Building Personal Productivity

All we have is now, says Jane McCarroll. She outlines the personal things she has learnt to do to ensure that she is as productive as she can possibly be.


Time is precious. And we’re always looking at ways to be more productive in what we do with it.

The need to ensure and enhance productivity is a critical business issue. Research shows that New Zealand workers are putting in more time, but output per hour is well short of wealthier nations. We’re running faster and behind at the same time.

I think our phones have a lot to answer for. We multitask so much with our phones, that it may be killing our productivity at work. Managing our attention is difficult especially when there are so many objects or things we can focus our attention on.

Technology has exacerbated our ability to concentrate with our smartphones providing an endless supply of distractions with bite-sized, attention-grabbing information for our brains to consume.

Being distracted is the opposite of describing how to be productive.

One of the quickest ways to improve our ability to focus is the removal of distractions, which can be easier said than done when we are being pinged/texted/messaged at the rate of digital knots. All these distractions can stand in the way of focused work.

The number of texts, messages, alerts, pings our phone can produce in a day is incredible. I’ve read statistics that show some of us are receiving more than 3,000 messages a month – and if I work backwards from how long it can take us to refocus after a distraction (which is 25 minutes), times that by 3,000 messages –  well there just aren’t enough minutes in a month.

Here are five things I do every day to boost my productivity:

I get enough sleep (most of the time): Sleep has a direct link to cognitive functions, such as the ability to focus and perform. Getting a good night’s sleep helps us think clearly, remember more and make better decisions. A lack of sleep makes it harder to pay attention and be productive. I know that one of my stress signals is waking too early, and when this happens I recognise that there is too much on the bench and take actions to ensure I’m not taking on too much. Which can be no easy feat with full time work and being primary caregiver for my two children, but I’ve also learnt that ignoring the stress triggers is at my own peril.

I meditate and set my intentions each day: Making time for mindfulness has helped me be more productive and has improved the way I direct, engage and lead. Instead of checking my phone first thing, I aim to feed my mind with something creative. This can be an affirmation, a meditation or some exercise.

Setting the scene for more considered decisions helps reduce the anxiety-fueled ‘fight or flight’ response and helps me achieve more productive outcomes.

I manage the time that my phone is ‘on’: Our phone used to be something we used to make calls on. Now they seem to have more grunt than Apollo 11 and we use them for just about everything.

Airplane mode isn’t just for travel. I use it when I’m working on an important task or having a meeting. Airplane mode eliminates the possibility that notifications will disrupt my work or conversation.

I turn my phone off at night and leave it in the kitchen so I’m less inclined to be online as I’m going to bed and when I’m waking up.

I use technology responsibly: With the always-on nature of today’s technology-fueled world it’s tempting to do more and more. The thing is, there will always be more. We need to learn, adapt and manage ourselves in our tech-fueled world.

I really like a philosophy at Skills where there is a clear commitment to work-life balance with a no after-hours email rule. It’s incredibly refreshing to work within an organisation that, through its actions, shows a commitment to the whole person by respecting the time we have outside of work. It’s a flexible work environment too – which is a wonderful added bonus.

I track and measure output, not input: Knowing just how to work is not enough to be more productive. We need to know what to focus our energy on, what we’re trying to achieve and work backwards from that.

I’m a morning person and that’s my best time for deep thinking work. So when there’s thinking to be done, I do some exercise, and sit down to look out at the garden and think. It’s a really peaceful, productive time which is conducive to my best work.

For me productivity is the output of always looking at ways to do things in smarter ways. I operate in a cycle of continuous improvement and have a mantra that being better never stops.

Technology and AI promise us great things. But for it to be the most productive, we need diversity of thought at every level and inclusive leadership.

We will not thrive in the future of work if we’re not actively fostering the skills required to thrive in the first place and by increasing the match between the skills we possess and the new skills we need we’ll drive productivity.

We won’t truly leverage the potential of AI if we’re not inclusive, resilient and adaptable in our approach.

All we have is now.


Jane McCarroll is the Strategic Partnership & Sponsorship Lead for the Skills Group including IMNZ.

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