6 things impacting your job performance – that you control

Plenty of things impact your work performance that you can’t control: You might have an unreasonably high workload and not enough time to spend on some items, or a boss who gives you unclear or conflicting instructions, or coworkers whose work you can’t depend on. But lots of things impact your work performance that you can control, as well – and too often, people struggling at work neglect to consider these.

Here are six of the most common ways you might be holding yourself back at work without realizing it.

1. Distractions – electronic and otherwise. If you leave Facebook open throughout the day, instant-message with friends or coworkers while you work, and/or make time to chat with anyone you spot walking by your desk, you’re almost certainly impacting your productivity. While multi-tasking has become fashionable in recent years, the reality is that some types of work require deeper focus than these kinds of distractions allow – and even if your work doesn’t require much focus, constantly stopping to type another instant message to your friend or check out a YouTube video someone just emailed you is going to impact how much you get done in any give day.

2. Sleep. If you’re up past midnight and need to be at work at 8 a.m., chances are good that you’re not getting enough sleep. Coffee might mask the immediate symptoms, but fatigue can impact how well you perform on the job – as well as how you deal with workplaces stresses. If your energy is lagging or you feel like your “immunity” to workplace frustrations is low, take a look at whether you’re showing up for work well-rested most days.

3. Complaining. It can be tempting to vent about everything that frustrates you about your boss, your company, and your coworkers, but complaining has a way of making unhappiness worse. Frequently venting can actually give you a more negative outlook on your office and your job (and can have the same impact on those around you, too). If you’re guilty of regular complaining, try instituting a no-complaints rule for yourself for two weeks and see if you feel any different at the end of it.

4. Who you associate yourself with at work. You’re likely to pick up the viewpoints and work habits of the people who you’re closest to at work. If you align yourself with people who do the bare minimum (or less), resent your managers, or have a complaint about everything (see #3 above!), you’re likely to pick up those habits yourself. On the other hand, if you build relationships with people whose work you respect and whose contributions you admire, you might find yourself picking up the habits that have helped them be successful.

5. Your approach to your work. Are you just trying to get your work completed or are you truly taking ownership of your realm and thinking about better ways to get results? If you see your job as simply executing a list of task that someone else assigns, you might never be given opportunities to grow beyond that. But if you feel true ownership for your piece of the company – no matter how small it might be relative to others’ – and you care about finding ways to do your job better, it will usually show in your performance. And even if your current employer isn’t smart enough to reward you for it, this is how you build a reputation that will eventually help you land better and better opportunities.

6. Your ability to recognize what you do and don’t control. Most people have some frustrations with their boss, even if that boss is a good manager. But a key to staying happy (and sane) in that relationship is to get clear in your own mind about what you can and can’t control, and to focus on making the pieces you can control go as smoothly as possible. Rather than stewing over an aspect of your boss that you can’t change (like the fact that she’s always late for meetings or she isn’t responsive to email), it’s far more productive to understand that her working style may not change and to find ways to work effectively within that reality.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 40 comments… read them below }

  1. The IT Manager*

    Distractions – electronic and otherwise. If you leave Ask a Manager open throughout the day, constantly refresh for new comments, and post comments while you work, you’re almost certainly impacting your productivity.

    :P I acknowledge my flaws. Though, if it wasn’t this website, it would probably another one.

      1. Thomas*

        Me as well. I find I need to be especially careful about my productivity on Mondays because I have the entire weekend’s worth of posts to read through…

    1. Kelly O*

      No kidding. There’s an old saying my grandmother used to tell me – when the preacher steps on your toes, it means it’s time to move your feet.

      I think AAM could pass the plate on this one, because there is a lot of foot-moving that I need to do.

    2. Tiff*

      True, true. I’m not on often but I’ll usually check in the morning and around lunch time to see if anything new has popped up. But shoot, there’s a LOT that I read here that I apply to my workday.

      And sometimes, I need to take a mental break before someone gets hurt around here.

    3. Jamie*

      Catch-22 because more often than not AAM makes me feel less complainy about my job. Hearing real life tales from other workplaces does make me both appreciate what I have, but also keeps me from thinking the grass is wicked green somewhere else and it’s a reminder that the hunt can be a long and lonely road. That some of my little whines would be there no matter where I worked.

      And overall it has made me a much better manager and has really broadened my scope outside of my myopic view of IT in a niche industry.

      Yes, I do tend to rationalize away my guilt, why do you ask? And ftr I am on lunch at the moment and I am choosing to spend it here. Both because I like it here and someone is cooking fish in the kitchen and I can smell it from here. :(.

  2. Kerry*

    Sleep! Sleep is such a big one I always forget about – until I get that really surprising feeling after getting a full 8-9 hours, and wake up feeling energetic and actually, you know, awake!

    1. Tinker*

      Oh yes. Every couple of months or so I find myself pondering whether I might have ADD, and then I realize… “Oh yeah, it’s Thursday and you’ve had like 5 hours of sleep every night this… squirrel?”

  3. Sascha*

    I think my performance really changed after I stopped the constant complaining. I just didn’t realize what a huge difference it made until after I stopped. I really took more ownership of my work. I have my “venting time” after work where I get to emotionally vomit all my daily frustrations, but then I stop and don’t keep beating the dead horse. So good to get it out, but not good to make it a constant stream.

    1. Chinook*

      I noticed a change in my outlook on everything when I realized that constantly complaining only makes you feel worse. It was driven home for me when I worked overseas. There were 2 types of expats – the ones who complaiend and the ones who didn’t. I had to be careful not to hang aroudn the complainers because nothing ever seemed to go right for them and it was always easy to find somethign to nitpick. When I made a point of staying away, everything became more enjoyable, even the legitimate frustrations (like not being able to find clothing when you have your last growth spurt and none of your shirts will button up over your breasts easily. Who expects that at 21?) became something to laugh off and not bring you down.

      1. Judy*

        I started writing in a journal, if I can find the time, immediately after getting home. Most days my husband picks up the kids, so I “waste” the 15 minutes before they’re all home to write like mad. It seems to get it out of my head and make my evening go smoother.

        Doesn’t get done until bedtime on some days when there is scouts and baseball and you are here and you are here, synchronize watches, break. And I can tell, maybe I should bring my journal to work and write it before leaving. Or maybe write it in the car before pulling out of the parking lot.

        1. Sascha*

          I like the journal idea. I might try that. I tend to unload to my husband, and sometimes it’s helpful to get a different perspective from him if I have a real problem I want to resolve, I think he is probably weary of a lot of it. I’ve been trying to keep my venting to about 5 minutes, and told him he can tune me out. :) Or I will vent to the dogs. They will always listen.

        2. Jamie*

          Once I wrote the most spectacular resignation letter. It was ages ago and I can’t even remember why I was up in arms…but it was 5 pages of “and let me tell you another thing…” and just the insane ramblings of someone completely pushed to the edge and wallowing in self pity.

          I never had any intention of giving it to anyone – I personally wouldn’t put anything in a resignation note other than thank you for the opportunity and date of final day. But it was SO cathartic to just spew everything that had been bothering me.

          I wrote it by hand on notebook paper (no danger of accidentally sending) and I found it not too long ago and couldn’t even read what I was ranting about past about page 1.5. Lousy handwriting saves me from my past self.

          There is a lot to be said for getting it out on paper.

          1. Chris80*

            I do the same thing, except in the form of emails that I send only to myself (NOT from work). It’s good to vent via email & enjoy the feeling of hitting the “send” button…even if it’s not going to the person I’m venting at/about.

            I usually save these emails in a folder for awhile, then go back and delete them once the situation is long over. Usually by then, the vent just seems kind of silly.

          2. Another Evil HR Director*

            This! I make lists. “This, this and this happened, here’s why it’s wrong……” And so on. Once I read through it, I can see where much of it isn’t as bad as all that.

            And I really need to get more sleep!

  4. Natalie*

    The complaining issue really blindsided me at my first post-college first – all of the people above me in the office were very negative and loved to complain. That really normalized the behavior and it wasn’t until we had some staff changes that I started to notice how much the overall negative attitude was affecting me. I’m still at the same company but in a new position, and even with a complete leadership turnover and some attempt by the corporate office to address system issues, it’s *still* hard to avoid what had become habitual complaining.

    1. Lynn*

      I “broke up” with a group of work friends who loved to complain. The Dilbert-esque ironic mocking was fun in the moment, but I decided it was making me feel negative and hopeless when I didn’t necessarily need to be. That was a good decision, even though it was really weird and awkward to execute.

    2. Yup*

      It can take a lot of intentional practice and mental discipline to opt out of complaining. Negative attitudes can just permeates the office culture til you don’t realize how pervasive/destructive it’s become. I had to intentionally separate myself from people who constantly complained because it was seriously messing with my head. I’d leave a meeting in a perfectly fine mood, thinking “OK, so we need to do XYZ by Friday, I should make a list, blah blah blah,” until I heard all the moaning and complaining. Then I’d start to wonder if maybe this assignment *was* unfair or unrealistic (or whatever else they were saying). I had to be pretty ruthless with myself about not giving in and staying grounded.

      If it helps, some of tactics I used to stay more upbeat were: leaving the office at lunchtime to eat elsewhere or take a brief walk, intentionally mixing in uplifting or happy websites on my digital coffee breaks, and putting positive images around my work area (pictures of smiling friends and family, postcards of beautiful places, some colorful decorative beads). It may not work for everyone, but I found that these types of things helped me keep my head on straight when stuck in the middle of the misery parade.

    3. EnnVeeEl*

      Complaining all the time will suck the life right out of you and so will hanging around people who do it all the time and have bad attitudes. We have some folks like that here. They complain about everything and are kind of nasty when you don’t participate. I don’t care. I gotta come here every day, five times a week for eight hours. Yes, there are lots of annoying things, but my direct manager and team are cool people and that helps alot. When I get to the point where I can’t take it anymore, I need to update my resume and push up/push on. I control my fate ultimately and I control how I deal with things.

      I wish this person had the guts to do the same. Because it is really easy to sit around belly-aching…Not so easy to update that resume and start pounding the pavement.

  5. Anony1234*

    I’m guilty of the complaining and venting. I come home and vent to family all the time about how I can’t stand this job. It comes from how my manager refuses to manage and how the coworkers are. Venting, to some degree, does make me feel better in the moment because I get it off my chest, but in the long run, it doesn’t resolve anything because the things I vent about still continue. I hope to leave it by the end of this year, but knowing how long job searching can take, I need to learn some coping mechanisms.

    1. the gold digger*

      And speaking as the person who is complained to, it is very difficult to hear this, especially when it’s constant. My husband is very unhappy in his job and I have been hearing about it for over a year now. I love him and I want him to be happy, but it’s hard to be someone’s venting board.

      1. Jamie*

        I was in a negative loop like this for a while. My husband didn’t complain but I knew he had to be sick of it…and he would get aggravated when I didn’t take his advice (because we’re in such different lines of work what works for him wouldn’t be possible for me).

        One day I decided to set a timer and give myself 5 minutes – no more – of bitching when I got home. This totally helped – because it wasn’t endless. Then I found I wasn’t saving the 5 minutes…so if something bothered me enough I still wanted to bitch about it after dinner I would. Most of the time I didn’t want to kill the good mood I’d settled into my then.

        It’s SUCH an easy habit to fall into to when things aren’t going right…and it’s not like it hurts your boss or your co-workers. You’re the one staying immersed in negativity on your hours off.

        I cannot recommend enough how important it is, for your own peace of mind and that of those who are on the receiving end – to set limits and break the habit.

  6. Christine*

    #1 – Ha! I’m the complete opposite; while I might peek at my personal email or Facebook from a work/volunteer environment, I won’t actually do anything substantial with those unless I need to reply right away. I would never even log onto AAM! Home only!

    #3 – Complaining has definitely been a big issue with me. It’s partly my personality but also likely brought on by a bit of #4, especially when you agree with what others complain about. It’s definitely a snowball effect.

    #6 – Much easier said than done.

    1. Jamie*

      I’m curious as to why Facebook would be okay and personal email but not AAM? I’m totally not judging – since it’s a total personal call regarding what people are comfortable with – I’m just curious.

      Personally if I saw people logging into AAM I’d be thrilled that their web surfing was in the area of professional development.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Some days I’ve actually used AAM to solve a problem I was having right in the moment–either because coincidentally Alison was covering a similar issue, or by trawling through the archives.

      2. Sascha*

        When I am at the office (I telecommute half the week), I don’t log onto AAM, because I don’t want my boss to see it. She’s not terribly reasonable and I think if she saw me reading a blog called Ask a Manager, she’d get paranoid. So that is why I would save it for home. It’s pretty common for everyone in our office to get on Facebook or something like that every now and then, so I’m not worried about that, but I think she’d get worried I was looking for jobs if she saw AAM.

      3. Christine*

        I’m weirdly wired that way, Jamie! :P But yeah, you got me there. Actually, I’m drawing from my last paid job, which was some time ago *cough2010cough*, and wasn’t as much into having a phone for other than….using it as a phone. I was more worried about being tracked by the company as to what sites I go on, or even someone passing by seeing what I’m looking at. Even looking at Facebook during lunch was a stretch for me.

        I finally joined the 21st century last November and got a smart phone. So now, it’s more comfortable for me to quickly glance at FB and personal email during a break. I still won’t do any of that on a company-owned computer though for the same reasons I noted above.

        FTR: This is all while at any of my volunteer gigs. But I have no doubt that I will behave the same way once I get a paid job.

      4. Jazzy Red*

        Facebook is blocked at my company because too many people weren’t getting their work done.

        I also think of AAM as professional development. I’m not a manager, but I’ve learned an awful lot since I started reading this blog. It should be required reading.

  7. Ed*

    On electronic distractions, I remember when I started working in the late 80’s when pretty much nobody had cell phones (and smart phones didn’t exist), almost nobody had email and the Internet as we know it didn’t exist. Heck, it would be another decade before it was common to own a computer. There was typically a shared office phone, you had to ask permission to use it on your break and it was often sitting on the desk beside your supervisor while you used it. Guess what? We still had social lives and kept in contact with our friends and family. I will admit it is hard for me to understand what it must be like to grow up with all this technology but I still don’t think your company should pay you to chat with your friends.

    1. Jamie*

      Totally agree – but it’s changed on both sides. Before the constant contact of technology we needed to conduct social stuff on our own time – but except for very few positions your own time was really your own time.

      So many jobs (aside from sales, IT, etc, where it’s unavoidable) have bleed into personal lives so people it’s a slippery slope. Sure – you shouldn’t be on Facebook at work, but someone shouldn’t be calling you while you’re at dinner with a question that would have waited till morning. It’s a slippery slope and I’ve seen it abused from both the employee/employer side.

    2. some1*

      I am in my early 30’s. I clearly remember visiting my dad and grandma at their offices in the 80’s and everyone had their own phone with an extension at their desk, so I don’t think what you are describing is typical for everyone.

      1. Long Time Admin*

        I started working the the 60’s, and there was one phone for the whole department. We didn’t even have a fax machine in our area. We did have offices in other cities, so we had a WATS line (you pay a set fee for the long distance line, not the number of calls you make). Not everyone had access to the WATS line, though. I remember one girl who would wait for that person to leave his desk, then run over and make long distance calls to her family. They figured it out when they got the monthly statement and saw all this international calls.

        Companies were not really “family friendly” in those days, and we were expected to leave our family life at the door. Fortunately, we also got to leave our work like at the same door when we went home.

    3. Anonymous*

      Just because there is tech now doesn’t mean that there weren’t social distractions before. I don’t think the company should pay you to chat and be social with random people at work but hey they do and you’d call it building a rapport with colleagues. I’m chatting with a friend online and when I run into a problem that I can’t fix I can ask that friend if they know of a solution. I just saved the company a significant amount of money because we didn’t have to hire a consultant to give the 30 second answer, or have me spend hours and hours and hours googling (which of course you couldn’t have done in ye-olde-olden-days) and testing and retesting.

      Tech isn’t the problem. The problem always has been and always will be people.

  8. MovingRightAlong*

    I’m actually changing careers in part because a large percentage of the people I’ve met or communicated with in my old industry are some of the most bitter, negative people I’ve ever met. Unfortunately, most of the complaints were about systemic problems within the industry and mirrored my own unhappy feelings. I was miserable, surrounded by miserableness, and on the path to joining those folks in Bitterburgh, so I got myself out of there.

    Now, I only bring up complaints to co-workers to double check that I’m not crazy. More along the lines of, “I feel like Manager X is always demanding that I be in two places at once, how do you deal with task A when you’re already doing task B? Oh ok, she’s just completely unreasonable and out of touch. I thought so.”* Then I laugh and get back to work.

    *For the record, I’ve also addressed these problems with Manager X and my actual manager, who is great. Both of their responses have only reinforced this widely held notion of unreasonableness on Manager X’s part.

    1. MovingRightAlong*

      Also, to clarify, “some of the most bitter, negative people I’ve ever met” includes the people I admired because they produced excellent work and/or became friends with. If it didn’t, there’s only one person I could name as *not* being bitter and negative.

  9. littlemoose*

    This is such a timely post for me. I’ve noticed that my productivity has been slipping lately, and I can’t chalk it all up to tougher work. I’m guilty of about half of the things on this list – especially staying up too late. Thanks for calling me out; it’ll help me do better.

  10. jesicka309*

    Complaining is what got me down or a long time – it definitely cost me multiple friendships within my office, as I have a feeling they cut me off to get away from the complaining.
    Of course, they could have come right out and said it, as I had no idea I was even doing it so much until I reflected back, but that would be making too much sense. I no longer complain…but then I have no one to talk to, so the problem has solved itself.
    Now I just come on AAM to vent when I have to. It saves my personal/professional relationships, and alloows me to get my feelings off my chest.

  11. Sarah G*

    This is one of my favorite lists you’ve written in a long time. I think almost anyone could use at least one of these reminders! Although I don’t ever see myself solving the “getting enough sleep” issue. But now that my job requires an 80-mile round trip 1-2x/week, I make sure to get a decent amount of sleep the nights before I have to drive.

  12. sas_kaf@yahoo.c0,in*

    By sharing the experience with boss, and the vice-versa, and facing some of the crucial situations and by overcoming amidst that. it can be like conflict management, can be like crisis management and at the core people practice. And again it all depends on my teams performance, hence my area will be to develop my people my team.

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