Problem-Solving Advice on Productivity

Get tips and ideas on how to solve the biggest issues when it comes to productivity, from interruptions to procrastination, in this edition of Problem Solver.

We asked the Staples community what your toughest challenges are when it comes to being productive at work. Justin Kerr, author of How to Be Great at Your Job and How to Be a Boss, and the host of the Mr. Corpo podcast, offers some clever solutions to help you be as efficient as possible.


Q: I’m distracted by the ding of an email or when I’m meeting with someone and another co-worker walks in and starts talking before I can finish my thought or acknowledge their presence. How can I handle these situations without coming off as rude? —Steven S., media specialist

A: Solving for technological interruptions (dings, notifications, etc.) can be easy if you can make an adjustment—simply turn them off when you need to focus. Solving for human interruptions can be trickier, but my prescription is to keep it simple with a few go-to responses: 'Let me finish my thought,' or 'Can I find you in 10 minutes?' are both nonconfrontational while still acknowledging people’s existence.

I’d also like to challenge the assumption that the problem is with “someone else.” For example, if you’re leading a project or directing co-workers, could you give more clear instructions, which then result in fewer questions and interruptions? My advice: Use bullet points. The more bullet points you use in your emails, the fewer questions co-workers will have, thus leading to fewer interruptions. Win-win.

It’s feast or famine

Q: I have weeks where my skills in time management are pushed to the limits and other weeks of nearly nothing to do. How can I stay productive through the ups and downs? —Jim W., store manager

A: Rather than fight the tide, ride it. It sounds like you’ve got a good 50-50 split of hard/easy, so take advantage of it. Use the downtime to catch up on long-range planning or training so your busy weeks are focused on more urgent tasks. Whatever you do, don’t fall victim to feeling guilty and inventing things to do to look busy during the slow period. Save your strength, and when it’s time to work hard, work hard.

Get some small wins, too. Give yourself a specific goal to find one small improvement each month during your quiet weeks so you can end the year with 12 improvements to your work and process.


Q: My main problem can be summed up in one word: procrastination. Help! —Fern H., administrative assistant

A: Self-awareness is the first step toward self-improvement, so I congratulate you on your diagnosis. I tend to equate procrastination with motivation. One solution that may sound counterintuitive is to take on more work. People tend to procrastinate because they don’t have enough work to stay busy, so they stretch out their current responsibilities across more time. What can you step up and volunteer to take on within your team? Is there a new process you want to implement? This is also a great way to raise your visibility and set yourself up for a promotion or a raise. 

Follow Justin Kerr on Instagram @mrcorpo or visit