Seven ways to stay focused and productive


September 9, 2014

People have many different ways of working. Some thrive in organized chaos, others like clear space and clean lines. Some are old school pen and paper types, others always have the latest productivity app. But however individuals choose to work, having a system in the first place is the key to productivity. To find out more, we asked seven Hightail employees about the systems, structures and idiosyncrasies that help them get their jobs done.

As Executive Assistant to both Hightail’s CEO and VP of Communications, Amanda Roche has to prepare for urgent requests, meeting changes and complex calendar planning every day. To stay organized, she tends to work exclusively in Microsoft Outlook.

“I’m an Outlook power user”, she smiles, “I use all the folders and flagging features to ensure information is categorized and readily accessible. Keeping everything organized allows me to schedule more efficiently and to make changes quickly, if need be.” Amanda also makes sure she gets away from her desk frequently for small breaks. “Even just walking down the hall to go the printer or grab a bottle of water from the kitchen helps me stay focused throughout the day.”

Aaron Martin is Hightail’s Creative Director, a role that involves a significant amount of design and creative work as well as managing a team of other designers. It requires careful time management so Aaron splits his day up into chunks.

“The first part of my day is open,” he explains. “Meetings, design reviews, whatever, I’m available. But the second half is my time. That’s when I’m strictly designing and creating.” Aaron stays on top of who’s working on what using Trello, an online app with a more visual approach to project management service. But he isn’t a stranger to a pen and notepad and finds hand writing notes is more efficient.

Captain-Crunch-Company-LogoFor Aaron, staying productive also involves not working. “For every 90 minutes of work I complete, I take a 20 minute break,” he adds, “and maybe a bowl of Captain Crunch cereal.”

It’s all too easy for Matte Scheinker’s day to be a blur of back-to-back meetings. That’s why Hightail’s Chief Product Offer schedules time on his calendar to simply sit in front of his computer and get things done.

“Whether in my personal life or at work, I believe the best way to be productive is to conquer one small task at a time,” he says. “It helps relieve stress because you’re always making some progress. Blocking a meeting-free hour in my day ensures I have the opportunity to get to these tasks. I also create hour-long playlists that I listen to while I’m working, which keeps me focused.” Matte is one of those old school pen and paper types, preferring to jot ideas down quickly and make changes on the fly.

Accounting Manager, Pallavi Gandhi oversees all things financial for Hightail’s customers and employees. She has many small daily tasks that she needs to accomplish and uses Outlook to stay organized.

“I send meeting invites to myself as reminders to do certain tasks,” she says. “When I’m getting through my lists I like to listen to Bollywood music to keep me going. Taking breaks from my computer screen helps me retain focus, so I’ll go for short walks or chat with people throughout the day.” Pallavi is also a committed hard copy adherent and keep folders with the current year’s invoices and bank statements on her desk for quick and easy access should an auditor coming calling.

Surprisingly for a Sales Account Associate, Nick Zambruno is not a fan of Salesforce. “I don’t like that anyone can add tasks or change a customer’s file,” he explains, “I prefer to have total control over my stuff.” Nick’s role involves frequent meetings with customers and prospects so his day revolves around his Outlook calendar. Mornings are critical for Nick as he covers the US east cost.

“First thing each morning,” he says. “I check my schedule to see who I’m meeting with that day and then I’ll search my email for previous conversations with each prospect so I’m completely prepared for these meetings. Finally I review all my post-it notes and to-do lists from the day before to see what calls I need to make in between meetings.”

With all the post-its notes and white board to-dos, others in the sales team like to joke about how disorganized he is, but Nick thinks it’s more organized chaos. “My desk is a mess, but I know where everything is.”

Hightail’s copywriter Colm Larkin works remotely from his home in the UK, which brings its own productivity challenges. “When you’re not leaving your house to go to an office every day, you have to be very disciplined,” he says.

To keep him focused, Colm relies on Microsoft Excel. “I have a spreadsheet with the day split up into 30-minute chunks,” he explains. “Every morning I plan what I will work on and when and this controls my day.”

Being eight time zones away from the rest of his team in California has its advantages. “Though I wake up to a full inbox, I don’t need to respond immediately as my California colleagues are no longer online. This means I can get stuck into my biggest task of the day without getting distracted by email requests and messages.”

pomoYou say “toe-may-toe,” Alissa Dos Santos says “pomodoro.” The Hightail Product Marketing Manager uses the Pomodoro Technique to increase her productivity.

“Pomodoro basically involves devoting 25 minutes to focus on a task with zero distractions. Then you take a five minute break,” she explains. “To help with this, I block off time on my calendar so people can’t schedule meetings with me.”

Alissa is always interested in finding other ways to increase her productivity and has recently started meditating every morning before work using an app called Headspace. “I like to experiment,” she says. “So far, meditation has been a huge help in keeping me focused during the day.

These are just a few ways that Hightailers organize their day and stay productive. We’d love to hear how you get things done so feel free to tell us your story in the comments below.


  1. Serenity Maxwell

    4 years ago

    Thank You, Alissa! I’ve always wanted to try meditating, but thought it was impossible. I just completed my first Take 10 session on Headspace and I feel amazing. I was in a fog this morning and suddenly my mind feels sharp and alert, while my body feels relaxed. I’m looking forward to taking 10 minutes every morning from this day forward.

    Another suggestion for productivity is to shut off email alerts. It’s easy to get distracted when you see a new email alert pop up. I’ve had entire days go by where I feel as though I’ve accomplished nothing, simply because I spent all my time answering emails instead of focusing on tasks.

  2. David

    4 years ago

    Thank you for sharing!!

    To assist with the “busy”ness and make sure I get down to “Busi”ness my goal is to make sure I finish the day on paper before it ever actually begins.

    1st. I have a default calendar (gmail calendar) with my repeating blocks of tasks booked in ie: meetings, reviewing marketing materials, reviewing financials, admin, etc. All color coded by category. A typical Wednesday would have a meeting block in the morning followed by a 2 hour Marketing Spot with an hour Meeting in the afternoon.

    2nd. Before finishing my work day I open up Wunderlist and create a To-Do list for the next day based on my categories booked and fill in free time with any little extras that cannot be slotted into a preset category time block ie: who the meetings are with and exactly what material I will be reviewing during the time booked for marketing. Everything is online and available from any mobile device, anywhere in the world I may happen to be. – Thats how it works for me.

  3. Steve

    4 years ago

    Watch out for the Captain Crunch. Excess processed food with wildly excessive sugar will cut your productivity with illness, inflammation, brain fog, and early decline.

  4. Felton Frantz

    4 years ago

    As another Outlook power user, I ramp up my outlook productivity with a combination of the Stannds Quick File add in, a custom Quick Steps menu and multiple search folders tailored to my needs.

  5. Buck Mickelsen

    4 years ago

    Stay focused. Don’t click on that button! It will take you to a distraction.

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