Are you overwhelmed by work obligations? Not enough time for friends and family? Wish you wasted less time and got more done? You’re not alone. Even the most successful individuals are looking for new and better ways to get more accomplished while maintaining or increasing their quality of life.
Luckily, we have productivity guru and MIT Sloan Lecturer Robert Pozen to teach us how to get more done—and still make it home in time for dinner. In his recent MIT Sloan Executive Education webinar, Pozen shared three "big ideas" for extreme productivity, addressing common hurdles to time management such as procrastination, email overload, and the challenge of working effectively when you seem to have more tasks than time.
According to Pozen, one of the main reasons we don’t feel productive is that most organizations are still counting hours. Of course, some professionals bill by the hour. But for other organizations in the knowledge economy, “the idea that hours are a proxy for what we produce is really crazy,” said Pozen. “I’ve asked journalists, ‘Have you ever spent three weeks on an article that wasn’t good? And have you spent three days on one that was really great? What was the more productive use of your time?” The contribution of knowledge workers should be measured by the value they create through applying their ideas and skills.
Pozen says organizations can trade this notion of counting hours for performance-based productivity by establishing success metrics. Meeting those business goal and key performance indicators is what matters.
To support this overarching these, Pozen presented what he refers to as three big ideas for promoting true productivity:
1) Rank your goals and prioritize your time. “It’s surprising how few people do this,” said Pozen. Without a specific set of goals to pursue—both personal and professional—many ambitious people devote insufficient time to activities that actually support their highest professional priorities. “Regrettably, though a lot of surveys, most people say they only spend 30-40% of their time on what they consider their top goals.
2) Don’t sweat the small stuff. The reason so many of us don’t dedicate sufficient time to our top priorities is because the small stuff gets in the way. “We have so much small stuff that overwhelms us, and we wind up using our time on it, like email,” said Pozen. “Most of us look at email every three to five minutes. Instead, look every hour or two, and when you do look, look only at subject matter and sender and essentially skip over 60-80% of it, because most emails you get aren’t very useful.” For important emails, Pozen also encourages people to stick to his OHIO rule: Only Handle It Once. Answer important emails immediately instead of flagging them and then finding them again later (or forgetting altogether).
Not sweating the small stuff means:
- Overcoming perfectionism—don’t waste your time creating A+ work when B+ is good enough. Use the extra time to create A-plus work where it matters most.
- Don’t procrastinate—break overwhelming tasks into easy pieces and move it forward slowly.
3) Start at the end. For high priority projects, do a couple days of research, then write your tentative conclusions. Spending weeks gathering and synthesizing data before getting to your conlusion, you will likely find out that you gathered lots of data that turned out to be irrelevant. “After two days of research, you’ll know enough to write tentative conclusions that force you to come to grips with the key analytic problems that underlie the project and second they provide focus for future gathering of data.”
After establishing these ideas, Pozen then applies them in detail to a typical day-in-the-life on an executive. You can view the one-hour webinar in its entirety here:
Pozen also covers more topics like these, in depth, in his two-day program, Maximizing Your Personal Productivity: How to Become an Efficient and Effective Executive.
Robert Pozen is an MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer. He formerly served as the president of Fidelity Investments, Executive Chairman of MFS Investment Management, and as an Associate General Counsel of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. His latest book is Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours.