Nine Ways to Devastate Productivity

We talk a lot here about how to increase your productivity, get more done, and be more effective. But what if that isn’t your goal?  What if you really just want to completely obliterate the productivity of your co-worker? In this unusual post, we are going to look at nine ways to wreak havoc on someone’s ability to get work done.


Of course, none of the readers of this blog are that evil. Anyway, for the vast majority of our readers, I figured this list would provide some useful thoughts on how to spot people who are wasting your time.  And who knows. It might be useful someday if you decide to let your Dark Side take over for a while.

Here are the nine tips (if you can call them that).  If you decide to use them, you do so at your own risk.  I take no responsibility for the results.

  1. Use email for things that should be done in person. Things that require a quick back-and-forth conversation are prefect for this tactic. You have to write something that requires your target’s response where they will need to email several other people for clarification.  This turns the simple interruption of an email into 5 or 6 interruptions as they try to acquire more information in order to give you a reply.  If you do it well, it can have a network effect.  You send a single email which forces them to send 3 or 4 emails for more information to other people, who in turn have to ask for more information… You get the idea.
  2. Use face-to-face and phone conversations for things that should be done over email. If you can visit your co-worker’s office and tell them something face-to-face that doesn’t require any type of response, it gives you an excuse to interrupt them from their work.  Next time you start to fire off an email with an FYI message, just walk into their office and tell them in person.  It may only take you 1 or 2 minutes, but the distraction can easily take them 10 minutes or longer to recover from the interruption.
  3. Always sit down in their office no matter how short of a conversation you need to have. If they don’t have a chair, bring one with you and leave it in their office for next time. Make sure you don’t get right to the point.  If possible, find something in their office and comment on it. For example, ask them about an award or certificate on their wall.  They will feel obligated to make small talk.  If you are really good, you can have a 30-minute conversation without covering anything work-related.  If you are really good, you can even leave without having discussed the reason for your visit. Come back in 10 minutes and interrupt them again!
  4. Space out visits by 10 minutes. If you have 5 things to discuss with your target, don’t use them up all at once.  Stop by their office multiple times with 10-minute intervals between each visit.  Most people take about 10 minutes to get their focus back, so you can easily ruin an entire hour of the work day using this technique.  You want to interrupt them right after they get their focus back.  If you hear them take a phone call, wait another 10 minutes–someone else is giving you a hand interrupting them.
  5. Send multiple email messages. Make sure you don’t gather your thoughts about a topic before emailing.  With a little skill, a two-paragraph email can easily be spread over 5 or 6 incomplete messages. Make sure you leave out important details until the very last message.
  6. Don’t ask the right person. When you need something, go ask your target.  It doesn’t matter if they know anything about what you need.  Always ask them first.  Most of the time you’ll just interrupt them and they will tell you to check with someone else.  If you are really good, you can actually get them to help you with things that they shouldn’t be working on and know nothing about.  Extra points if you can pass the job on to them in its entirety.
  7. Never interrupt them right after lunch. Most people experience a slump in productivity right after getting back from lunch.  Give them an hour to get back in the swing of things before launching your next attack. If they aren’t being productive, there is no reason for you to waste your time interrupting them.
  8. Send emails that require them to hunt down information and people. For example, sending a message that says, “I think Sandy needs a report on a project for one of your clients  soon.”  See how vague it is?  They don’t know which client, which project and aren’t even sure if Sandy is really the one who needs the information.  If they are good, they will ignore the request until Sandy comes looking for it, but if you are lucky, this will send them on a goose chase trying to track down Sandy and find out what is needed. Also, leave out information like telephone numbers, last names, or company names, etc. The true experts at this tactic know how to make it look as if the information is complete while leaving off something very vital (like an area code).
  9. Spread gossip. Whenever possible, try to go to their office and spread some gossip.  It doesn’t need to be true.  Feel free to just make things up.  Statements like: “I think I overheard someone saying that management is going to take out the water cooler.  What do you think of that?”  If you can get them involved in the conversation, you are doing well.  Sometimes by acting like you are really upset about it, you’ll be able to draw them in because they don’t want to be impolite and tell you that you are being an idiot.

Originally published February 1, 2007.


  1. says


    This is Atschikura (my nickname) from Turkey. I have read your weblog post called “Nine Ways to Devastate Productivity” and translated into Turkish (Atschikura follows the CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 license terms). You can see the translation at .

    I would like to give credits to the original poster but I couldn’t find the name and email contact details anywhere on the blog. No contact info at all?

    Best wishes,

  2. Shauna says

    Btilliant! Our district manager is the QUEEN of number 5. Once, in the span of 3.5 hours, she sent 34 emails……

  3. says

    Vague emails are a pet peeve of mine. I don’t understand why people can’t just get to the point. The other thing that drives me crazy are the “FYI” type emails, where you have to read through about 10 responses to get to the original message. Great post.

  4. says

    Ah, man, this post is giving me flashbacks to a guy I used to work with who would wander through the halls of the building and stop in people’s offices to chat with them. But it was never a quick chat; the minimum time bite was 30 minutes. And it would always be prefaced by him sort of … *lingering* in the doorway. You could never bring yourself to say “Dude! Working here! Don’t have time!” — well, I never could. But I wish I had sometimes.

    Anyway, great post, flashbacks and all.

  5. says

    Very nice post :) good idea in writing something about devastating productivity, while other are working hard to increasing it. Great post

  6. Ruth says

    I love the idea of the (NFI) no further information idea of putting everything into the header (if it’s brief info that’s being transmitted) so that the body of the msg can be left blank, and headers can be quickly scanned. But there should be a commonly accepted acronym that EVERYONE knows at the beginning of the header, so that no one misses information added in the body of the email.

    (I don’t think it’s NFI…but couldn’t remember the right acronym)

  7. says

    @Ruth – I don’t like the idea of “NFI” or anything that tries to stuff all of the information into the subject of an email. Here is why:

    1. It causes people to write longer subject lines. Depending on how your email program is configured you may not be able to see it anyway.

    2. Some email programs may only search the body of a message so if you are looking for it later, you might have a harder time finding it.

    3. The shortened format encourages people to use abbreviations and SMS style shorthand. This can lead to misunderstandings. Even if the meaning is clear, it usually reflects poorly on the person writing it.

    4. Spam filters are trained to recognize normal emails. If you start sending messages with empty bodies, there may be a higher chance of your messages getting flagged as spam because they don’t look normal to the filters.

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