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Productivity Diaries: How Channel 4’s First Female CEO Handles Her Day

Alex Mahon on meeting-free Fridays, morning pints (of water) and maximizing her time

By Emma-Louise Boynton

7 May 2021

lex Mahon’s career in media has seen her head up leading production companies, including Talkback Thames as COO and Shine Group as CEO, and pivot into technology as CEO of Foundry, a global developer of cutting-edge visual effects.

In 2017, she was appointed Channel 4’s first female CEO, with a remit to deliver innovative content that challenges the status quo.

I’m usually woken up by…

… one of my four children at around 7am. I’ll calm them down from whatever problem they’ve decided they have that morning. Then I check the clips: we have press clippings that come through on email around 3am with all the key stories of what’s in the press that day. So if something is going to kick off, it’s usually in there.

I don’t keep any digital devices in my bedroom

That way, I have to get up and out of bed to get them. I’ve done that for about 10 years, ever since I read a book called Hamlet’s BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age, which is about the over-dominance of electronic gadgets, what they’re doing to us, and why we should control how we use them. I realised that even if I wasn’t checking my phone all the time, just having it in my room was impacting on how I slept.

‘Watching TV was my main hobby as a kid and it’s my main hobby now.’

I only read a physical paper... the weekend. In the morning, I’ll check The Times online and MailOnline and then later The Financial Times. I’ll see from the clips anything that’s relevant, then at some point in the day I'll check Le Monde, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal online. I check throughout the day for any big stories. And I keep across Broadcast, Variety and Deadline.

After I’ve had a shower...

...I’ll drink the first of three Nespressos I have each day before lunch. Well, that’s after two pints of water as all well-hydrated people must drink. I don’t really have breakfast; never have, I’m just not a breakfast person.

I couldn’t live without... executive assistant. She plans my day and manages my online diary, which is generally really full as I’m always trying to squeeze too much in. She ensures everything is well-structured and tries to stop me from putting in too many meetings. I don’t use an analog diary, I’m fully digital. Everything is in Microsoft.

I rarely have...

...a crap day. My job is a joy. It’s really exciting; I work with and get to meet interesting people, and to continually discuss interesting ideas. Every day is totally different, it could begin with an interview, a speech, a catch-up with the team. There is no regularity, except to get the kids ready for school and out the front door.

I initiated meeting-free Fridays... Channel 4. So now I spend that time dealing with my kids, watching Steph’s Packed Lunch on Channel 4, getting some exercise and fresh air, returning calls… thinking. A lot, essentially. I try to do exercise daily if I can, whether it is a workout with a trainer, some weights or a bike ride.

I plan my day according to...

...a productivity technique. Just before I go to bed I write down three to five things I want to get done the following day and then, whatever happens the next day, at least I get those tasks completed. Sometimes it’s writing a speech, or having a complicated phone call. I don’t always get this list of things done but I feel I haven’t achieved much if I don’t.

Alex Mahon's reading list

Pre-pandemic, I’d go straight from work to... event. I would usually be out at least three nights a week at screenings, talent dinners, and board events. So I’ve never had a specific cut-off time to my working day. Generally, I’ll try to finish all my meetings by 6pm but then I’ll always have my phone with me and be available after that as, at any point, there might be something that kicks off that I need to respond to – a problem with a show that’s about to go out, for example.

Watching TV was my main hobby... a kid and it’s my main hobby now. I watch Channel 4, of course, dramas I want to catch up on, other broadcasters, all kinds of programmes. I’m currently watching a show from the Netherlands called The Blood Pact.

I always have multiple...

...books on the go. Right now, I’m reading No Rules Rules about Netflix, David Baddiel’s Jews Don’t Count, and I’ve just finished Adele Parks’ novel, Just My Luck. I read a mixture of fiction and non-fiction. It’s a different form of escapism than TV.

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The Short Stack

As long as you list three to five things you need to do in your day, you don’t need rituals or routines to stay productive.

By Emma-Louise Boynton

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