How do they do it?
I’m constantly wondering that when I meet someone who’s got a hefty, time-consuming job (and maybe a side hustle, too) who’s also active in the community and still manages to have some semblance of a life.
Always on a quest for the perfect planner (for me, the Erin Condren LifePlanner comes close) that will magically make me more productive – and always on the hunt for other people’s hacks I can adopt – I set out to learn from some of the masters.
I asked: What’s your No. 1 productivity hack? Somehow, these local big shots found time to answer. And not surprisingly, most of them have more than one trick.
Responses have been edited lightly for length.
Katy Kindred, co-owner of Kindred restaurant in Davidson
“I wake up between 5 and 6 a.m. depending on the day and spend a bit of time reading before I check email or any social media. Otherwise, I would go crazy. Then, I completely clean out my inbox every morning before my kids get up … I try to give myself a little grace if I can’t make this happen, but I have a pretty good record.
“I have pretty strict boundaries around when I check email. I find my quality of life is better and, although it seems counterintuitive, I am able to stay on top of my inbox better when I am not checking it all the time. Especially on days off, I have less email-fatigue that way.”
Kindred and her entire staff use Nozbe, an organization/productivity app. She calls it “a great way to keep the most pressing and relevant stuff top of mind and [a reminder] of all the little things that tend to get lost in the shuffle.”
Note: Kindred was the first person to respond to our request. Score one for her strict email rules.
Michael J. Smith, president and CEO of Charlotte Center City Partners
Smith is such an overachiever, he even titled his response. It’s a short essay called “Waking Up Curiosity, Innovation and Great Teams.”
Within his response, he included these hacks:
- Form great teams
- Wake up curious and hungry to serve
- Create a climate that’s fertile for innovation
- Create intentional time to be inspired. (Read, listen to music, theater, go to the theater, attend lectures, etc.)
“To feed my curiosity, I try to identify sources of inspiration every day,” he wrote. “Productivity is more than how I get 30 hours out of 24 hours a day. It’s the strength of our ideas and the quality of our relationships and partnerships. How do we inspire to a whole community to pull in one direction?
Smith takes inspiration from Twyla Tharp’s book, The Creative Habit. The famed choreographer makes the point that creativity and innovation aren’t sudden lightning strikes. They require discipline.
Marvin Price, director of business development for Charlotte Regional Partnership
Price calls his favorite hack “an old favorite.” It’s a decidedly low-tech to-do list.
“At the end of every work day, I review my list, checking off the things I completed and writing in those tasks I didn’t quite get to. Then, every morning before I check email, I go through the list. This way, as I go through the day, I can leverage those few minutes when meetings end early, or kill two birds with one stone when meeting with coworkers on other topics …
“Secondly, when I’m under the gun to meet a looming deadline or need some time to really focus on a particular project, I schedule meetings with myself. This way, I have a better shot at steering my day in the right direction.”
Matt Olin, Matt Olin Creative and co-leader/host of CreativeMornings/Charlotte
“I get some of my best writing done when I’m listening to binaural waves. Here is one three-hour track that works pretty well for me. I can literally feel my mind become more focused and energized while this plays in the background, and then the words start flowing. It’s like an all-in-one procrastination buster, writer’s block eradicator and creativity B12 shot.”
Ron Law, executive director of Theatre Charlotte
Law wasn’t even sure what a “productivity hack” was. Once he Googled it, he realized he has a few. His top one: Don’t multitask.
“I do one thing at a time before moving to something else … I don’t have to finish a task, but I stop one before moving to the other.”
Law has adopted a new hack recently. “While working, I ignore the news,” he said. “I have deleted all news-related notifications from my smartphone. This has made me much calmer, more productive and it has helped with my blood pressure.”
Carol Hardison, CEO of Crisis Assistance Ministry
“I know my strengths and my not-so-much strengths. (I don’t call them weaknesses). When I’m operating directly from my strengths, my productivity naturally soars. Conversely, when I’m attempting a task at which I’m not naturally talented, I often experience low productivity and stress.
“To help round out my strengths, I surround myself with people who are strong in complementary areas. One of the first tasks for every new employee at Crisis Assistance Ministry is to complete the Gallup StrengthsFinder Assessment. Their top five strengths are posted on their office door. This helps us get to know each other better, tailor our workstyles and communications and form smarter teams.”
Hardison also goes to bed each night with a calming thought. Rather than ruminate on anything she didn’t get done, she instead says to herself: “I did all I can do today, and that’s enough.”
Quentin Talley, founder/artistic director for On Q Productions
“My go-to productivity hack is simply listening to good music. Whether funk, R&B, ambient, alternative or soul … music helps me prioritize my to-do list for the day and put things in perspective. Also, while listening, I usually dance/move/yoga around to the groove to get some cardio going [and] to get my mind flowing.”
“Q,” a poet, actor, director, musician and producer whose job entails working nights – and often late nights – tries to avoid scheduling any calls before 11 a.m., which helps ensure he has time to himself before the daily onslaught.
Tracy Russ, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools chief communications officer
“I’ve tried various apps and notebooks, but the one time hack I have used consistently is simple – and simple works first thing in the morning. The last work task I complete every night is to send myself an email with the top three priorities for the next day. I tend to get excited about my work, and I know that the very first thing I do every morning before the gym is check my email. So, basically ‘Yesterday Tracy’ is making sure ‘Today Tracy’ doesn’t screw ‘Tomorrow Tracy’ up.”