MIT Sloan Executive Education innovation@work Blog

Productivity wisdom: My top 5 articles

Contributed by Bob Pozen, Senior Lecturer, MIT Sloan Executive Education

Regardless of location, industry, or occupation, productivity is a challenge faced by every professional, following us throughout our respective careers. Even as a professor and published author on the topic, I still find myself improving my own skills, both at work and at home, to get the most out of each day.

With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that there is a crowd of journalists, thought leaders, and gurus tackling the topic from almost every conceivable angle. While I have my own conclusions on the best ways to stay productive, which you can read in my book, Extreme Productivity, and learn more about in my class, Maximizing Your Personal Productivity, staying tuned into the perspectives of other productivity experts is critical to a well-rounded outlook. In the spirit of broadening our collective productivity wisdom, below are five great articles on the topic I've enjoyed:

  1. Inc.: "Why the Excuse "I'm Overloaded" Doesn't Work Anymore" This is a harsh reality to those who think they're too busy, but it points to a fundamental rule of productivity--prioritizing. One of the first lessons I teach in my course is how to prioritize. It seems obvious, but you'd be surprised how many people looking to be more productive don’t prioritize tasks appropriately.
  2. Fast Company: "This Googler Explains How to Design Your Time Rather Than Manage It" Creating to-do lists is a vital task to daily productivity. In this article, Google’s Thomas Davies describes his "Quadrant-style" to-do list that categorizes his tasks under four responsibilities or "quadrants" that help prioritize tasks.
  3. Fortune: "Simple Ways to Add 2 Hours More to Your Day" This article reiterates one of the lessons from my course that focuses on managing distractions. Email is an incredibly distracting, yet necessary, part of the work day. I recommend checking your email only every hour or two, and then skipping over the majority of your emails because you can see from the subject line that they are not important.
  4. Entrepreneur: "5 Ways to Stop Being Busy and Start Being Effective" Something this article does unlike the other four is highlight the importance of sleep and taking breaks. It's easy to forget how important sleep is to your health and productivity. For example, I take naps of 20 to 30 minutes after lunch each day. Even when traveling or attending a lunch meeting, I still find a way to fit in a nap.
  5. Forbes: "15 Surprising Things Productive People Do Differently" Number five on this list rings true to me, "They Make it Home for Dinner." You'll never have enough time in the day, but it's paramount to make time for family and relaxation. When not traveling, I've made it a priority to be home by 7:00 p.m. for dinner with my wife and kids. In order to stay productive it's paramount to shut-off work and the dinner table is a perfect way to do just that.

Over the years, I've met countless professionals who struggle with productivity and work-life balance. I reiterate to them that improving your productivity won't happen overnight. It takes practice and patience to find the right method. My advice is to try some of the examples above and see what works best for you. Before you know it, you'll find your work style to be more efficient and your stress levels to be lower.

What productivity tips have worked best for you? Share in the comments below!

Bob Pozen is a Senior Lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. He has extensive experience in business, government and journalism.

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