How To Be More Productive At Work - Moira Dunne from BeProductive-ie

How To Be More Productive At Work - Moira Dunne from BeProductive-ie

November 26 2019

Following her excellent article in our Employee Retention Guide, productivity expert Moira Dunne from joined Laura & Paul to share her ever-useful advice on how to be more productive at work.

Read on or listen to the discussion below.

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Podcast Interview

Ok, let's get into the discussion . . .

About Moira

Moira Dunne: Delighted to join you. My business is My focus is on helping individuals and organizations be productive with their time. It came about in recognition of the fast-paced world we all work in and how people are coming in, increasingly stressed with managing their time. So about three years ago I headed up the training consultancy to look at, I suppose, what were the factors contributing to that stress that you were feeling. And to come up with some solutions and practical tips to help people take more control of their time and boost their productivity.

Moira Dunne: So that's the business, and my background itself is that I've been training and consulting for about 20 years at this stage. Of my original career, I started out as a biochemistry graduate from Trinity and then worked in the pharmaceutical industry for 10 years in the UK and the US. And towards the end of that, when I was leaving, I'd been working on a large robotics project and I had to train a lots of people to learn how to use the technology. And I sort of had a light bulb moment where I realized I simply loved training and passing on skills and knowledge to others. At that point, I was relocating back to Ireland, so I decided to change career path, and moved into training and development and then ultimately consultancy down the line.

Paul: Okay. So the kind of training and then consultancy, was that a little bit accidental then?

Moira Dunne: Well, no, I suppose I experienced training and decided I loved it. So then I deliberately planned then to make a change in my career and got some training skills myself and certifications and then worked in technical training initially. And then one of the organizations I worked in Prince First, about 20 years ago, I was part of the HR department and got invited onto more self-skills training type programs. And I've just loved that whole area ever since.

Moira Dunne: So for the last 20 years I've been doing training and project management around business skills and just helping people be better in their role. And giving people the skills to fill any gaps that they might have as they go about off on their own. So people have their technical skills, but then the business skills sometimes aren't as obvious that that's what people need. So that's what I love teaching people.

Paul: Yes. And, I think one of the things that we see is those business skills are sometimes harder to identify. You know, you're technical, you're technical, and you can, if you're a Java developer, you can develop something. But it's that software that's a little bit more intangible. It's hard to identify?

Moira Dunne: [inaudible 00:03:07] there are, I suppose, the standard training courses are in teamwork and communications, various things. But the productivity came around and a lot of people say to me, actually, I never realized you could get training on how to be more productive. And I had worked, of course, a lot of projects around, you know, the examining roles and looking at priorities and capacity planning and analysis and efficiencies and process improvements. So that made me think, well yes, I'll put something new together that really focuses on having them be able to look at their role, what their responsibilities are, what the most important things are they should be doing; and then seeing how they can manage and organize their time. And protect it, so they can use it for the things that they feel most pressure to deliver.


Paul: Okay. In terms of productivity, I think everyone has a general idea of what it is, but what exactly is productivity and how can that be measured?

Moira Dunne: Yes, you can look at it lots of different ways. The word itself, I suppose originates from producing and from a manufacturing environment where you've got maybe all the components of a car. You've got a number of people who work on manufacturing that car and then the car is outsourced at the end of the day, so it's very much about producing products.

Moira Dunne: If we look at it, in any role within any organization, it's really about looking at the time that you have with your resources and what are the things they need to produce. So that could be reports, it could be a list of statistics, it could be a PowerPoint presentation, it could be making headway on a project. So it's for each person in their role to look at what are their key responsibilities and what are the things that they need to be producing on a weekly basis or maybe it's a monthly basis.

Paul: Sure.

Moira Dunne: So it's the impact, really, of your efforts. So I often, a lot of the courses that I run, I call them, How To Turned Busy Into Productive. So nearly everyone I know nowadays is busy and often have a day where you're you feel, I've been so busy, but I still feel like I got nothing done.

Moira Dunne: When you stop and think about that weapon behind that and that's what I really help people try and figure out. And often it's because people are busy maybe working on things that they're being pulled into or asked to do, but they weren't on their list of priorities. So you get to the end of the day and you think I had this great list, I had this great plan but I didn't get a minute to do anything off my plan. And that's where the frustration comes from.

Paul: Yes.

Moira Dunne: So, it's helping people be really careful about what they should prioritize so that when new things crop up, you're able to make the right decision and then use time for the right things.

Paul: Yes. I'm sure you mentioned it again, but you know things like email and being a slave to your inboxes is high up there.

Moira Dunne: I often say to people, "Your inbox is everybody else's priorities, not yours." 

Paul: Definitely. In terms of the article that you wrote for us, and thanks again for the employee retention guide, you spoke about the positive impact of productivity on overall corporate wellness. Can you talk us through this?

Moira Dunne: Yes. So there's a lot of research that shows that if people are happy in the workplace, they're productive. But I sort of flip that around and say,"As well as that, if people feel they can be productive. And if they have a productive day and if the organization enables them to be productive, then they're going to feel quite happy about their job and about our efforts and what they're achieving."


Moira Dunne: One of the exercises I often do at the start of a workshop is I split the group into two, and I get one group said to just talk about how it feels if they really don't feel productive. And then the other group do the opposite. And when you look at all the feelings behind it, you can see how, when you have a productive day, it pretty much runs into the office and you feel really satisfied.

Moira Dunne: And it's also really, A, it helps you switch off after work because you're not going away with that worry that you haven't done the important things, and therefore you come back in refreshed the next day and you're quite motivated to have another really productive day.

Paul: Yes.

Moira Dunne: It really does build, so to me, for organizations to look at, well, are we giving people the right environment to be productive? Are we supporting them? Are we managing them? Have we got good manager relationships that enables people to be productive. I mean some of the things that... An individual might have great skills, but if they have a manager who keeps changing their minds and keeps landing new priorities or leaves things to the last minute. Or sometimes you might have structures in an organization where I might do a piece of work, but then I have to wait for three people to sign it off before I can get the thing out the door. You know?

Moira Dunne: So sometimes the processes don't enable productivity either. So you can sort of look at it on a number of levels. It's the individual's skills and the individual's ability to work smartly. But then also the organization needs to look at how its enabling people to be productive. So I often would start with a session with the senior team and talk to them back their role in enabling productivity for their teams.

Paul: Yes. I really wonder how many times people actually take the time to think about, what are the outputs that we require, and what does productivity mean for us, almost?

Moira Dunne: Yes. But it's always a very interesting exercise and it really sets everybody thinking if you do that. And it's not about analyzing everything to the last degree and turning people into robots at all. It's very much helping people to prioritize themselves, so they'll really care about what they should be focusing on. Because often people aren't, they might have a job description that has certain roles in it, but then they get asked to do a completely different set of work.

Paul: I don't like to make assumptions ever really, but if you're clear in terms of priorities and it gives people flexibility almost to manage their day and their time as long as they know what's required.

Moira Dunne: Absolutely. Yes, yes. So as long as the right outcome is achieved, then you can give people that flexibility. And sort of empowering them really to make their own choices about how they use their time, as long as they're delivering what you need them to deliver.

Paul: In terms of the work that you do with companies and your research, and so forth, in this, what would you say are the key blocks that you would most commonly see in organizations to achieving productivity?

Moira Dunne: I suppose the two things that probably... I mean three things, actually. One is the impact of the open-plan offices. Most workspaces now are open plan and that's fantastic for communication and teamwork, and it means people can maybe resolve issues as they crop up rather than having to arrange meetings or whatever. So, that's all fantastic.

Moira Dunne: But, obviously, with that then it brings all the distractions, the noise, so that people sometimes feel they have no space or time to think. There's a lot of tasks that we can do where we don't need to get engrossed that much, but then there are a lot of pieces of work that require a level of focus and sometimes you need quiet for that. I mean a lot of organizations recognize that and they create pods or quiet areas for people to go to.

Moira Dunne: But I find that sometimes people are reluctant to go to those spaces. Even though they're there, they feel a bit weird doing that, so I often [inaudible 00:11:44] do. Just at certain times, and associated with receiving a certain piece of work and then work with your teammates and say, "On Thursday morning, I'm going to for an hour here. And then if you want to do it at a different time, I'll cover for you." So that people work together on this.

Moira Dunne: That's one of the key things is the distractions of the open-plan office. The next thing, as we've mentioned already, is email and the volume of email. And it's not so much the email, but it's the expectations that people feel to respond instantly. We have instant communication and the research shows that emails are opened to within six seconds of them arriving, in general, in the workplace, which is quite terrifying when you think about it.

Moira Dunne: It means that people that are just constantly on their email, and I think people are because well, A, it's addictive; but, B, they feel the pressure if they're not. Because there's an expectation that they will respond as soon as it arrives. But I often work with senior teams and say, "What response time do you want your people to have?" You know? And, usually this is when they're in a training session with me and I'm saying, "You've all been here for two hours and nobody's doing emails." So the organization didn't fall over.

Moira Dunne: It's about thinking about... It's almost giving people permission to, say, even switch out of the email for 25 minutes in every half an hour and check it every 5 minutes, every half an hour. You're still staying on top of things, but you're giving yourself 25 minutes of uninterrupted time.

Moira Dunne: So it's looking at that. And then I suppose the third thing, in some organizations, it's worse than others, is the meeting time. That can really eat into people's time there.

Paul: Yes. I think we've all sat through what people consider pointless meetings. And one of the things we try to do, and we're not perfect by any means, one of the things we always try to do is to have a clear outcome for a meeting. So that at least you're aiming towards something, rather than a chat about. It's let's get something done.

Moira Dunne: Oh, absolutely. Yes. There's a great tool on the Harvard business website, Harvard Business Review, a meeting cost calculator. You go in and you put in the number of people in the meeting, the length and the duration of the meeting, and the average salary of everybody there, and it gives you the cost of the meeting. So it's amazing. But it's really useful if you're trying to put something in monetary terms, you know?

Paul: Yes. I think it's up there with, I never realized that the average opening time for an email was six seconds. It makes sense when you think about it, but it's scary when you say it out loud.

Moira Dunne: It's crazy, isn't it? Because it's okay if it's your real high priority emails from your top client or something that's very urgent. But half of them could be somebody in reception saying choppers are outside the building, or I suppose that is a bit urgent, or it could be where to go for the Christmas party. So the amount of emails that come in that aren't high priority, and that's one of the things I do with people in relation to email management, is the mechanism for categorizing them. So you might have very instant response time to certain ones and the others you leave them until it suits you to do them, so it's in control again.

Paul: When I've gone down the rabbit hole that is email, I have to wonder how much CCing people, almost needlessly, sometimes clogs inboxes. And the other thing that's really jumping to mind is the experience of anyone coming back, even if it's after a couple of days off, to an inbox that's overloaded. But, anytime I've done it, I've always walked away thinking, God, half of that was totally unnecessary. I didn't even need to see it.

Moira Dunne: Yes. Yes, and the tip is to work backwards when you come back from being out of the office. Because if you start with the most recent emails, you'll find that some of the issues that may be cropped up a week or two ago have resolved themselves by the time you get to it, so work backwards.

Paul: Leading on from that, just regarding the changing nature of work and how that impacts productivity. I suppose one thing, kind of the next evolution, as I see it anyway, of email will be the likes of kind of Slack and other instant messaging tools. How would those tools and the other changing nature of work, how is all of that impacting our productivity?

Moira Dunne: In some, it's got benefits and downsides, as well, because particularly in something like instant messaging, for a lot of people in organizations that's actually doubled the impact of emails. Do you know what I mean? Because they now have this second messaging system and the expectation with something like instant messaging as it suggests is that you definitely do keep it on all the time and respond. It actually means people have to manage a couple of different programs.

Moira Dunne: And so I think with things like Slack and Messaging and maybe even in some organizations there are WhatsApp groups, et cetera, for business. And they've crept in without any rules or boundaries around them. So it's harder for people to manage it and to keep on top of it all, whereas something like Slack, if you sit down and say, "Okay, we're going to use this." a lot of organizations maybe would want to use it for their internal communication and then try and just keep email for external communication and clients.

Moira Dunne: So that's great if it's done in a planned way because then you give everybody the criteria around how to respond to one, how to respond to the other. And I think if it's well managed it can be fantastic. And then the idea of Slack, or Trello is another one that works really well for teams working on the same project. It means that only the people who need to be notified are notified and then you don't even need to be sending messages because it's very much a [inaudible 00:18:02] type board so you can see the status of things without having to ask somebody.

Moira Dunne: Today, the challenge is that's what organizations want to move towards because they streamline things and they reduce the amount of noise I think around people's day when it comes to messaging. So I think like with anything like that it's to implement it, but do it in a planned strategic way. So you, you maximize the benefits and you mitigate against any of the downsides.

Paul: Sure. You covered an awful lot there. What would your top productivity tips be for people who are interested in increasing productivity overall in the workplace?

Moira Dunne: To me it's around, for any of the tips, the first step is to actually make a bit of a mindset shift about how we view our time. So any of the tools or tips or the apps, they won't really help you make changes in a long-term way unless you sort of decide in your head yourself that you... it's insulting that we have a limited amount of time. Time is our most valuable asset because it's the one thing we can't get more of. We're all limited in the amount of time in the day, so it's really valuing and protecting your time. And making sure that you don't give it away to on activities that aren't important or high value. And that incudes allowing ourselves to be distracted by things that we often enjoy doing, you know?

Moira Dunne: So we have to sort of challenge ourselves, as well, and push ourselves to not spend too much time on things that aren't high value. And it's sort of getting the most out of our time in the day so we can get out the door on time and do all the other things that we want to do in our life. So it's sort of a holistic view, it's not just about getting loads of work done. It's about finding time for all the important things that we're all trying to juggle.

Paul: Sure.

Moira Dunne: So that you can get out of work, so you can go the gym, or go and do whatever hobby, or see your family. So the hours that you're in work, you're as efficient as you can be. You're getting the most out of your time. So I suppose it's that initial mindset, actually my time is really valuable so I'm going to be careful what I use it on.

Paul: Great advice. And if anyone wants to find out a little bit more about your business and what you do, what's the best way for them to contact you?

Moira Dunne: Yes, so lots of ways really. My website is, so that's easy enough to find. And I do a lot of blogging on a lot of the topics that we've discussed here, smart email management, meetings control, how to stay focused from some distractions, working from home. A lot of the topics, so a lot of blogs there if people are interested in reading a little bit more and getting some of the background. And then the resource page, as well, there's a lot of productivity templates and tools that people could download. Then I'd be very active on Twitter and I'm on Instagram and Facebook, as well, and LinkedIn.

Moira Dunne: Basically the Be website. You'll also find me all over social media. Particularly Twitter, I suppose I use the most because I put a tip up most mornings. A little tip to give people a productivity boost on their way into work, keep them focused. If you're getting distracted by your phone, at least go and do something productive and look at my Twitter handle.

Paul: Yes, exactly. And I know you mentioned, of course, I did have a good look through the resources and the blogs and the websites, some really, really good stuff there.

Moira Dunne: Oh, thanks.

Paul: Yes. No, I'd really encourage everyone to have a look. We'll make sure we have a couple of links at the end of the interview. So thanks a million again for your time and for your contribution to the retention guides and hope people take loads away from this.

Moira Dunne: Yes, great. Thanks a million. I hope people find it useful and sure to get in touch any way if anybody has any particular questions, I'd be delighted to interact with people.

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