload is, team members are at risk of spinning their wheels in an effort to check off busywork, without actually accomplishing anything of value.

O’Neal says that having visibility into commitment is one way to make sure a team stays productive:

“Having the access to resource skills and schedules means that you’ll be able to find the right person and go right to that person to get the task done quickly without overburdening the overall team.”

He explained that when visibility is lacking, time is wasted:

“When information isn’t shared or resources end up getting interrupted over and over, then that ends up wasting even more time. The solution is to get real-time visibility into that work capacity or that resource capacity and the status of the work.”

So, how is this visibility gained? By using a work management tool that allows for ultimate collaboration, real-time status updates, effective task management, and communication in one, central location.

The teams Goddard has seen implement Workfront were equipped to make better decisions. “Ultimately, they learned how to make better business decisions just by centralizing their projects, their work effort, and the resources that are going to enable that,” he said.

3. Remember: Resources are People, Too

Being busy, but not productive, can be a symptom of a team that treats people like resources. Remembering that team members are only human and are susceptible to burnout, frustration, and over commitment can help teams avoid becoming busy without being productive.

O’Neal said that these days, employees are often overworked and it’s important to keep in mind that it’s impossible for anyone to work non-stop. He explained:

“I think it’s important to remember that when we say ‘resources,’ often we’re talking about people. Theoretically, there are eight hours in a workday; but realistically, no one works just eight hours it seems like anymore, or no one works eight hours non-stop.”

Becoming overwhelmed with busywork and failing to be productive is an easy trap to fall into when tasks don’t align with business goals, visibility is lacking, and team members are burnt out.

But, when working in tandem, these three steps have the power to help teams abandon busywork and focus their talents, time, and efforts on providing value through productive work.


To see the full webinar that these insights came from, watch "I Can’t See What My Team is Doing! How to Get Total Project Visibility," featuring J. Alan Goddard and Chris O’Neal.

About the Author

Marcus Varner

Marcus is a content strategist and producer who loves helping brands craft content that improves customers' lives, builds brand credibility, and demands to be shared. For the last 10 years, Marcus has worked in every type of content—from writing to video production to design—and is currently a senior content marketing manager at Workfront, where he oversees all corporate- and awareness-level level content. When he's not producing content, he's consuming it, in the form of books, movies, and podcasts.

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