Get it Done: Meeting Pro Mary Pat Heftman on Productivity

5 meeting pros share their strategies for managing distractions, prioritizing, and getting (almost) everything done.

Mary Pat Heftman calls her relationship with productivity a “work in progress,” but her achievements tell a different story. As the executive vice president, convention and strategic alliances, for the National Restaurant Association she’s responsible for the annual NRA Show in Chicago (with its 70,000 attendees!) and the New England Food Show, and on top of that, Heftman stepped up to chair the board of directors for the Professional Convention Management Association in 2017. What keeps her productive after more than 25 years on the job, she says, are the ongoing challenges of drawing an audience. “You can’t stay static,” she says. “You’ve got to be compelling and exciting and inspirational to make them want to get on a plane and come to your event. It’s really invigorating when you have that challenge all the time, and consequently the days are not the same.”

Guard Your Time

“Remember that other people’s priorities are not your priorities. Ask yourself a quick question when somebody wants something: Does it align with your daily priority, your weekly priority, your business priority? Fit it in where appropriate.” 

DYI Solution

“My meeting planning team uses a lot of different [productivity tools], but while I’ve tried apps, it just always comes back to the old-fashioned write it down, keep a list. I’m a visual person. I like being able to check something off, to cross it out.” 

To that end, Heftman designed her own preprinted, lined organizer on bright-colored, five-by-seven–inch card stock. Each card has a large section called “To Do/FUP” for things she needs to follow-up, as well as sections for each of her direct reports and her boss. “It’s low-tech; it’s easy to keep with you. I just keep updating them, and every two days or so I start a new one.  I’ll prioritize it on the train ride home as I’m cleaning up emails, so I don’t have to start the next morning getting organized. It’s ready to go. You just have to sit down and be disciplined to do it. I don’t have any real secret sauce, except for the power of the to-do list.” 

Productivity Pardon

“I really work hard not to beat myself up when I’m not as productive as I want to be. It’s a little bit like dieting. I’m going to get up tomorrow and try it again. I’m committed. I’m going to try to do better tomorrow. And when tomorrow is better and I feel better about what I accomplished, it’s a little bit of a reward, an inspiration to keep at it.”

Morning Mind

“I’m an early starter. I’m in at 7 a.m., and that first 60 to 90 minutes is when I can focus on the hard stuff. I try to make progress in at least two things, to keep them moving. It’s so easy to be distracted by email or folks popping their heads in, but I really try to protect that first 60 to 90 minutes for things that need good mind share.

“When I’m here by myself in the morning, I like background music. If it’s too quiet, it’s hard for me to settle in, but just low-level background music helps me concentrate on the work at hand. I know there’s science behind it, and whatever it is, it is right.”


Click here to read more productivity profiles from meeting executives at IMEX Group, Crump, SmithBucklin, and MGM Resorts International.


In-box Strategy

“When I come out of meetings and email is piled up, I use the search function to find emails just from people I’m working closely with. If you start scrolling one by one, you’ll get sucked into something that is unproductive. It can be a fight to stay disciplined, to just look for what you need. Later in the day, maybe on the train ride home, I’ll clear all the emails that are FYIs, newsletters, or updates.”

The Myth of Multitasking

“I have to admit that the research seems to be right: Multitasking isn’t productive. If we were having this conversation 18 months ago, I’d have probably said, ‘I can do it, I don’t know why others can’t.’  But sometime over the last year or so, I’ve come to the conclusion that, really, I can’t.”  

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