The quest for business productivity is its own massive category, with countless companies hoping the latest, greatest productivity app will turn out to be a boon for team performance or the key to achieving goals.

That's why the quest to halt productivity killing practices is equally intense.

But there's one offending behavior that should be the Big Game of anti-productivity hunters, and it's been right under our noses this whole time.

Indecision? Inability to say no? The flu? The Kardashians?

All horrible, but nope.

Get ready for this--it's the business productivity apps themselves that are seriously stunting productivity, or rather the combination of all the apps employees are forced to deal with at once (the most used such apps are email, file sharing, office programs, voice communications, online document collaboration tools, video conferencing, and team messaging).

That's right; the real competition eating away at productivity is the myriad of apps that compete for your employee's attention as they try to figure out just how in the hell to do their jobs.

A recent study from Ring Central among over 2000 "knowledge workers" (people that need thinking time during their jobs) found that:

  • Employees use at least four business productivity apps on average, and 20 percent are using six or more.
  • 68 percent toggle between apps up to 10 times an hour.
  • 69 percent of employees waste an hour a day or the equivalent of 32 days each year navigating between apps.


So yes, too much of a "good thing" is too much when it comes to getting work done.

While you're taking in this revelation, let me offer three other key takeaways:

1. You might be part of the problem.

The study showed there's clearly a gap between executive perception of productivity apps and employee perception. 44 percent of "C-Suite" executives were content with their current suite of productivity tools, while 66 percent of employees desperately wanted simplification, like in the form of one integrated platform.

One regional bank in my area added a customized productivity app to their suite of tools for employees--with all the best intentions, of course. The only problem was the app only worked on laptops. Last time I checked lots of people do lots of work on these things called mobile phones. 

Like so many issues, it starts with awareness of the problem. If you're a decision maker, consider yourself on alert.

2. Don't underestimate the impact "app-overload" has on employees.

As indicated, employees take a major hit to old-fashioned productivity--but it goes well beyond that. Many workers get so frustrated they'd rather do household chores (53 percent) and pay bills (52 percent) than navigate between apps.

App-overload also has a tremendous impact on workflow and the ability to do quality work. 56 percent find searching for information in different applications disruptive, and 31 percent of workers said it caused them to lose their train of thought.

Which leads us to the next point.

3. Think workflow before widget.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi named the concept of "flow"--the state of mind one achieves when fully immersed in a task. As the study indicates, "Breaking that flow has a major impact on concentration and rhythm, and ultimately productivity." He spoke about it in a 2008 TED talk:

Before adding the hottest new productivity widget into the mix, it's important to really think through how work gets done (or not) in your workplace. Start by understanding that these are the top four most disruptive activities to getting work done:

  • Unscheduled meetings (42 percent)
  • Phone calls (33 percent)
  • Email (25 percent)
  • Searching for info in apps/programs (24 percent)

You should also consider the workflow with the makeup/preferences of employees in mind. For example, the study indicated that employees over 45 years old still prefer email. That's important to know for managing any change in the suite of tools you might be considering, one way or another. You find out preferences when you ask.

And lastly, whatever you do, consider simplifying. Team messaging platforms are becoming more popular, for example. As an writer over 45 who preferred email, I was pleasantly surprised when the Inc. office moved to Slack to streamline communications between editors and columnists. It has definitely simplified things.

The bottom line is that before you add more to the productivity suite, consider going the other way and streamlining. 

Even if the cost of replacing, eliminating, or switching out isn't that cheap, it could be much cheaper than the cost of employees taking twice as long to do their jobs because they're busy trying to be productive.