“What are the ingredients of productivity?” Find out in this episode of Appfire Presents: The BEST Work Management Show by Appfire. Imagine if enhancing your team’s productivity came down to following a simple recipe? Turns out, that’s not far off! Michelle Bartonico joins Kerry O’Shea Gorgone to share the ingredients for productivity, from focus to decisiveness and everything in between, and explains how to cultivate the right environment for leaders to rise.

About the guest

Michelle Bartonico is a senior strategist and project manager at Trinity University. She is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP), completed the Google Project Management program, and the Search Engine Optimization specialization from UC Davis Continuing and Professional Education. Follow Michelle at for thoughts on project management, marketing, and higher education.

About the show

The BEST Work Management Show by Appfire features smart leaders sharing their secrets for optimizing business processes and increasing productivity. Get the goods on how they handle everything from setting up workflows to automating processes. Every episode is 10 minutes or less, packed with insights you can use right away to supercharge your team’s productivity.

For your convenience, here is the transcript of this episode:

What are the ingredients of productivity?

Kerry:  Today we’re going to answer the question what are the ingredients of productivity. To help us do that is Michelle Bartonico, senior strategist and project manager at Trinity University. 

She’s a certified project management professional (PMP), she completed the Google Project Management Program and the Search Engine Optimization specialization from UC Davis continuing and professional education, and she has a book out, Stakeholder Engagement Essentials You Always Wanted to Know. It’s available now at, so you’re going to want that. Right now, get the ingredients of productivity in the next 10 minutes of work management awesome.

Michelle, thanks so much for being here. Everybody wants to know, what are the ingredients of productivity?

Michelle:  In my experience, and I have worked in several industries, especially in the marketing agency world, where I’ve seen different clients and different leadership styles, the ingredients that I’ve seen have created the most productive teams are when you have discipline, focus, self-awareness, and decisiveness. I’ll break those down a little bit.

Certainly, discipline means more about where are you going, how are we moving forward together, how can we paint a vision of that North Star and cascade that down to the team so that they know which direction to be moving.

Kerry:  Not discipline like you did a bad job and now you’re in trouble, but discipline like self-discipline. 

Michelle:  That being said, the more focus and the more direction and vision you can provide, the more you can talk to teams about whether or not you’re veering off of that path and how to right that and how to get things back on track. So, it does provide an objective way to do some performance evaluation, although definitely not necessarily an ingredient for work management. 

On the focus side, it’s really about how you make sure that you are day to day focused when fires pop up, when people walk into your office, when people make their day your day. There’s a great book that I read a while back that talks about if you don’t take control of your day, someone else will. Having that type of focus really does demonstrate to the rest of the team. If you can get derailed, then they can certainly get derailed. That’s definitely one of the things that helps throughout your day.

Kerry:  You need to create a culture that encourages people to draw healthy boundaries in that instance, too. Right? If it’s the culture that anybody can bust in and demand stuff any time of day, then nobody is going to be focused the whole day. They’ll be focused for the first 10 minutes and then that’s it. 

Michelle:  Yes. There is a balance because if you’re a manager, you still want to have an open-door policy, you want to be able to have people come to you if they have a need. Their focus can become yours, but that’s just because your people should be your focus. That doesn’t mean that whenever you pop up with something you want to talk about you can text them at 9:00 or not have a courtesy to think about their day and their own time that they’re spending in the workplace. 

Everybody wants to be able to have those boundaries like you’re talking about. They come to work, they get whatever those things are accomplished, they feel accomplished, and then they can do whatever it is that they want to do with the rest of their time. It’s important to have these types of ingredients so that you can maximize people’s time, because we’re asking a lot of people as managers, we’re taking their time, and that’s really precious.

Kerry:  When you talk about focus, do you want to cultivate a team that can ideally choose what they ought to be focusing on today, or do you want to tell them what to focus on? I would think I would prefer a team that could kind of be the CEO of their own role in things and decide what to focus on day to day, but I could also see the benefit of being like we’re all-in on this thing this month, so everybody work on this. 

Michelle:  I’ve seen it work both ways, honestly. It does work both ways. 

If you are in a particular industry or you have a group of team members who maybe have low aptitude and high attitude, you may want to help them with what to focus on at first, what are those priorities, how do you get to the vision that we’re moving all toward. 

If you have a more senior level type of person, if you have people who can be more autonomous, so they have high aptitude, then you could probably just give them the vision for the quarter, the vision for the year, the vision for the month, and they can take it from there.

It really just depends on the level of comfort as well with your team and what they need from you to be able to prioritize. Sometimes even your most seasoned people still have something come up and they say, “I’m just drowning right now. I don’t have the additional capacity to think about which thing is more important. Can you help me?” and you can certainly do that as well.

I think in general what I would focus on is cultivating a team where both are options and both of those things are tailored to whoever needs whatever level of support.

Kerry:  Low aptitude, high attitude; what kind of attitude? 

Michelle:  There’s a matrix where you can evaluate, and I do have some of this in my book for picking project teams. You want to get people who have high aptitude for the job, high competencies, skills, etcetera, and then positive attitude. So, high attitude means positive attitude. 

If you have somebody who is high aptitude, low attitude, they have the skills, but do you really want them on the team? High attitude, low aptitude, maybe you can get them there, maybe you can teach them, maybe you can mature their skill set. Those are the types of people who you may have to help along the way at first to say these are the priorities, this is how you get to the vision. 

That’s just a matrix that I’ve used in the past to figure out where people are and how much work may need to go into getting them where they need to be.

Kerry:  What about self-awareness, how do you cultivate self-awareness among your team to the point where they’re not just reacting to things but actually doing a little bit of introspection and figuring out what they should work on and that kind of thing?

Michelle:  I’ve done this a few ways. The first way was when I was at agencies and we had billable hours. That’s always a wake up call when you know exactly how long something took you to do, because you’re on the clock and you have to literally clock in this is how many hours it took to do something. When you’re not in that environment, it becomes more difficult to estimate your own time. People are notorious for inaccurate estimates of their own time. That’s what I really mean by self-awareness, how long something will actually take you to do.

Sometimes people will overpromise and underdeliver, or overcommit to things because they think it probably won’t take that long, it’s fine, and it does take that long or more. Having that awareness to just reflect on what are the actual steps to do what is being asked of me and how long does that typically take me to do. 

If it does help you to have your own personal time tracker for a little while, just to get those types of tasks under your belt so you can generally estimate how long things take, that’s helpful. As a leader, I’ve never found it to be received very well to just impose billable hours or time tracking on people, unless it was a very finite experiment to do just that, to evaluate resource allocations and things like that. But I’ve never been successful in just imposing something like that on people, people feel like big brother is watching them.

As a leader, I think it’s important to just openly talk about how long things take because it also shows a level of empathy for the work that has to be done and it helps people understand what is actually going into getting something done. I think that makes people feel like their job is not just surface level. It takes multiple steps to do a design, you don’t just design something. I think that open communication as a leader to your staff will help them have that self-awareness of this actually does take those three extra steps that I wasn’t really thinking about when I committed to this.

Kerry:  To round things out, decisiveness, like I was saying you want people to be kind of the CEO of their role, so that involves a certain amount of decisiveness as opposed to lobbing all of the hard decisions to the supervisor and then doing just what they’re instructed.

Michelle:  Over time, the goal would be to have them be more autonomous, to be able to understand and be in control of their own domain. Again, knowing that you are going in the right direction, knowing that your team is of a culture where if you have questions, you can ask, you can help make hard choices if things come up, and where to focus. 

That self-awareness really does need to come, I think, first, before you can be really decisive. You need to know what direction you’re going. If you are in an autonomous space or culture, then having that self-awareness will help you commit to the right things in the right amount of time.

Kerry:  Michelle Bartonico’s book Stakeholder Engagement Essentials You Always Wanted to Know is now available at or anywhere fine books are sold, so go and check that out. 

You can find more episodes of The Best Work Management Show by Appfire at

Thanks. We’ll see you next time.

Last updated: 2023-06-05

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