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Leading Australian executives share their productivity secrets

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The internet is full of strategies to help you get more done — everything from sleeping like Leonardo da Vinci to endless productivity apps.

The tricks that allowed these Aussie executives to get ahead have more to do with finding space and focus, prioritising so that whatever tools or methodologies you select can make a difference.

Alex Louey, co-founder and managing director of Appscore

My secret to remaining productive is to trust your instincts. A lot of people don’t trust their gut and spend days pulling together all the facts, figures and options. They’re then paralyzed by the sheer amount of information, which quite often leads to procrastination. This puts them in a worse off position than how they started. I’m not suggesting that people should be reckless, but the reality is we don’t live in a perfect world, so we shouldn’t expect to find perfect answers. If you back yourself – even if it turns out to be the wrong decision – you will be able to turn it around.

Kate Adams, founder of Thankly

1. Looking after my physical being and working out. When you feel good and respect yourself, your confidence and energy are transferable to everything else.

2. Habits over hacks – those little things that allow me to make baby steps of progress every single day. My mantra is that you can’t keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. I focus on changing my daily habits for long term improvement.

3. Making the most of lost hours is a big one – one I learnt from Sheryl Sandberg. Anywhere I find myself waiting or sitting, I try and use productively. This might be listening to a podcast, making my phone calls or doing my emails. Sometimes, I don’t feel like working so I actually just do a quick mindfulness meditation session or do a little gratitude exercise.

Nick Bell, founder and managing director of WME

Delegate well and finish off the quick tasks. Give yourself time to focus on the more complex projects. I also make a conscious effort to utilise my downtime. If I’m in a taxi, then I’ll use that time to make phone calls or respond to emails that I haven’t had the chance to read through yet.

Nathan Spataro, co-founder of Flux

My number one productivity secret is a commitment to getting up early each day and cultivating a killer morning routine. It helps set me up for a highly productive and purpose driven day. My routine gets me out of bed at 5am and off to the gym, followed by meditation, reflection on my goals and planning for the day ahead. I’m done by 7:30. Productive habits, like all habits, piggyback off of one another.

Coleman

Alastair Coleman, founder and digital strategist of Nothing But Web

I try and stay in control of my day by grouping certain tasks together. If it’s a matter of repeating the same exercise, such as calling any leads or responding to email enquiries, then I try and do all of them in one sitting. This helps me to stay in the zone and retain my focus.

I also use quite a few productivity apps. My favourite one is Evernote, which lets me create to-do lists according to deadline and category, such as today, next week, or client work.

David Hickey, director of Meltwater Australia & New Zealand

Make sure you minimise unnecessary internal meetings. Too many of these stop people from getting on with their day. They’re distracting and the inevitable reshuffling of dates and times just puts off projects and tasks. You can be a sociable team, and still extremely productive! There is a lot of great new technology out there that can really improve team communication.

If you do have a planned meeting, the team shouldn’t leave the room until clear actions have been noted and circulated. If it doesn’t happen right then, it won’t happen at all, and in a busy workplace, it can be as though the meeting never took place.

Another tip that really works for me is to be open about the best way to be contacted with urgent tasks. When you get hundreds of emails a day, it’s good to let people know that if something needs to be discussed now, it’s best to text or call, then send a follow up email once you’ve spoken. It enables better communication and means you can be more responsive, without being distracted.

Prioritisation is key. Ask yourself what is going to move the needle today and what really requires your energy and focus, particularly over someone else’s. Being able to prioritise activity for the day, week or month, helps you to delegate smartly, so people can understand why they need to do something, not just what to do. Ultimately, this helps the whole team and office to run more productively and drive better results for your stakeholders.

Ben Handler, co-founder and CEO of Cohen Handler

Evernote is my productivity secret. I like to map up my whole day using the Evernote app — it’s extremely handy when I can access everything from the same place. What’s great about it is that I can also take camera shots of files like client quotes, which I can upload onto Evernote, and ensure that I have a copy on me at all times, even when I’m out of the office. Aside from Evernote, my standing desk at work also helps me boost my productivity — it gets my blood flowing and encourages me to stretch or take a walk away from the desk every now and then. This ensures that I’m more focused when I get back to work.

I like to share these productivity tips with my staff, but everyone should understand that there is no set rule to maintaining productivity in the work place and outside of it. Do what works best for you.

Craig Davis, co-founder and CMO at Sendle

Years of getting it wrong have helped me develop a sustainable approach to productivity with five important ingredients.

1. Set clear intentions. It helps to have a focus for each part of the day and a specific outcome in mind. It makes it easier to keep the big picture in mind and avoid being swamped by busy-ness.

2. Get plenty of sleep. Your mind and body need recovery time and there’s no substitute for bed rest. Stealing sleep for your venture will only compromise your success. Much better to be bouncing out of bed in the morning ready to go.

3. Eat well. Running a business demands extra-ordinary mental acuity and energy. Being kind to your body with good food helps you stay focused and keep going.

4. Be mindful. In busy, stressful circumstances, the quality of our attention is the first thing to suffer. According to a recent Harvard study, we’re all off with the pixies 47% of the time. I set reminders three times a day to check-in with my breathing, revisit my intention and reset.

5. Quit multitasking. The biggest enemy of productivity is the myth of multitasking. When you switch from one thing to another in rapid succession, there’s a switching cost. Your IQ drops about the same amount as if you skip an entire night’s sleep.

Sreelesh Pillai, GM Australia and New Zealand of Freshdesk

I use the Pomodoro technique (25 minutes of high attention, singular-focused work spaced out by 5 minute breaks) to help me stay on top of my daily goals. I focus on stacking up the to-do list with items that drive the right long-term results. I like using Google Docs to outline objectives/milestones for the quarter and work backwards to define key projects for each month. The weekly and daily to-do lists spawn off from there. A bit of ‘theming’ helps keep the mind pumped- e.g. a ‘prospecting block’ on the calendar on all days of the month from 2pm to 3pm or a ‘customer success week’.

One of the most underrated productivity hacks is hiring the best of the best into your team. Looking objectively at your long-term goals, you can identify projects that you’d be better off having someone else take over. Learning to delegate will help you accomplish your goals more effectively and might just help you find a trusted lieutenant!

We get a lot of satisfaction crossing items off of our to-do lists as we progress through the day but here’s a secret (no more) – when the list piles up or when there’s deeper, uninterrupted thinking needed, there’s always working from home locked in a room, which I resort to sparingly.

Joel Katz

Joel Katz, APAC managing director of FileMaker

Working out of your inbox is a real productivity killer. I try to stay focused on my weekly goals by identifying the three or four major goals from a strategy standpoint on a Monday morning, and writing them on a list that sits on my desk for the week. On a Friday, I cross the things off that I achieved and the ones that I can’t cross off blatantly stare at me in the face. The reason that I couldn’t complete them is usually due to working out of my inbox.

I try to minimise meetings and never schedule hour long meetings. Scheduling an hour meeting for six people can be a huge amount of time wasted — where possible, I try to keep meetings short and concise. I also try to delegate where I can. I initially found delegating difficult, but once I learned to do it and focus on my weekly list of strategy goals, it became a lot easier and I could get a lot more got done. It all comes down to surrounding yourself with a great team who you trust.

I also try to get a good night’s sleep so that I can get into the office early, an hour before the rest of the team to map out my day and take care of urgent things during a quiet time. Lastly, I’m a big believer in trying to take a few days off every quarter to recharge.

Sebastian Pedavoli, co-founder and creative director at Proxima

One of the most effective methods I find to boost productivity is blocking off times in my day to complete specific tasks. During these times I make sure all distractions like email and messages are closed, allowing me to really hone in on a task.

In these situations, it helps to know what times of the day you complete your best work before using that knowledge to be more efficient. For me, designing comes easily to me during afternoons, which is why I never schedule meetings at this time. Mornings are reserved for decision making and important tasks, when I’m more alert.

I also try to box out times in the day when meeting with potential clients, or even members of my team internally. People you work with will quickly learn that if they need your time, then they’ll block an hour or 90 minutes in your calendar.

In addition to boxing out time to chat with team members, I find that I feel more productive if I know they are too. Each day, everyone in the Proxima team stands up for 90 seconds and explains their priorities for the week. This is a great way to see what everyone’s working on and whether they need my support.

I also find things like sleep, exercise and meditation as vital for ensuring you have a clear head for work. I exercise everyday (even if it’s only for 30 minutes) and I cycle a couple of hundred kilometres every week. Meditation or heavy exercise isn’t for everyone though, and we all respond to different ways of keeping calm and healthy so it’s important you find what works for you and stick to it.

Mitchell Taylor. Supplied.

Mitchell Taylor, co-founder of Koala Mattress

“Working at a startup on something you absolutely love has the potential to become a 24/7 gig without even realising it. Not only is this very unhealthy for your body, it also has adverse effects on your mental health and personal life.

Early in the morning, before I get into work, I meditate to declutter and clear my mind. Starting the day relaxed and fresh has allowed me to ease into work each morning with a clearer goal. Meditating has also allowed me take challenges in my stride with much more ease.

Once I arrive in the office, I plan out my major tasks for the day in blocks in order of urgency. This helps me work so much better because I know exactly what I need to have done and by when. I make sure to update the rest of the team or external suppliers and contractors if for whatever reason there’s going to be a delay from my end in delivering what I’m working on. It’s just such a transparent and efficient way of working!

While the Koala office has an open plan, which helps immensely with collaboration, it can get easily distracting – especially trying to resist our playful office dog! Luckily, there’s a little nook in the office that’s out of sight from the main office area. When I need a quiet place to work without interruptions, I go straight there.”

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