What makes you productive?

A diverse panel of New Zealand’s successful –  and busy – managers and leaders share what works for them.

Effective time management is an essential skill for any business leader and manager in a business environment that is constantly changing and speeding up. Yet, Jordan Cohen, a productivity expert and author of the ‘definitive’ productivity article in HBR “Make Time for the Work That Matters” has been quoted as saying time management is a misnomer. Instead he believes it’s really about productivity; saying we have to get away from labelling it ‘time management’. That it’s not about time per se but about how productive you can be.

So – how productive can you be?

We invited a panel of busy managers and business leaders to share with us what makes them productive, with a particular focus on their favourite tools and software, in all aspects of their work life. Discover how they manage their workloads – and be super-productive.



SARAH: Making sure I take really good care of my health and fitness first. I focus on getting my exercise in each day as well as getting a minimum of seven hours sleep per night to ensure I am super-productive when I am in work mode. Most busy executives have little idea what a difference 7 – 8 hours sleep a night makes to your brain function and your productivity – it’s a must!

Identifying the most important (as opposed to the most urgent) things to work on, and ensuring they get done first is key to productivity.

AMANDA: A good skilled team that can handle the level of delegation required and strong communication and time management skills allows me to be productive.

CANDACE:  I have learned to be highly compartmentalised in my thinking and activities. If I am focusing on creating a presentation, I go at it hard for an hour then stop. Then I transition to something easy and fun for 20 minutes, like finding a recipe for dinner then it’s back to a mono-focus on my emails for 30 minutes and then a walk around for five. Discipline and intent focus, then a mind break.

PAUL: Working early or late in the day – or closing my office door, ensuring email alerts are off and choosing to be focused.

MARK: I lead a team with diverse and wide skillsets which means most people can handle varied work and complex situations which allows me to coach and float across varied projects.

EDWINA: Every morning the first thing I do is write down my tasks for the day on my iPad and set priorities based on urgency. I also add in ME slots for the day which enable me to slot in something which may have not been there at the start of the day. Delegating is important and that is something I try and do where needed, very often one tries to do it all and there is not enough time in the day to do everything. I have become very good with my time management and multi-tasking.

JAMES: Identifying the most important (as opposed to the most urgent) things to work on, and ensuring they get done first is my key to productivity.



JAMES: Every morning from 6:30 to 9am I work on my key priorities from my office at home. I’ll generally turn off email and any other potential distractions like RSS readers so the time is uninterrupted. As a result those are my most personally productive hours. I can spend the rest of the day with my team or in meetings and know that I’m steadily moving ahead – and as a bonus there’s less time spent in Auckland’s rush hour traffic!

MARK: I try to clear all my emails twice weekly, Monday and Thursday, and I limit myself during these times to 45mins – 1 hour to get through the inbox and reply to them all. I make to-do lists twice weekly and from this I see what I don’t need to be doing, in terms of delegating to the person in the team who holds that responsibility.

KATE: We stop every day and have a speed meeting over coffee as a team, no matter how busy we are. It builds morale and in 15 minutes you can cover off four or five questions – and I‘m able to listen to what else is going on.

AMANDA:  I block out time in my day to get tasks done, this is dedicated time. For example; writing a report will be blocked out time in my schedule.

SARAH: I focus on a forward looking view of my next 30 – 60 days at all time so that I can chunk out the work that I need to get done. I am very diligent about booking long haul flights around big chunks of writing or thinking that I need to do so that I can be undisturbed. My brain seems to flow really well at 30,000 feet!

I also feel in general I am like a “time ninja” – I am really good at grabbing little pieces of down time from the train, to the hair salon to the airport to bang out work tasks.

I believe in being “in the moment” when it comes to my team – when I am in meetings I do not multi task and check texts and emails, as I feel it makes the meeting itself faster and way more productive when everyone is fully engaged.



EDWINA: I use unsubscribe to get rid of all the junk mail I get. I also filter my emails. I make it a point not to answer an email straight away unless urgent. The process of checking emails only at intervals helps as it then does not interfere with the task I am working on.

CANDACE: I skim through emails as they come through – on my phone and at my desk – then respond quickly to ones that don’t require a lot of effort. For ones that I need to act on or think about, I flag and prioritise when I can sit at my computer and respond effectively. Like most people these days, I get over 100 emails a day and the ability to work through them efficiently is a constant challenge.


AMANDA: Outlook calendar is my life line! Also instant messaging products, which allow me to quickly ask a co-worker a question. It’s not super fancy; but sometimes simple is good.

SARAH: I love Evernote – it’s where I store all the articles and excerpts that I read that give me inspiration. I use Omnifocus to track tasks and workstreams that my teams are working on.


MARK: I use excel spreadsheets, an outlook calendar and mind-maps on complex issues and projects to try and cover all angles and think about interdependency of issues relating to the key problem.


JAMES: For shared file storage we use both Google Docs and Dropbox extensively. For real-time document collaboration nothing beats Google Docs. At Eventfinda we also have whiteboards throughout the office – both fixed to walls and on wheels so we can move them to wherever they’re needed.

SARAH: At work we are on Google Mail and Docs so we all use that. We are also installing salesforce.com at the moment which includes a great collaboration feature called “chatter”.

I also extensively use social media with my team. I have over 12,000 employees and I believe that great ideas can come from every corner of the company so I really encourage everyone to participate and communicate with me and each other across Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook.

AMANDA: Dropbox, or SharePoint, mainly SharePoint.

PAUL: I use Microsoft Office 365 including collaborative editing in Word/SharePoint along with Lync and Skype as essential tools.



CANDACE: I generally like to have a brief agenda that is sent out a day or two ahead of time, and I am action oriented as a meeting leader. I’m a believer that a meeting’s purpose is to gain agreement and make decisions that could not be overcome as individuals. Then get out of the room and implement the decisions.

PAUL: Always have an agenda to guide the meeting. Ensure decisions and action items from the meeting are documented along with who is responsible and when they will be completed.

SARAH: I think with meetings it’s really important to understand when you plan to “report the news” or when you plan to “make the news”. They are two totally different types of meetings that need to be run in very different ways. I tend to have larger groups when we are just reporting out, but when we are working on creative tasks to drive new ideas and innovation the group is smaller and the format of the meeting is designed differently to provoke new thought.

JAMES: We use video conferencing (GoToMeeting and Skype) as well as traditional phone conferencing – with a team distributed between Auckland, Wellington, Sydney, and Manila those tools are essential. But the most important requirements for a productive meeting are an agenda and any information relevant to the meeting sent in advance. That allows participants to have reviewed the information and to spend the meeting time adding value and asking the right questions, instead of simply catching up on the subject.

MARK: We have conference calls once a month for an hour and meet three times a year. Actions of the meeting are assigned to someone with a time limit. The notes to a meeting have a summary one pager which covers all topics and actions.


AMANDA: I use my 13inch super lightweight laptop and my iPhone. It is essential that your laptop or chosen device fits in your handbag!

PAUL: In a lot of situations a plain and simple paper and pen is ideal. Microsoft Office 365 from my Smartphone, Tablet and Laptop lets me capture information on the go. In addition to email and social networking tools, Microsoft Word and OneNote are my favourite apps for use on the move.

JAMES: I generally have my MacBook Pro, iPad, and iPhone with me wherever I go – no one system is best for every scenario so it’s a case of using the right hardware for the situation. One of the most useful pieces of hardware I have is a projector adapter for the iPad. With keynote presentations stored in iCloud it’s one less reason to take a laptop with me.

MARK: I have a Samsung S4 phone for email, messaging, calendar etc and a laptop when travelling is fine to get through my work.

EDWINA: I use my laptop at all times when I am on the move as it has access to all the software and files I need.

SARAH:I actually carry my Macbook Air with me pretty much everywhere. It fits in the side of my handbag so I am never without it. Like everyone else I’m never far from my iphone and my ipad also. I seem to use each device for different things.

I have become obsessed with the App called “wayze” for getting to places as fast as possible and avoiding traffic when I am on the move!



CANDACE: My team uses Outlook and they have access to my calendar. They know my rules for adding in meetings and deadlines – I need travel time booked in and I value my 30 minute lunch. I also avoid early morning meetings where possible as I have a farm and need to feed out in the early mornings.

PAUL: Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Office 365 SharePoint are my main tools for planning and scheduling projects and meetings.

SARAH: We have a master calendar at work where we pretty much map out the entire year in terms of key meetings and milestones that are driving our agenda forward. From there my assistant maps my calendar around it to be sure I am going to be in the right places and prioritising the right work at the right times.

JAMES: We use JIRA’s Agile Kanban boards for planning and scheduling. Everyone in the company has access to those boards to see what’s being worked on today, what the upcoming priorities are, and what functionality has recently been completed.

MARK: I use the Outlook diary largely and Excel spreadsheets for meeting dates.



JAMES: In the past we’ve used Basecamp for project management, but we switched to the excellent JIRA from Atlassian Software a couple of years ago. It’s much better suited to the particular requirements of project management for software development.

MARK:We use Gantt charts, and regular meetings at key points in the projects.

PAUL:We use our in-house custom Intranet in addition to SharePoint within Office 365.

SARAH: Most of our team use the tools in google drive and google docs. We also use SmartSheets to manage large scale projects.



AMANDA: Planning is the key and strong communication, when your team is ready and know the work is coming, things get done in a timely and orderly fashion. Sometimes though there are “I’m about to ruin your day” moments. Put plan, communicate, plan, communicate, plan, schedule and execute.

CANDACE:We have weekly WIP meetings on Mondays and a tight list of items on the go. The larger projects on the horizon can go out as far as eight to nine months. We have owners of the projects and everyone is expected to produce an update at the meeting that is brief. Any hurdles are discussed and actions agreed. Through the week, we touch base and deliver our actions before the Monday.  It works really well as each of our team ‘own’s specific areas like event planning or social media in addition to overall project management or administration. It adds diversity and interest to our usual work.

MARK:The key is having a clear idea of what you need done, communicating this well and following up on the quality/timeliness of the job. To get delegation or support adding productivity there needs to be time spent up front to set expectations and get buy-in to how the work improves the business. Often jobs delegated or support can be work that is demotivating for you but is still important so it this needs to be considered also. It is good to delegate a mix of interesting work too that can stretch and grow people.

SARAH:With my admin it’s all about trust. I trust that she will figure out the best use of my time and say no to the requests that are not productive for me.

In terms of delegation – I see it as my responsibility to be clear with the team on the vision, our major milestones and my expectations and then I hold people accountable to holding up their part of the work.



SARAH: I don’t read newspapers. I rarely read magazines any more – just my staple favourites of People Magazine (of course!) and Fast Company.
I get ALL of my information out of Twitter these days. I’ve curated my list of who I follow to meet my needs – and I view the news streams over Hootsuite so I can keep up with news in different subject areas. I read the headlines and when I find longer articles that I want to take the time to read I store them in Evernote.

JAMES: The only publications I read daily are the New Zealand Herald and NBR. I have the NewsFire RSS reader to scan headlines of the tech press and blogs I’m interested in. I also use the Zite mobile app (from Flipboard) daily – it aggregates content I’ll be interested in from around the web, based on the articles I’ve read previously.

CANDACE: I use Flipboard and often read through my Twitter feed for news. Because I travel a lot, I often try to listen to National Radio, or watch international news in the mornings and particularly when I’m on the road overseas.

PAUL: Twitter, Feedly and Flipboard are the primary tools I use to filter content. I also access other social networks regularly and use podcast apps (such as Podcasts on the iPhone) to listen to great content on the go. This means my car has become my mobile university.

KATE: I read the newspaper online (on my computer or phone) every day. In the car I listen to National Radio for my news fix.


JAMES: Relevant Tweets and Facebook comments on our company pages are automatically imported into Zendesk (our customer support system) so they can be handled in our normal support workflow. Real-time Google Alerts make sure we’re not missing anything across the rest of the web.

SARAH: I am a heavy user of social media and I am very purposeful about how I use each platform. I am a fierce protector of my family’s privacy ensuring that only people I really know and care about can see the personal stuff on platforms like Facebook.

I use Twitter heavily for business and for networking. I use Instagram and Pinterest for creative inspiration. And I use LinkedIn just to keep connected to colleagues and business connections.

PAULI use a range of social tools such as the Twitter mobile apps, Tweetdeck and also Sprout Social.



SARAH: This is my number one priority. I truly believe that I am a better professional and a better wife and Mum when I make the “quiet” time that I need for exercise and regeneration.

I run a lot, I do Pilates, I work with a personal trainer and I do group fitness classes – which I often turn into a social or business experience. I am well known in New York for doing “workout meetings” with potential business partners.

AMANDA: My happy places are watching movies with my husband and getting out on my horse or just being outside in open spaces. I do work out as well. I schedule in time for my activities and down time because I have such a busy life with work and other commitments, that if I don’t schedule in R and R time, I won’t get any.

CANDACE: This is an area that changes; at times I can be meticulous about taking the dogs for an early run in the forest or going to the gym in the evenings. I ride my horses on the weekends in the warmer months and have recently tried Crossfit to compliment sporadic yoga attendance. I really enjoy spending time with the animals while exercising – the combination of nature and doing something good for me is a great treat.

JAMES: I go through periods of regularly meditating, running, and going to the gym – but then when the pressure is on I’ll go months without doing any of those things.

MARK: I try to keep weekends free, have time where I step away from work every day and I try to exercise three to four times a week even when busy.

EDWINA: I organise short breaks in a year as it helps to recharge the batteries. I also enjoy walks along the waterfront and I schedule them into my busy schedule.



JAMES: I personally believe nothing beats pen and paper. I never go anywhere without an A5 notepad, even if it’s just a quick coffee meeting. I have an archive at home of notebooks ordered chronologically going back almost ten years! I also use Evernote and Things (a Mac/iPhone app) to keep track of commitments made for specific dates so they’re not forgotten.

SARAH: It’s funny – I was using digital for a long time (using various apps on the iPad) but for some reason I just missed having a note pad where I could scribble. I think I have a messy brain and I like being able to doodle and draw to imagine new ideas. I am now back to having my to-do lists in a note pad. I get so much satisfaction out of crossing things off once they are done!

AMANDA: I use a combo of pen and paper and lists on my iPhone. I just use the notes app which is native to iPhone. Once again I have tried lots of different apps, but I keep going back to this simple system.

CANDACE: I use both – but mostly find that pen and paper are extremely effective and it’s satisfying to draw a line through tasks when completed. I find myself thinking of things I need to do or follow-up on when I wake up first thing in the morning, or when I’m driving, so I use my voice recorder on the phone to make quick references that I then write down when I’m back in the office and prioritise.




Amanda Whiteis ICT Manager at Marlborough Lines, a utilities company based in Blenheim. Amanda was recently awarded Emerging ICT Leader, CIO Awards 2014.

“If you find tools that help you – great, but make sure they suit you and your needs. At the end of the day, it comes down to planning, scheduling and execution and how you go about that is a personal choice.”

Candace Kinseris Chief Executive Officer at New Zealand Technology Industry Association (NZ Tech),the national body representing the information, communications and technology sector of New Zealand and is based in Auckland.

“I think productivity is not just in business, it’s in all aspects of life and keeping them in balance – the heart, mind, body and spirit balance.”

Edwina Mistry is Industry and Community Engagement Manager, Faculty of Business and Information Technology at the Manukau Institute of Technology.

“Delegating is important, very often one tries to do it all and there is not enough time in the day to do everything.”

James McGlinn is co-founder and CEO of Eventfinda, Auckland and was the Northern Regional Winner, 2013 Young Executive of the Year Awards.

“The key is to make incremental changes in the way you do things to achieve additional productivity, and then to make each of those changes a habit through repetition.”

Kate Scottis Managing Director, of BTW South Limited, Cromwell, Central Otago and was the Southern Regional Winner, 2013 Young Executive of the Year Awards.

“Offer remote access to the computer network to encourage flexibility and to be family friendly for your team.”

Mark Julianis Senior Business Manager, Dairy – Landcorp Farming Limited, Wellington and was National Winner of the NZIM/Eagle Technology Young Executive of the Year Award for 2013.

“Time tasks for when you have energy to attack them. Remember the basics; it is important to be effective as well as efficient.”

Paul Spain ishost of NZ Tech Podcast, founder / CTO of Gorilla Technology (IT Services), and founder / CEO Global Voice Media, and is based in Auckland.

“I’ve learnt from the teams I’ve worked in that everyone has different techniques that help make them productive – find what works for you and stay committed to it.

I can better utilise commute and exercise time by listening to podcasts. The learning and development I take from podcasts has become invaluable to me.”

Sarah Robb O’Haganis President of Equinox, the world’s premier fitness lifestyle company and former Global President of Gatorade. Sarah is a New York based, ex-pat Kiwi and she was a 2014 recipient of the Sir Peter Blake Trust Award for outstanding leadership.

“Focus first and foremost on your own personal wellbeing and energy… and the rest becomes so much more manageable.”


Have your say and join the conversation on ‘What makes you productive’ on Twitter (www.twitter.com/ManagementNZ), Facebook (www.facebook.com/ManagementNZ) and in the ‘New Zealand Management magazine’ LinkedIn group.

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