5 Reasons You Work All Day…And Get Nothing Done

How many times have you gotten to the end of a day only to wonder where all the time went?

Or more accurately, wondered where your productivity went.

Welcome to the club.

Productivity must be easier to measure if you work at, say, Starbucks or Walmart or a manufacturing plant, where you’re dealing with tangibles (how many lattes did you make in the last hour…how many customers did you check out…how many cars did you build?).

But in the world of ministry or office work, it’s a whole different story.

What actually did happen today? Great question.

So many leaders write a to-do list, put in 8-10 hours, work hard, and have nothing to show for it. Often, not only did the to-do list not get shorter, it often gets longer. Why is that?

If you can’t manage your time, you’ll never effectively manage your life or your leadership.

The problem is actually endemic to how we work in offices today, and it’s corroding our souls, steals our family time and it leaves leaders frustrated every day.

In this post, I want to share 5 time stealers I’ve learned to reduce or eliminate from my life. They’re below. And of course, they’re free.

But I also want to invite you into a deeper journey.

I have what I hope you’ll see as good news. My High Impact Leader Course is now open.

Previously, it would open and close within limited windows of time. But as of now, it’s open for you today. Whenever. Wherever. Ready to help you get your life and leadership back.

If you’re tired of being stuck, if you’re tired of being semi-effective at work but leaving so much potential under-utilized, if you don’t want to spend yet another week/month/year never being off when you’re supposed to be off and sacrificing your family once again,  The High Impact Leader is exactly what you need.

I’ve helped thousands of leaders get their life and leadership back, and I’d love to help you.

In the meantime, here are 5 hidden time stealers you can eliminate starting today.

1. Constant interruptions with pesky questions

Can you tell how I really feel by how I titled this section of the post?

How many times in your day do you get interrupted by people with pesky questions that honestly aren’t that important or that urgent? Let me guess..all the time.

Most of those questions come from the people with whom you work most closely: either people to whom you report or people who report to you.

I recently did a 15-hour flight with no wifi. I actually edited and finished a major project, outlined a message series, wrote a keynote talk, wrote a weekend message and slept 6 hours and ate two meals. Any chance that level of productivity would ever happen in any office?

Probably never. Because you’re always being interrupted and getting distracted.

So here’s what you do when it comes to people interrupting you: just tell people to save their questions. When people save their questions for later, everyone saves time.

Train the people around you to save as many questions as humanly possible until your weekly meeting or bi-weekly meeting with them.

Three things will happen by the time your Thursday meeting rolls around: The question or issue will have disappeared.

What felt urgent on Tuesday was actually completely unimportant or got resolved by other means. Everybody wins.

Often, in a three-minute conversation during your weekly on a Thursday, you can resolve what might have taken 10 back-and-forth emails between Monday and Wednesday. Time and agony spared.

A third option is that the issue truly couldn’t wait, and so you dealt with it when it had to be dealt with. To deal with urgent and important matters on an urgent basis is actually fine. Usually, though that’s a tiny number of issues, so time saved anyway on all the pesky things that didn’t matter.

If you’ve got a relationship on your team that can’t wait a week, or there are just too many issues, then do a daily 5-15 minute check-in, either in person, by phone or video call. You’ll solve so much and it will cut your email traffic by a massive amount.

So much of what is urgent on Tuesday doesn’t matter at all by Thursday. So wait till Thursday. Everybody wins.

2. Your constantly buzzing phone

Sure, you get interrupted by other people. But how often do you get distracted by what you allow to push through on your phone?

A few years ago I shut off almost all notifications on my phone and my devices except for text messages.

Do you really need to know instantly when someone likes your Instagram pic? Of course you don’t. Ditto with emails. Why leave email notifications on when you can jump into your inbox once or twice a day and deal with what needs to be dealt with then?

According to the New York Times, the average office workers gets interrupted every 11 minutes. And it takes 25 minutes to return to focused work after each interruption.

No wonder you don’t get any work done. The math doesn’t even add up.

You can eliminate self-distraction by shutting down all but text messages on your phone.

And train your team to only text you when it’s super-urgent.

Focused leaders are always better leaders. It’s as simple as that.

3. Loud offices that constantly distract you

One of the biggest challenges for office workers is creating quiet space to tackle big projects.

Even if you have a closed door office, carving out a few hours in an office environment can be tricky. Here are some quick hacks:

Close your door. Sometimes you may even need to put a note on the door that says “Please do not disturb until 11 a.m.”

Work offsite. Try a home office or coffee shop or park…or anywhere where you won’t be disturbed.

If you’re in an open office, you can put a note on your desk in a visible place asking people to not disturb you.

If all else fails, put in headphones. Even if you can’t work to music, simply having earbuds in is a social cue for people to leave you alone. The combination of earbuds and ‘do not disturb’ sign is a fantastic message to the world to leave you alone for a bit.

For most leaders, the quieter the space, the higher the productivity. So create quiet space.

4. Working when everyone else is working

If you have some flex on when you show up at the office, flex that muscle. If you can, try coming in an hour or two early.

It’s not that hard to be the early bird in our culture. Most people don’t even try.

And you really do catch more worms if you start early.

As I’ve outlined before, Work patterns are a lot like traffic patterns: at 5 a.m. you have the road to yourself. At 8 a.m., it could take you three times as long to travel the same distance.

You don’t have to start at 5 in an office, but I’ll bet the place is pretty quiet at 7 a.m. or even, sometimes, 8 a.m.

Get an undistracted start on the day and you’ll be so much further ahead.

You’ve got the work lane all to yourself, which means you can work uninterrupted. You can think uninterrupted and actually accomplish all your most important tasks completely distraction-free.

You can likely even leave early.

If you only work when everyone else is working, you will always struggle with productivity.

 5. Your lagging energy

You know what you usually do when you could almost fall asleep at your desk or just stare blankly at the wall for an hour?

You try to push through it, right?

Well, what if you didn’t? What if you cooperated with your energy levels?

Instead of blinking mindlessly at your screen for another 30 minutes, get up. Stretch. Take a nap. Go for a walk. Grab a coffee.

Or maybe…call it a day.

I dive much deeper into how to leverage your energy levels (especially your high energy windows) for maximum impact in The High Impact Leader Course. It’s been a huge factor in me being able to juggling writing blogs, books, hosting podcasts, teaching at our church and being a husband and dad.

Bottom line? High impact leaders learn not to fight their low energy levels, but cooperate with them.

When your energy sags, give yourself a break by taking a break.

Stop fighting your energy levels. Start cooperating with them. I show exactly you how in the course.

Stop Wasting Time. Start Leveraging It.


If you really want to take a leap forward, The High Impact Leader will help you figure out how to get time, energy and priorities working in your favour in leadership and in your life.

So how does The High Impact Leader work?  You can complete it at your own pace. It’s about 3 hours of content, and you can power through it in a weekend, or, more likely, you can take it module by module as you test out the ideas in real time in your work and life. It’s up to you.

The High Impact Leader has helped thousands of leaders get their life and leadership back.

Here’s why: if leaders get time, energy and priorities working in their favour, it impacts everything.

You become a better leader.

You become a better spouse.

A better parent, neighbour and friend.

The impact doesn’t just happen at work. It happens everywhere.

These principles will free you to thrive in every area of your life.   

Click here to learn more get instant access.

What Steals Your Time?

What are some hidden time stealers you’ve battled? Scroll down and leave a comment!

5 Reasons You Work All Day…And Get Nothing Done


  1. Pierce Brantley on May 18, 2018 at 2:33 pm

    This reminds me of some the new stuff Daniel Pink has written on. To me, managing your time is right in line with stewardship. How we spend it – and invest it is essential to the outcomes we want to see both in ministry and management. Thanks Carey!

  2. […] 5 Reasons You Work All Day…And Get Nothing Done by Carey Nieuwhof. Hmmm. #3 got my attention. […]

  3. […] 5 Reasons You Work All Day … And Get Nothing Done by Carey Nieuwhof […]

  4. Josh J. on May 7, 2018 at 9:31 am

    Excellent post! I needed this right now! I know from experience that coming in an hour or more early can jump start my day and lead to extreme productivity.
    The biggest hidden time stealer I’ve experienced is simply conversation. It’s easy for us in our office to start discussing certain important things and end up talking about something completely unrelated. Next thing I know, I’ve lost 30 minutes of my day that I can’t get back which results in a loss of drive to get back to it.
    Thanks for posting beneficial and relevant content!

  5. Brian Walton on May 7, 2018 at 8:59 am

    These are great ideas. I find getting to the office early helps me get ready for the day. I Use Michael Hyatts weekly planner to schedule things for the week, and only work emails 3 times a day. I don’t like appearing unavailable by closing my door, but when things get loud in the office, I close it to keep focus.
    Thank for the great ideas.

  6. Michele Vohs on May 7, 2018 at 8:39 am

    Very good information!!

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