Secret of SA’s most productive people: Julie Cleverdon –Director, Cape Town Science Centre

For the past 16 years, Julie Cleverdon has been a dynamic force shaping young minds (and older ones too) in science and technology. They come to see the relevance of science in their daily life and are eager to explore it further—becoming digital creators as opposed to only digital users. To facilitate her many tasks at the science centre, and as the global co-ordinator for Africa Code Week (the continent’s single largest coding initiative), Cleverdon has learnt to let go. Only by entrusting certain projects to a great team, can she focus on reaching as many children as possible. When she’s not meeting heads of state, she can often be seen mopping floors or tidying away the tools of the science trade. 

Sleep schedule
“I wake up at 4 a.m. I must confess that I’m often subject to a power nap in front of the TV, usually somewhere between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. After some important mother and son bonding time, I lock up, wash my face and do my teeth, and try and get the dogs organised in a neat array around me before—you guessed it—I read.” 

First things first
“Coffee and reading for half an hour in bed, when I catch up on the news of the day and gather my thoughts. I’ll probably also work for a short while before I take my son to school.” 

Most productive space
“Early morning, at home, when everything is quiet. If I happen to be at the office, then 5 p.m. is when the phones stop ringing and then I can squeeze in another hour of productive work as I wait for the traffic to die down—an extra hour in the office instead of one-and-a-half hours in the car.” 

Inbox etiquette
“I skim through all my emails and immediately answer the most pressing ones. My worst mistake is opening emails and then not closing them, as they hang over me until they are dealt with.” 

Tidy desk, tidy mind?
“Not my desk necessarily, but my mind is ordered.” 

Decompression method
“I enjoy the sanctuary of my vehicle. Driving and listening to talk radio or even nothing at all often gives me the opportunity to think. When I can, or if I have a particular need for quiet thought, I’ll drive. I also travel a lot. I don’t actually work on the plane, but I do read or do something completely different to break the daily working routine. Often, I won’t engage at all and spend the time in quiet reflection, ordering my mind (and my desk!).” 

Daily nutrition
“A good breakfast and a light lunch. Fresh food is vital to keeping me going. It gets a bit tricky with all the travelling, but that’s also a challenge and it’s great to experience local fresh ingredients.” 

Favourite business tool
“Facebook. I look at what other similar organisations are doing in Africa, and link with them so we can share and collaborate and help to build a cohesive ecosystem of like-minded organisations. Facebook is a vital tool for me to see what’s happening (and what’s not) on the continent and in other parts of the world.” 

Go-to motivator
“I have quite a varied collection of memorabilia gathered from the many trips I do. My office could be a combination curio shop, museum and even wildlife sanctuary meets tech! I often look at these objects for inspiration and a reminder of how far we’ve come, but still how much farther we have to go.”  

Area for improvement
“Procrastination! I’ll start researching something and then get distracted and wander off down a different path. Because I actually love this discovery action, I’ll spend hours learning about all manner of interesting things before realising I’ve gone completely off topic. But you never know when I may need to know what I’ve read up on, so I’ll file it away in my memory, just in case.” 

Me time
“I read—a lot! On everything and anything. At the moment, I’m reading Bill Bryson’s African Diary.”

One regret
“Not having enough time to properly see the places I visit. I think if I had to do it all over again, I’d probably be an adventurer or a travel journalist.”

Great advice
“If I can’t find a solution to something, I sleep on it. I’m a big believer in putting it aside and sleeping on it and waking up with a fresh thought.” 

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