‘Work has changed, there’s no going back’

Podcast Ep 149: Productivity expert Moira Dunne talks to the ThinkBusiness Podcast about the new world of work and the power of focus.

Long-time ThinkBusiness contributor Moira Dunne regularly provides tips in her columns about how to be effective at work, how to achieve your goals and for managers she often shares tips on managing remote or hybrid teams.

The founder and director of Beproductive.ie found that her advice took on a new impetus when lockdowns across the world sent people home in March 2020 and now, almost three years later, it is fair to say that the 5-day week of presenteeism still isn’t universally restored.

In reality individuals and companies are still grappling with hybrid working and there is no one size fits all solution.

Speaking on the ThinkBusiness podcast Dunne said she believes we are in a fascinating time.

“The world of work has fundamentally changed, and it’s never ever going to go back to what it was. It may change going into the future, but we’re never going back to where everybody in the company was in the office five days a week.

“For me personally it has also been a really busy time because the focus on productivity has never been higher. People have really tuned into their time, how much of it they have, how they use it, what they get done, and both employers and employees have really tuned into that. And now with hybrid working people are effectively trying to manage two different environments. You have that quiet time at home which is good for solo working time, but then I the office you’re going to be surrounded by people and you’re back to the noise. But then there’s that potential for collaboration, group work, creativity and innovation. So people have to look strategically at their days and plan to do different kinds of work on different days.”

In one sense many of the ways of working that Dunne would have been a proponent of prior to the pandemic are now finding favour.

“A lot of the stuff I would have been preaching for years prior to the pandemic had people looking at me and going, ‘what is she talking about?’ Everyone is kind of tuned into it now.”

But rather than feeling vindicated, for Dunne the work has taken on a real urgency. The crucial aspect is wellbeing. During the pandemic businesses saw productivity soar as people put in long hours but failed to switch off. Eventually they figured it out and learned how to balance work with life and exercise.

“Some people have homeworking sorted and they are hugely productive. Others find it difficult, especially if there are young kids at home, it’s hard to tune out and get focused.”

The power of focus


For Dunne, focus is the ultimate superpower and to find that focus means identifying the times in the day where workers are not fielding constant calls or sitting in meetings, but can settle down for an hour or two of high focus, quality work without distraction.

“Everybody is going to have a different way of working, different kinds of bio rhythms, different kinds of stakeholders.

“A lot of people can’t focus by the time they get to four o’clock because they didn’t take a break or have a proper lunch. Productivity is hugely driven by energy levels but we kind of ignore that sometimes. That’s why sometimes we focus best in the mornings because we’ve refreshed overnight and our energy levels then drop during the day. So by skipping lunch or not taking a break our focus tends to drop, not only because of the distractions of the day, but because our energy levels dropped.

“It’s important to not look at your day as one big block of time, but to see it almost as an athlete sees it. An athlete trains hard, performs, then rests and refuels. So it’s all about peaks and troughts, resting and refueling and to have that peak focus again.

“You may work an intense hour or two on a project, maybe you have a busy online meeting, but straight after that your focus and energy levels are going to be low so you need to plan.”

Dunne says it is important to plan strategically and not just tactically. “On a Friday afternoon aor a Monday morning, think of the two or three things you would like to get done in a given week and block time in the diary to get things done and try to create a good focus for that time. There’s no point blocking that time on a busy Wednesday morning when the clients will be calling, pick a time instead when you know it is going to be quiet and block a couple of hours in the week just to get that focus and accept that for the rest of the time you have to be interactive and responsive. It’s about being realistic about your time.”

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John Kennedy
Award-winning ThinkBusiness.ie editor John Kennedy is one of Ireland's most experienced business and technology journalists.