MIT Sloan Executive Education Blog

Why some people are more productive than others

Bob Pozen explains why some people are more productive than others

You know that person at the office who always seems to be ahead of their deadlines, despite being swamped? Do you look at them with envy and wonder how they do it? Productivity guru and MIT Sloan Lecturer Robert Pozen , helped by MIT student Kevin Downey, wondered the same thing, prompting them to survey 20,000 people from six different continents. The survey focused on seven habits: developing daily routines, scheduling, coping with messages, getting a lot done, running effective meetings, honing communication skills, and delegating tasks to others.

After analyzing the data, Pozen and Downey found that professionals with the highest productivity scores tended to do well on the same clusters of habits:

1. They planned their work based on their top priorities and then acted with a definite objective.
2. They developed effective techniques for managing a high volume of information and tasks.
3. And they understood the needs of their colleagues, enabling short meetings, responsive communications, and clear directions.

The results were also interesting when parsed by the demographics of the survey participants:

  • On geography, the average productivity score for respondents from North America was in the middle of the pack, even though Americans tend to work longer hours. In fact, the North American score was significantly lower than the average productivity scores for respondents from Europe, Asia, and Australia.
  • Age and seniority were highly correlated with personal productivity—older and more senior professionals recorded higher scores than younger and more junior colleagues. Habits of these more senior respondents included developing routines for low-value activities, managing message flow, running effective meetings, and delegating tasks to others. But a few young respondents had already learned how to be very productive.
  • While the overall productivity scores of male and female professionals were almost the same, there were some noteworthy differences in how women and men managed to be so productive. For example, women tended to score particularly high when it came to running effective meetings—keeping meetings to less than 90 minutes and finishing with an agreement of next steps. By contrast, men did particularly well when it came to coping with high message volume—not looking at their emails too frequently and skipping over the messages of low value.

Tips for maximizing your productivity

As demonstrated by the results of this survey, if you want to become more productive, develop the three clusters of habits possessed by the most productive professionals. Here are a few specific examples for each cluster.

  1. Focus on your primary objectives: Every night, revise your next day’s schedule to stress your top priorities. Decide your purpose for reading any lengthy material, before you start.
  2. Manage your work overload: Skip over 50-80% of your emails based on the sender and the subject. Break large projects into small steps, and start doing the first step
  3. Support your colleagues: Limit any meeting to 90 minutes or less, and end with next steps. Agree on success metrics with your team working on any project.

You can read more about the survey results in Pozen and Downey’s recent HBR article, “What Makes Some People More Productive Than Others.”

Maximizing Your Productivity: How to Become an Efficient and Effective Executive, June 18-19
Taught by Bob Pozen, Faculty Director of the program and former President of Fidelity Investments and Executive Chairman of MFS Investment Management, this program is designed to increase the personal productivity of professionals through a series of case studies, practical exercises, and background readings. The program is based on Pozen’s best-selling book, Extreme Productivity.

This entry was posted in Work-life balance on Mon Apr 29, 2019 by MIT Sloan Executive Education


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