By Matt Heinz, President of Heinz Marketing

“How I Work” is one of my favorite recurring features in Inc Magazine as well as via Lifehacker’s This Is How I Work Series, and recently several sales experts (including  Anthony IannarinoDave Brock and Trish Bertuzzi) participated in our series as well.

Weekly, on Thursdays, we feature a new B2B sales, marketing or business leader here answering “How I Work” questions.  You can catch up on everyone we’ve featured thus far in the “How I Work” series here.

This week I’m excited to feature Margaret Dawson, vice president of portfolio product marketing at Red Hat.  Margaret has led marketing teams at companies such as HP, Microsoft, Amazon and more.   She began her career as a foreign correspondent for Business Week and continues to advice start-ups and nonprofits on a regular basis.

Here, in her own words, is how she gets stuff done.

Location:  Greater Seattle Area

Number of unread emails right now?

  • Work 923 (just from this week)
  • Personal – real personal emails, 0 – spam and sales emails – out of control
  • Facebook messenger, Twitter direct messages, LinkedIn mail, etc. – can’t keep up

First app checked in the morning? Weather app to figure out what to wear then calendar to plan my day

First thing you do when you come into work?  Do my “Hot List” on a sticky note that I stick on my monitor – this is the top 3 things that I need to get done that day.  Taken from my overall To Do – Priorities List that I do each week, but I need a little reminder to make sure I get through the “must dos” on my list, or sometimes a fire drill that has come in overnight that I need to manage that morning.

What is your email management strategy?  Filters, prioritization and self-forgiveness.  I have some filters to make sure emails from certain people or groups don’t get lost and so others go into folders for later reading. If I fall behind because of travel, I just forgive myself and explain to people that if they haven’t heard back from me I must be traveling or just crazy busy, and they should text or slack me.

Most essential app when traveling?  Whatsapp- anyone can reach me in any country, even China. Also, whatever airline app and hotel app I need for that trip. Most common – Alaska Airlines, Delta, Marriott, SPG

How do you keep yourself calm and/or focused?

  • Zen Breaths – seriously that’s what my husband and I call them. When I feel myself getting upset or impatient I take a deep breath. And sometimes close my eyes for focus. This can sometimes be bad in a meeting when it sounds like a big sigh :-).
  • Exercise – I try to walk or run or do yoga every single day. When not in Boston or traveling, I am at our house on the Washington Coast, and nothing keeps me calmer or more focused than a head-clearing walk on the beach.
  • Good Red Wine – the ultimate after work calming medicine

What’s your perspective or approach to work/life balance?  As I used to say when raising my kids, the only thing that exists is work/life imbalance, but I do it on my terms.  I am 24/7, but that means I do my personal items when I need to, and I focus on work when I need to. So, if I have an appointment, or when the kids were young I had a school activity or sports game or something important for them, I would prioritize that, and then work around it.  I am a bit of a workaholic, and so that means sometimes on the weekends I will work a few hours both days, which makes my week more manageable and less stressful. It is the one time I can stop and think, and work on things like customer presentations or strategic plans.  I love what I do, and, frankly, I love working, so I need to remind myself to take time for me and relax, exercise, and just “be”.

Are there any work rituals critical to your success?  Getting to the office early. I’m a morning person, and even if I work out in the morning, I will do it so I’m in the office before most other people. I love the hour or so of quiet to get ready for the day, check email, prepare for meetings, and enjoy a good cup of coffee.  While not a ritual, I think another critical element to my success is my responsiveness and direct communication – or what you could call “on demand coaching”. I really care about what is going on with other people, and while I can never give everyone the one-on-one attention they need or deserve, I really try to give feedback and respond to people’s questions and needs. This works well when people know to use IC or text to ask a quick question or guidance.

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?  Google docs. Because we are an open source company, most of us use Linux workstations/laptops, so compatibility with office productivity tools is a challenge. But Google docs takes that pain away, and is an awesome way to collaborate and share, which are essential cultural aspects of Red Hat.

In looking on my main screen of my phone, I would also say:

  • Gmail – work, personal, all shows up in my inbox. Productivity saver.
  • Starbucks app – use it every day. I’m from Seattle. Loyal SB customer. Works almost around the world.
  • Google maps – seriously, what did we do before this?
  • Calendar – my calendar is a hot mess and need to be checking it often
  • FreeOTP – gives me algorithm to get on our VPN and corporate sites
  • Alaska Airlines Mobile App – travel so often it’s on my home screen 🙂
  • Oh, and Alexa – I always forget she’s not there when I’m traveling. I’ll come in my room and immediately start to say “Alexa . . . .”

What’s your workspace like?  Functional and fun.  Functional in that I always have notepads, sticky notes, two monitors, ergonomic keyboard and mouse, folders, and other items to just make sure I am productive.  Also, clean. I hate a dirty office, and will often come in on weekends to clean and wipe down my desk and area with disinfectant wipes and monitor cleaner. I also love those keyboard air pressure cleaners.  From when the kids were little, I started putting out toys and fun things around my office. Like Hot Wheel cars (Mustangs of course), stress toys, stuffed animals, stickers, etc. That continues today.  I also have things that make me happy or remind me of accomplishments like business books I love, posters, awards, funny coffee mugs, branded shirts, etc.

What’s your best time-saving shortcut or lifehack? Honestly, it would have to do with cooking. I have gained an ability to look into the fridge and cupboards and come up with a meal that sometimes even surprises myself. Sometimes it’s just gourmet nachos, but my love for creating and nurturing my family has enabled me to be really good at just winging it at dinner time to create fast, healthy and yummy meals.

What are you currently reading?  I have a habit, especially now with my Kindle, of reading three or so books at one time. A fictional book, a business book, and then some kind of self-help or women empowerment (as my son’s like to call it) book.

  • Fictional book: Just finished reading The Boys in the Boat. Awesome – I read a lot of historical fiction, and this ended up being an amazing story of history and humanity. And then a girlfriend recommended reading Big Little Lies, so started that last night. By the way, another awesome Historical Fiction book is The Honest Spy by Andreas Kolle that I recently read about a mostly unknown spy in Nazi Germany. Powerful.
  • Business Book: Recently just re-read The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni for a team meeting, and now am reading It’s Not About the Coffee, written by Howard Behar of Starbucks.
  • Self-Help or Women Empowerment Book: Women Who Run with the Wolves – Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype. Yeah.

 Last thing you do before leaving work?

  • Cross out things accomplished on my To Do list, and take down my Hot List if it was all done.
  • Go through my calendar to make sure I’m ready for the next day
  • Take a quick look at email to make sure nothing I need to respond to today
  • Text my hubby to see what we are doing for dinner.

Who are some mentors or influencers you wish to thank or acknowledge?  I have to say my children have influenced me the most and are always my strongest advocates. They have made me a better person, manager and leader. They always believed in me, and were always proud of their “working mom” and my crazy personality.

There were many influencers when I was young who never would know – but they all showed me that women could be strong and different and successful, like Carol Burnett, Lily Tomlin, Aretha Franklin, Diane Sawyer, Jane Fonda, Annie Oakley, Ado Annie (from Oklahoma), Janet Guthrie, Mary Tyler Moore, Audrey Hepburn, Judy Blume . . . Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s – I watched women who were willing to take risks and be different. Especially the ones that weren’t beautiful but were smart and gutsy.

Women who have really made a difference in my career include my Aunt Bot (Mary) who I was very close to. She taught me to love spices and to love people unconditionally. She was born in Paris, Texas, and survived the depression, but her humanity, love, humor and insistence on a gin and tonic at 5:00 pm taught me much about life. My first boss, Carole Tellier, who taught me how to be feminine and powerful, and who to this day is my biggest fan.  Joyce Barnathan, my Business Week editor, who showed the power of storytelling, ethics and intelligence, and was always my advocate. Saar Gillai, my former boss at HP, who believed in me and listened to me and reminded me to focus on what I do best. Mark Ashida, Mike Schutz and Paul Bryan, from Microsoft, who gave me a chance to do more technical work and move to product management, and encouraged me to leap to a start-up. My current boss, Paul Cormier, who pushes me to be better, is always open to a good debate, and reminds me to never lose my intensity even while we both work at swearing less. My other current boss, Tim Yeaton, who hired me at Red Hat, and never gives up on me or our vision for success. And then so many male and women friends and colleagues who support me, teach me, empower me, and make me SNOL (snort laughing). I have been truly blessed!

Name some supportive people who help make it possible to do what you do best?

  • My husband and my children
  • My team and all my colleagues – honestly, there are so many people around me that are so supportive and also work so hard.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

  • Don’t focus on the battle so hard that you lose the war. Choose your fights and focus on the long term goal. My former father in law, Bill Henshaw.
  • Your competency and your femininity combined will make you successful in a man’s world – Carole Tellier, former boss
  • Always stop at 5:00 and have a drink with friends – Aunt Bot

Name a guilty pleasure TV show:  Two that I have recently become addicted to are the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Grace & Frankie.

Fill in the Blank: I’d love to see BLANK answer these questions.  Some of my Seattle ladies!

  • Manpreet Kalra
  • Michelle Mehl
  • TiraVillanueva
  • Diana Gibson
  • Rebecca Partman
  • Annie Garrigan


We’re always open to nominations!