managers, stop doing these 3 productivity-killing things

All the productivity hacks in the world won’t matter if your team is operating in ways that at their core are inefficient. Here are three things to stop doing today in order to boost your team’s productivity.

1. Stop making decisions without getting input from your people. It might feel faster to make decisions all on your own – after all, it takes time to gather input from other people, and that can slow you down. And while there will of course be plenty of smaller decisions that you’ll make without input from others, when something is big or will affect your team, it’s smart to seek input from them before you make the final call.

This is important for two reasons: First, people are far more likely to buy into your decisions if they feel that their input was given a fair hearing, as well as to feel invested in the team’s direction. Invested employees are more likely to give their work their all – which will generally mean your team as a whole is getting better and faster results. Second, you’re more likely to make good decisions if you have the benefit of hearing multiple perspectives. No matter how smart and capable you are, you’re likely to benefit by hearing how others see things, and team members may point out issues with a proposed solution that you hadn’t thought of or suggest a better way of doing things. (And if you doubt that’s true of your team, that’s a flag to take a look at why. You might not be hiring the right people, or you might not be drawing on their talents enough.)

2. Stop overloading your team with meetings. Talk to nearly anyone in nearly any job and ask what wastes more of their work time than anything else, and you’re likely to hear “meetings.” Most of us spend way too much time sitting in meetings – meetings for status updates, meetings for brainstorming, meetings for information sharing, and meetings with no clear purpose at all. And it’s not that meetings are never useful – but often they’re less useful than the other things that participants could be doing with their time.

It’s worth taking a hard look at how many meetings your team has and seeing if you can streamline them. If you have weekly staff meetings, can they be caught back to every two weeks or even monthly? If your project schedules have built-in meetings, are they always truly necessary? Challenge your team to identify meetings that aren’t meeting the bar of “the best possible way we could use this team” and see what they come up with.

3. Stop overloading them with email too. Email can be a great productivity tool, but if people’s in-boxes are being flooded with unnecessary emails, sorting through them all to figure out what requires action and what doesn’t is going to keep them from more important work. Encourage people to stop sending “FYI” emails or replying all unless it’s truly needed, discourage them from using email to sort through complex issues that will require lots of back and forth, and make sure that your decision-making procedures aren’t so ambiguous that people feel obligated to loop in others more than is actually needed. (And be sure to model these behaviors yourself, because people will follow your lead.)

{ 68 comments… read them below }

  1. Michele*

    I would like to add a subsection to the first one. Don’t ask for imput, then get mad when it doesn’t match what you wanted to hear. I have had a few managers do that, and it completely shuts down any inclination I have to communicate with them.

    1. Artemesia*

      My last boss was like this. I had been running several programs before she took her position and she was a classic cloddish micromeddler. I was fine with being asked to do something differently — that was her prerogative but she would insert herself into my work (and others) and just do something that was part of my or the other person’s job and just muck things up and confuse those we were supervising. And she was constantly asking for feedback and then defensively telling people why they were wrong when they gave it to her. Both of these actions just shut people down. When she meddled people just stepped back and let her do tasks that had previously been done below her and of course things fell between chairs. When she was defensive, people stopped telling her what she needed to know.

      I was lucky in that it was about time to retire and I didn’t need to put up with this crap and so retired. Her life would have been easier if I had worked another 3 years since I handled a lot of programs no one else really was that anxious to take on. She had to scramble to make it work.

    2. INTP*

      I also wanted to add a caveat to this one – don’t ask for input and then do what you were going to do anyways. People will pick up on the fact that their input was not actually considered and they will be madder than if you had never asked in the first place.

      Also don’t ask for input, and then respond by telling people why their opinions are wrong or their ideas are not viable or whatever. I had a manager that would do this, and she didn’t understand why people were getting mad because she would explain very coolly and logically why their input wasn’t going to be considered. People were just annoyed at not being heard. It feels like a trap when someone asks you to disclose things you’re unhappy about and then instinctively shuts you down, like you’ve risked starting confrontation and there was never going to be any benefit to yourself.

      1. Cordelia Naismith*

        Agreed. It’s just so morale-killing to have your bosses ask for input just for show, and then do whatever they were going to do anyway. It’s condescending. I mean, it’s not like I can’t tell that’s what you’re doing. In my current job, my bosses actually listen to and value input, and it really makes a world of difference. Even when they don’t act on your feedback, at least you know they heard you and took it seriously.

      2. Snarkus Aurelius*

        Here’s my rule: I offer three good suggestions/bits of feedback. If you reject every single one, especially without thinking about it, I’m going to stop contributing. Clearly you already have your mind made up and I’m only here so you don’t feel like a dictator.

        This goes for my boss, siblings, friends, and spouse.

        1. Traveler*

          I’m only here so you don’t feel like a dictator.

          And it always seems like those with the most dictatorish-like qualities are the ones that are the most worried about being (or seeming) liked.

          1. INTP*

            I wonder if they’ve specifically gotten feedback (professional or otherwise) that they seem not to take others’ ideas into consideration and this is their half-assed way of trying to guard themselves from the consequences of being perceived that way without actually compromising. Like “Oh, if I’m super aggressive about making people give me feedback, they can’t accuse me of not listening!”

        2. DaBlonde*

          I had this exact experience with my new boss.
          He will ask for ideas and feedback, we will provide requested feedback and he will proceed to do it his original way, even after the entire team asked for a change.
          We all just smile, nod and wait for the meeting to end now.

      3. Jennifer*

        Hear, hear. The office Queen Bee (my boss’s boss) rejects every single idea that wasn’t her own, period, unless a higher-up makes her change. I see no point in sharing my input if it doesn’t matter. I think it’s actually more insulting to ask and then ignore rather than to just declare by fiat that you’re going to do whatever the hell you want and everyone else can shove it up an orifice (at least that’s honest).

        I’m just going to sit there and smile and be a robot, like they want anyway.

        1. INTP*

          It’s insulting and it even felt like a trick sometimes. You don’t want to be seen as the person who is unhappy with your job/company/boss, so when the boss says “I’m sensing some tension. Please help me get to the root of what’s going on.” and then gives a knee-jerk rebuttal of why everyone’s grievances are wrong, it feels less like you’ve been asked for feedback and more like you’ve been baited into outing yourself as a person who isn’t happy with everything.

          1. esra*

            It completely kills trust. I was in a round of layoffs, 50% of a small org (20 person nonprofit) gone. Each and every one of us those who spoke up when asked about what we thought needed improving in the way things were managed.

    3. jillociraptor*

      And to add to your addition, asking for feedback in areas where you can’t incorporate it sets up unrealistic expectations, too. When asking for input, I usually find that it’s best to be really specific about what you need and why. Having a few people who you can just generally run ideas by for a gut check is important, but with my team, we try to be specific about what’s already decided and immutable, and what specifically we need their input on. Then, I always try to follow up and explain how their feedback was implemented, or if it wasn’t, why.

      1. Karowen*

        The following up is really key – You can’t incorporate everything all the time, and if you don’t explain why, you’re likely to put people off like INTP described.

    4. Iro*

      This times a thousand. I had a manager once who was really bad about asking “how do you feel about that” and if I ever answered truthfully he would respond with “Don’t take things personally.”

      My favorite exchange of this type was “How did you feel about the off-site event?”
      I didn’t get a lot out of it actualy.
      Well, the organization of the meeting wasn’t what I would expect. The first day, before we have all had a chance to get to know each other, was when we did troubleshooting. I know that *Maria’s group in particular got a lot of negative feedback that wasn’t particularly constructive during that time.
      “What do you mean?”
      Well when the Senior VPs stood in front of the team and said Maria’s project sucks, I didn’t find that constructive and it also put *Maria’s teaem on guard instead of bringing us together like I expected from the meeting.
      “Don’t take things personally”

      1. the gold digger*

        I had a CEO – Not Really Sergio – at my old job (who is Not Really From Argentina) who, when he asked for feedback on an all-day session we had had on corrective action plans, and I made the mistake of being the only person who gave it a 2 instead of a 5 (stupid me), asked me why. I told him – I am in marketing and sales and this session, although interesting, is focused more on internal operations and processes and really doesn’t have much to do with what I do.

        My boss called me that night at 9 p.m., voice shaking, and told me not to come to the meetings the next day – to just work at my office – because the CEO was so enraged.

    5. Michele*

      Yep. They are all variations on the same thing. They pay lip service to the idea of input, but don’t actually want any of it. As much as I would like a boss who values my opinion and understands that as someone actually doing the work, I have some ideas, I would rather work for someone who doesn’t ask my opinion but genuinely tries to make the best decision than someone who pretends to care and doesn’t.

    6. Elizabeth West*

      Or don’t say you have an “open-door policy” and then shoot down everything people suggest or ignore them if they bring a concern to you. It might be that they have a better idea of how to do their work than you do!

  2. Alter_ego*

    Every time I read an article like this, I’m so grateful for my meetingless workplace. We have one meeting a week, at 8 AM on Monday, where we go down the list of all the engineers here and go over their manpower hours so that we know what jobs we have to work on that week, and which engineers are on that job with us. Then we just…do the jobs by the deadline on the calendar we saw on monday. No more meetings necessary.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      We generally only have one meeting a week too, but I’ve heard there are benefits to regular 1-on-1 meetings with your manager. Since my manager lives in a different state, I don’t get those.

      1. CherryScary*

        My office does weekly 1 on 1s with your manager, my team does a monthly check in to see where everyone is at on our projects, and then we do monthly department wide meetings for major updates/project announcements.

        Since we often work with creative teams, we have set times during the week where you can submit any needed projects with them.

        It’s nice.

  3. ism*

    I noticed your offsite blogs now have a disqus comment section. Was that always there and I just missed it? If it’s new, how is it going trying to keep up with 2 different comment pages for the same article (here on your site, and there)?

    1. fposte*

      I think most of the external sites that host Alison’s writing have comment sections; it’s just that they don’t have much of a comment community.

      1. ism*

        Hmm, I had looked for one a while back and didn’t see it, and then noticed disqus today. I guess it’s always been there.

  4. College Career Counselor*

    Re: Meetings & Email. I had a colleague who used to jokingly threaten to invent a meeting to send me to when she felt I was sending her too much email. :-)

    1. Meg Murry*

      Yes – while I generally agree that you should avoid unnecessary meetings, there are times when it makes much more sense to put everyone in one room for 20 minutes to go over something and come out of the meeting with a decision made and a path forward, vs days of back and forth emails and followup emails and waiting for someone to agree to the decision. In small companies sometimes you can just gather everyone up quickly, but I found in larger companies sometimes you really did have to suck it up and schedule a meeting.

    2. Vicki*

      This may have been a joke for your manage, but I’ve had managers who have decided that if the employees are using email to discuss something, a Meeting needs to be called.

      I’m not talking about long e=mail chains where nothing is getting accomplished. I’m talking about productive conversation in email. The manager could not believe it was possible to have a productive discussion by email. We MUST have a meeting to stop all of this Email!

  5. soitgoes*

    Oh goodness, the meetings. My boss likes to have daily status meetings early in the morning, but then he’s there for the rest of the day to see how things progress for the next 6 hours. We have to really scrounge to come up with something new to show him every morning, and often this means that our processes are rushed and that our day-to-day work piles up.

      1. Camellia*

        One word: Agile (aka Scrum)

        List of scrum meetings within one month/sprint:

        Daily Scrum (15 minutes)
        Demos (multiples)
        Backlog Grooming (multiples)
        Mid-sprint Checkup
        Regression Test Planning
        Sprint Pre-planning (optional)
        Sprint Retrospective
        Spring Planning (all day)

        1. Gem*

          I do love daily scrums though. We’ve got them down to an art in our co. and I’ve never had one that either 1) was a 5-10 min status update or 2) was 15-20 min but a decision was made/a plan of action for clearing a blocker.

          I can see when there would be issues, I’m very lucky we’re as efficient as we are (then again as a sort-of scrum master/QA/Process person in a scrum based company I guess I have to be pro-scrum :P).

          1. BeenThere*

            I love daily scrums when they are done properly however they are not where I am. It’s more a meeting for my boss to make himself feel more important. *sigh* it should not go for 30 minutes with two developers. Time to explain to my manager how it should be done.

          1. Lynn Whitehat*

            Everyone meets for 5-10 minutes and says what they did yesterday, what they’re going to do today, and anything that is preventing them from doing what they need to.

  6. Cajun2Core*

    Someone in the comments on the article page made a good comment. How should you get input from your employees if you don’t have meetings and you aren’t supposed to overuse email? Yes, I know that you are not saying cut out all meetings and emails but brainstorming meetings were specially mentioned. As a manager, should you just pick 3 or 4 options and then have a meeting to discuss those options? I know there is a fine line here between necessary meetings and emails and overdoing it. Is there a way to determine where it is?

    Further, while I have always been a fan of meetings that start on time and end on time, what if good things are really getting done.

    Personally, I think the best thing when dealing with meetings is to have a good agenda (with timetable) and a good leader who can and will cut people off when they get off-topic. I have wasted more time in meetings which have gotten off topic.

    1. jillociraptor*

      I think your last statement is right on: if the time is used well, the meeting will be a positive for the team as opposed to a time drain.

      There are lots of systematic ways to both cut down on communication/meetings while still getting input. For example, my team often shares Google documents or documents on the server that we can all edit and give input to. If we have multiple projects working at once that need review, we might send out all the links, instructions, and deadlines in one email. Likewise, having a clear operational plan (even if only a month or a quarter at a time) can help people anticipate points where they’ll be able to give input. There are definitely times when it will make sense to have a meeting to hash things out, but as you say, this becomes powerful only when there’s a strong agenda and facilitator.

      1. JMegan*

        I once had a meeting run long because we were discussing which James Bond song was the best. And it was the manager who was the most invested in the conversation, so there was really nothing the rest of us could do.

        This was in an organization where we had an absolutely ridiculous number of meetings. I had
        ~weekly with my colleague with the same title
        ~weekly with my colleague and our manager
        ~weekly with the whole team and the manager
        ~bi-weekly with the whole team without the manager
        ~monthly with the whole department
        ~monthly with a cross-functional team
        ~quarterly with the whole organization

        I was on contract, so I just went to the meetings and never questioned why there were so many of them. (Or at least, I didn’t question it out loud!) But honestly, I have no idea how anyone gets anything done around there.

        1. Betty (the other Betty)*

          Live and Let Die is clearly the best Bond song (because Paul McCartney and Wings). :)

          But that discussion does not belong in a work meeting! Meetings need to have a clear purpose and a leader who keeps everyone on track or they become a waste of everyone’s energy and time.

  7. Natalie*

    Clarity, especially when assigning projects. In the last few months I can’t tell you how many times vaguely written directives have resulted in 3-6 people in my team (scattered across the country) believing they were assigned the same project. It’s incredibly annoying to spend days completing something, turn it in, and find out that 2 other people have finished it already, as well as a huge waste of time of course. And this is happening at multiple different levels of management. (Clearly the ability to decisively delegate is not something my company looks for in hiring.)

    1. Suzanne*

      Yes! This. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked to do some vague task on some vague timetable. Please, be specific. If you want me to plan an event, give me dates, times, potential invitees, etc., not some nebulous ideas & then expect it will get done.

  8. Snarkus Aurelius*

    If you’re constantly complaining about your staff as a whole, it’s time to reconfigure how you communicate, instead of blaming everyone else. My former boss constantly complained that no one on staff understood her or listened to her. I always wanted to tell her, “maybe that’s because you give contradictory instructions, you clearly don’t know what you want, you demand things last minute and never use them, and you constantly bug people while they’re doing what you asked.”

    1. Suzanne*

      That would be one of my children’s boss. “Don’t talk to client B until you get more information from me” which invariably leads to “Why didn’t you talk to client B?” It’s draining trying to practice telepathy…

    2. chicken_flavored_deodorant*

      This comment sent an unpleasant shiver down my spine. It perfectly describes my present boss.

      I had better nail my interview on Thursday.

  9. Iro*

    It’s funny, but I am never invited the meetings I would find useful yet am often stuck in meetings not related to me.

    As an analyst/reporting person, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been left off of vital meetings (such as we will be changing the system time stamp so that days now get counted at 1pm instead of Noon and we won’t be backfilling the tables) yet I’ve gone to four meetings that day where I basically doodled for 3 hours waiting to here if a subject of relevance came up.

    1. Michele*

      That happens to me, too. Or I sit through a 2 hour meeting for something that takes 5 minutes to address. Have smaller, shorter meetings that are relevant to everyone there instead.

  10. Stranger than fiction*

    Amen to the part about meetings! My boyfriend had to resign a toxic job back in September where among other things he had 6-8 hours of meetings everyday and had to get all his work done before or after! They saw no problem with this! His manager countered with just work during the meetings but the people that did so when it came time for the person speaking to ask them something they’d be like “uh could you repeat what that was you were just talking about?” Because naturally they weren’t paying attention…which just wasted even more time. So glad he’s working somewhere reasonable and sane now :)

    1. Maxwell Edison*

      At OldJob I would be quadruple-booked for meetings. It was not uncommon for me to send out emails saying, “OK, I can attend the first half of your meeting and the second half of yours, and I’ll have to catch up with you and you later.”

      We had so many meetings that there was no time to do the actual work. I would end up working on Project A while listening in on a meeting for Project B, and doing a half-assed job on both. I have seldom been so happy as the day I resigned from that job.

    2. Suzanne*

      Wow! I thought one of my old jobs was bad. Every week, we’d have a staff meeting which usually lasted about 2 hours although I think the record was 4. Once we looked at pictures of the director’s church for 20 minutes or so (well, I did work @ a religious institution). Usually at least one person fell asleep & one guy texted a lot during the meetings. Sometimes, I got called under the carpet for failing to do something that no one ever mentioned was part of my job. Nope,min this circumstances, no one came to me in private & said “Did you realize this was part of your job” because I guess it’s more fun to put you on the spot in front of a crowd.

  11. Amy*

    “people are far more likely to buy into your decisions if they feel that their input was given a fair hearing, as well as to feel invested in the team’s direction. ”

    I suspect my previous employer was influenced by this idea. They would ask for input… and then ignore everything we said and expect us to go along with their decision because they had asked for input.

    If the input is ignored, it’s just a pro forma waste of time and you can’t do something like that more than once. Managers should give reasons why advice wasn’t acted on, and acknowledge that they actually heard what employees had to say rather than just assume they “feel that their input was given a fair hearing.”

  12. Jennifer*

    Oh, meetings. We keep saying that we want less of “every single week” meetings and “can we NOT have to do status updates or a learning activity* because we have other stuff to be doing and people are complaining,” but does that happen? Well, no, because see what happens when you ask for input.

    * Pop quizzes. During which half of the staff, higher-ups included, will spend the entire time groaning that they don’t know this.

    1. Judy*

      I had a manager do quizzes in his staff meeting too. He was not my favorite. They were quizzes about C, so I did fine with them, but really?

      1. Jennifer*

        I referred to this as “public shaming” in a meeting without the quiz-enforcer and everybody choked. But it’s true. I’ve specifically asked that they like, give us a brief training session on whatever before quizzing us, but…again, no suggestions!

  13. ism*

    My place doesn’t have a lot of meetings typically. But this week my managers are out of town, in week-long series of meetings at the corporate office. The email is EXPLODING because they’re on their smartphones from within the (unrelated to our normal business) meetings, conversing with me and our third parties and our customer and our vendors. Apparently they can’t use cc on their smartphone email client, either. I’m being asked right now to forward and copy things to other people on parts of projects that I’m not responsible for, because all the email threads are getting mixed up and looping people in at the wrong time (and not taking them off when the conversation changes to something they’re involved in).

    We’re heavily reliant on email in general, even when everybody’s in the office at the same time. I like it because I hate talking on the phone and will usually email a colleague rather than page their desk phone. And there’s a record of what information was exchanged when using email. My boss just loves her email a little too much. Anytime I’m in her office, sitting with her at her desk trying to get her input or guidance on something, she’s constantly interrupting her own speech to look at the latest email that popped up. She’ll often totally cut off our conversation as if I’m not even there. Several times in the span of what should have been a 5 minute visit to her office means I’m sitting there like a fool waiting for her to notice me. I’ve taken to just walking out when something urgent comes up in her inbox and I don’t think she minds, luckily. She knows I’ll come back. Or, if I email her my question, she runs over to my desk to answer it in person! LOL.
    3. Stop overloading them with email too. Email can be a great productivity tool, but if people’s in-boxes are being flooded with unnecessary emails, sorting through them all to figure out what requires action and what doesn’t is going to keep them from more important work. Encourage people to stop sending “FYI” emails or replying all unless it’s truly needed, discourage them from using email to sort through complex issues that will require lots of back and forth, and make sure that your decision-making procedures aren’t so ambiguous that people feel obligated to loop in others more than is actually needed. (And be sure to model these behaviors yourself, because people will follow your lead.) – See more at:

    1. Matt*

      I agree on that too much email is bad, but too many phone calls or deskside visits are much worse.

      My place has a huge culture of phone and personal contact, many of my coworkers, including my direct supervisor, wouldn’t email except for anything “official”, but instead always call or turn up at my desk, expecting my immediate attention. Even if I email them, they’ll call in response … *sigh*

  14. BananaPants*

    Unnecessary meetings are my hot button right now. We just lost an engineer who left for another company, so his workload has been dropped on 3 of the rest of us (including me) with no decrease in existing workload. I could maybe stay above water if I had any time to do work, but our manager schedules pointless and excessively-long meetings. Our theory is that he thinks it makes him look busy and actively engaged with his team when in fact it’s taking away much-needed time for us to actually do work. This is particularly problematic because he’s very chatty about things that are irrelevant to the meeting – rambling about his hobbies and making what he thinks are witty pop culture references. Dude, let’s get in and hash out whatever needs to be decided, and let us WORK.

    Also, give me notice if you REALLY want me to attend. Just today I had the meeting invite for 4 PM hit Outlook at 3:49 and the colleague who scheduled it popped over to my desk three minutes later to ask me to come, promising it would only last a half hour. You guessed it, the damned meeting ran until 5 PM and my sole contribution was around 3 sentences.

  15. Sarah*

    My boss spams me with emails on a daily basis. I can’t keep up! He sends me FYI stuff, numerous links to articles (iI’ve no idea where he thinks I’d find the time to read them all) and cc’s me into emails half way through a conversation without saying why so I have to reas through the whole aring (often still none the wiser). Drives me nuts and I do sometimes miss things he needs actioning :(

  16. Meetings No More*

    In my organization, it is seen as a sign of prestige to be on teams and attend a lot of meetings. The culture is changing slowly, but there used to be this idea that no one should feel left out of a team so we had these huge meetings where nothing happened because there were so many people there who didn’t need to be. Thankfully my new direct supervisor (and our new director) hates that we were all spending so much time in meetings. She is taking me off of all teams that she is on because she can obviously represent our department and free me up to actually do work (gasp!) instead of sit in meetings. I find it funny that she was worried at first that I wouldn’t want to give up these teams. My stress level has gone down considerably now that she’s around even though she holds us more accountable than our previous supervisor. I still spend a good bit of time in meetings (my position is in technology so touches a lot of our initiatives) but not nearly as much as before.

  17. annonymouse*

    My last boss was terrible at getting feedback.

    I worked for a small sports club business as the office manager and I ran all the day to day operations but my official title was “admin assistant” to a boss that was rarely there. (Like maybe 3 – 12 hours a week.)

    But he would often change the processes of what the office staff to do without consulting us. Often these changes did not make sense, wasted time, annoyed potential members or was not something that could be done with the tools we had – all stuff he would know if he asked.

    Annalogy time! Sort of like working in a library and then your manager says “you should sort books by colour and size. Also write the name of every book in the library on a card, stick it on the wall behind you and turn it around when it gets lent out. But still keep it in the colour/size groups.”

    He also had a huge ego and major control issues so that any unsolicited or negative feedback was seen as an “attack” on him or the business.

    The biggest and most costly example of these issues was this though.

    The owner announces one day that he has just signed a marketing contract for 100 000 and to break even we need to increase members by 20%.

    The problem being we had 2 locations one open every day the other only 3 days. The everyday location had spaces available but we had pretty much tapped out that market. The part time location had many people who wanted to join as members but the few sessions we had we’re completely full.

    I remember turning to look at one of my coworkers and we both had looks of shock and dread on our faces.

    Our current marketing was working great. And an increase of 20% was impossible (we had about 1000 members at that point)

    Had he asked at any stage for feedback about how to get more members we all would have said: get more sessions at second location, replace ineffective coach that is costing us members and focus more on giving feedback to the parents of the child members.

    (75% of members were children)

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