Tuesday 20 March 2018

Productivity secrets of extremely busy people

Do you live your life feeling there's too much to do and not enough time to do it in? Here we find out how the high-achievers manage.

Miriam O'Callaghan
Miriam O'Callaghan
Vitorra Colonna
Niall Woods, with Tommy Bowe.
Caroline Kennedy
Mary McKenna
Niall Byrne, Nialler 9
Tanya Airey
John Brennan
Maureen Catterson
Maia Dunphy
Marissa Carter
Dr. James Reilly
Danielle Ryan
Jennie McGinn
Andrew Byrne
Katie Byrne

Katie Byrne

To-do lists are getter longer, lunch breaks are getting shorter and it seems we're all in search of the holy grail of time-management techniques and energising green-coloured juices.

We check work emails from our beds, take business calls on our holidays and spout clichés about wishing there were more hours in the day.

Harder, better, faster, stronger is the productivity mantra of the modern workplace, yet some people still get considerably more items ticked off the to-do list than others.

These productivity maestros have learned to manage the finite resource of time, meet their goals and red-flag any apparent time-stealers.

We rounded up a group of Irish power-brokers, change-makers, go-getters and double-jobbers to find out how they work smarter, rather than harder.


TV & radio broadcast journalist with RTÉ and a mother of eight

I usually try to decide the night before what I am wearing in the morning. It saves a lot of valuable time when I am trying to get my children to school and not be late for work.

Sometimes I just lie in bed at night listing in my head what I need to do - that includes everything at work, and also in relation to my children, such as school collections and after-school activities.

I never, ever panic - it's a complete waste of time and energy. Unless it is to do with serious illness or death, nothing else really matters that much.

Delegate to people you trust - but be very understanding if it doesn't work out. No one I know has ever set out to do a bad job or to do something badly or wrong. Always be kind.

Be happy and grateful for what you have in life - when you are content and happy and grateful, life and living is easy. Being productive follows on naturally. Tell everyone you love that you love them all the time.


Founder of Cocoa Brown tan

Forget multi-tasking. It just leads to stress and nothing really getting done properly. I like to block off time for important jobs and, as much as possible, not allow myself to get distracted or disturbed during that time. I'm just not the type of person who can feed the baby while replying to emails!

I unplug frequently. We're all switched on and plugged in too much of the time. To be efficient, think clearly, and work hard, I believe taking a total break from technology frequently is key. At least two weekends a month, I switch off my phones and devices and am totally uncontactable unless you have my husband's number. This allows me to recharge my batteries.

I write EVERYTHING down. I'm never without a notebook. I take notes religiously and write every idea or important thought down, not just so I don't forget anything important but because once I have it written down, my brain is free to race ahead to the next thing.


The hotelier is the Managing Director of Dromquinna Manor

On Sunday evening I make a schedule of things to do each day for the week. I also have a week, month and year work plan.

I keep my diary with me at all times and everything gets entered into it.

The best productivity tool of all, though, is my wife who always asks "Did you do this? Did you do that?"


The Ryanair heiress is the CEO of publishing, film production and perfume house Roads

I get up early to meditate for 20 minutes - I find it very helpful. It clears my mind and gets rid of any anxious thoughts that can build up with having so many things on the go. I try to sleep eight to nine hours every night.

I meet with the team on a Monday and we work out exactly what needs to be done that week and which of us will take responsibility for each task. We check the following Monday that those tasks were completed.

I segment my day, allowing one hour for emails and calls first thing when I get into work. I then concentrate on one specific issue up until lunch. After lunch I work on a different task and then leave an hour to do emails again at the end of the day. It's amazing what you can get done when you focus on one job without distraction for even an hour.

I plan my full month at the start of every month - I book everything and even make all social arrangements.

I run or work out most evenings after work before I go home. It separates work thoughts from home. So when I get home to my kids I'm not still thinking about work.


TV producer, broadcaster and writer

I hate early mornings, but there's no denying that lie-ins make you more tired and less productive. Even if I get up half an hour earlier than usual, I feel I can take on the world.

I've always been a fan of lists, but since having a baby, they have become non-negotiable. Without one, I walk into a shop to buy washing powder and a paper, and leave with a can of Diet Coke and net of Babybels.

I always have about three notebooks on the go. One beside my bed, one in my handbag and one that spends its sorry life perpetually lost and found.

This year I want to be one of those people who batch cooks and freezes things. It's unlikely, but I live in hope.

I need deadlines. Open-ended jobs just never get done in my world.


Founder of Kennedy PR & Brand Consultancy

I keep a rolling to-do list on the iPhone Notes app, placing top priority tasks on top and the least urgent at the bottom. Deleting completed tasks at the end of the working day is very satisfying.

I have a good in-car phone system to return business calls when travelling.

I avoid writing long-winded emails. It's often quicker to pick up the phone to get an answer.

I use a Nespresso machine - it saves boiling kettles and a messy clean-up.

I make several one-pot dishes on a Sunday that will save cooking from scratch for at least two-three evenings during the week. This also allows more time to watch my favourite pre-recorded TV programmes!


Head of development at TV3

To be honest, coffee is a must for me. It perks me up immediately and gets my mind working with those early starts and meetings where you actually have to make sense and put two words together at a ridiculous hour.

I use the iPhone, iPad, iCal and the accompanying pouches and pockets. I am a child of Apple (no product placement intended, but it's the truth). Either way, my diary, news updates, navigation systems and whatever other accompanying apps that result in less brain power and pieces of paper, are very much welcomed in my life.

I am a creature of habit and love routine. Whilst the requirements of my job constantly evolve and change, it's good to have some regularity across the working day and I would recommend trying to instil this in the simplest of ways. I can't focus if my working area is untidy, so a daily clean down of the desk is necessary, even if it means hiding away the filing pile in my 'Monica press'.

Treat every task with a new energy and optimism. I firmly believe a positive attitude brings you through the worst and that ever increasing to-do list.

It's important to switch off, draw a line under the day/week and disconnect. It's something I struggle with, but is fundamentally necessary in order to have that renewed energy the next time round.


Artist, filmmaker and performance artist

I am of the belief that a watched pot will never boil... so why not keep a few filled on different fires? As an artist, filmmaker and female, I multi-task - turning cooking into an exercise and phone jig and yoga into creative writing.

Once a year I take a 10-day sabbatical from technology. This has even stretched out to eliminating television from my life - ironic for a filmmaker, but it has opened so much more time for other endeavours and exciting adventures. I highly recommend it.

I download audio books for when I'm driving as I don't have time to read.


Minister for Children and Youth Affairs

Being a Minister and a TD demands availability at night and at weekends so time management doesn't shorten my working week. My focus is on increased productivity.

I do a lot of work in the car. I use an Apple iPad and iPhone, allowing me to review and approve documents on the move.

We also conference call on the phone, so virtual meetings with a number of people can happen even though people are in different places.


Chief Executive of NavyBlue Sports Management

I boost my time and efficiency by having two offices, one of which is in my house. It means I can work at any time and gives me the flexibility to work out of office hours and across different time zones.

In my business, to be effective and get results for professional athletes and sports media talent, I have to be available around the clock. As a result, I do a lot of work-related travel and find expedia.ie, skyscanner.ie and rentalcars.com the best sites to get me organised.

I pack light and pay for the Fast Track pass which beats queuing at airport security.


One third of the sister triumvirate behind women's fashion website Opsh

I schedule 'think time' - a block of time, with no phone or email, to just think. With so much noise, it can be hard to think strategically, so you need to schedule time, just like you would schedule a meeting.

I recommend Essentialism - The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg Mc Keown. It explores the concept that 'yes' people take on too many commitments and spread themselves too thin. If you embrace saying 'no', you can fully embrace the commitments you choose.

We are abolishing email cc-ing in Opsh as it leads to email fatigue and clutters the mind.

We introduced Opsh Fireside Chats last year. We bring experts in from different industries to chat to the team. It's a fantastic way to reinvigorate company culture.

You can't beat a good Scandi crime drama to calm the mind.


AKA Nialler9, is a music writer, DJ and event curator

I've learned productivity over the years from getting better at managing expectations and finding a routine. I work from home, but I get dressed for work and start the day with a walk. If you're not an early riser or don't have to get up early, try to start work by 10am at the latest and finish by 7pm… and enjoy your breakfast/coffee.

I use Google Inbox. Most people use their email like a task list and Inbox allows you to pin, snooze and mark as "done" so you can get a sense of accomplishment. I strike out tasks on paper too.

I take meetings only when strictly necessary or useful. They can be a waste of time spent travelling. Skype is useful in these situations.

I allow myself time to browse social media and my favourite sites and I recognise that some days are less productive than others for various reasons.

I don't drink more than two cups of coffee a day, but I drink good coffee. I also take a lunch break away from my desk.


Tech entrepreneur and investor, as well as a non-executive director on the board of Derry's Millennium Forum & Theatre and trustee of the London-based charity, Social Care Institute for Excellence

You definitely need a list. I don't know how anyone could possibly manage anything without a list. I'm old-school and keep mine written in my book and I cross items off as they're completed. I like the satisfaction of being able to see what I've achieved and I like to revisit my lists frequently as they spark off other thoughts.

Don't be a slave to your email inbox - deal with it a couple of times a day only. Otherwise it leaks into the rest of your productive time. If I'm out and about during the day, I try to cap it at 30 minutes in the morning and then an hour at the back end of the day.

Do all your phone calls during any downtime you have - hanging about at the airport, train journeys, coffee shops and in between meetings.

This one is obvious but so many people don't do this. If you have to go somewhere for a meeting, then try and see as many other people as you can on the same day, or check to see if there's an interesting networking event happening and go along to it. I love to do this with people I interact with on Twitter but have never met in real life.

Accept that some things just take up time and are worth investing in, even if it's hard to see the immediate payback. Never neglect networking and keep 90 minutes somewhere in your day for an exercise program - I swim a mile in the morning before I do anything else. I treat it like meditation.


Communications manager of RTÉ Radio

I live in Kildare and travel to Dublin for work every day, so the car is my mobile office. I make my calls and organise meetings on the way in.

A few early nights are imperative. I used to be in a terrible habit of going to bed at midnight. These days I try to be in bed by 10pm/10.30pm - even if it means watching Netflix from under the duvet. Likewise, getting up just half an hour earlier makes all the difference. It allows me to plan out my day and, working in media, it means I'm less likely to be on the back foot for breaking news.

Emails tend to come in faster than they go out, so I make sure to delete emails from my inbox as soon as a matter is dealt with.

WhatsApp group messaging is a lifesaver. I have a family group and then another group for all my friends from home. It keeps you connected to people and makes event planning much more efficient.

I relax by taking our dog, Friday, for a walk. She levels me, particularly after a busy week. Dogs motivate you to go out walking - even if it's the last thing you feel like doing.


Managing director of Sunway Holidays

I surround myself with very capable people. This affords me the opportunity to delegate and I can trust the job will be done as good as by me, if not better.

I put my lists in my calendar and set reminders on a regular basis to alert me that I have a meeting coming up and sometimes also an alert during the meeting to bring up something that I may have thought of while outside the office.

If I don't get around to something on my to-do list in my calendar, I move it to the next day, so that nothing gets forgotten about. If I wake up in the middle of the night and think of something, I immediately make a note in my phone calendar.

I keep meetings on track and as short as possible.

You need to love what you do (which I do) to be able to put your heart and soul in to it.

How the big players do it ...

Time management consultant and best-selling author DAVID ALLEN advocates the two-minute rule. If it takes two minutes or less, do it right away. The late STEPHEN R COVEY, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, said "The key is in not spending time, but in investing it". BARACK OBAMA only wears grey or blue suits as it limits the amount of decisions he has to make each day. Facebook COO SHERYL SANDBERG espouses the mantra "Done is better than perfect".

Comedian JERRY SEINFELD maps his daily goals on a calendar and crosses each day off when it's done. His object is to get a line of Xs and his advice is "don't break the chain". GARY KELLER, author of The One Thing, advises hyper-focus on one task at a time, while ARIANNA HUFFINGTON suggests sleeping your way to the top - with eight/nine hours a night.

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