Extreme Productivity

clocksEach of us is given 24 hours in a day, but some of us manage to accomplish a great deal more than others.

How?

This is the key question behind a recent series of conversations between Bob Pozen and Justin Fox, the editorial director of the Harvard Business Review Group. For those of you who many not know him, Bob Pozen is a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School and the chairman emeritus of MFS Investment Management. (When Pozen was executive chairman, MFS managed over $200 billion in mutual funds and pension assets.) In anticipation of Pozen’s upcoming article on productivity in the May issue of the Harvard Business Review, I listened to a podcast in which Pozen provides some Productivity Secrets of a Very Busy Man:

  • Focus on Results, Not on Time Spent. In his post, It’s Not the Time You Spend but the Result You Produce, he argues with the eloquence and passion that only a recovering lawyer can have that focusing on the time logged puts the incentives in the wrong place and inevitably has a deleterious effect on your personal life. To answer the concerns of lawyers who feel bound by the billable hour, he tells the following story:
    • After the SEC, I worked for a law firm in Washington, D.C., for six years. While many lawyers stayed at the office late, I soon realized that charging clients by the number of hours worked did not make sense for me. In my view, it’s not the amount of time you spend on helping a client; it’s the result you’ve produced for your client. After a few years, my clients knew that I was efficient, so I ran an experiment. I sent them a letter explaining that in the future I would be billing them for double the time I actually spent on their work — unless they objected. Not one client objected.
  • Know Your Comparative Advantage. While most people think about comparative advantage in terms of where they excel in relation to others, Pozen believes that each person should focus on those things that only they can do for their organizations.  Put another way, what is their highest and greatest good from the perspective of their organization? (See What Not to Spend Your Time On.)
  • Think First, Read or Write Second. Pozen believes that before you begin reading nonfiction, determine what it is you want to get out of your reading.  Then, read to meet that goal. (See How to Be a Speed Reader.) Similarly, before you begin writing, create an outline that shows your intended conclusion and the path there. Of course, if your research send you in a different direction, you have to be prepared to adapt your outline accordingly. The key point is to have a sense of direction; don’t just stumble about in the dark. In case you’re skeptical about his approach, you should know that he produced his most recent book in nine months.  It was 457 pages long and received good reviews. (See How to Be a Speed Writer.)
  • Prepare Your Plan, But Be Ready to Change It. Pozen is a great advocate of spending a little time each evening to preview the next day’s calendar and plan what needs to be accomplished. He also uses this time to establish his priorities for the day. Here’s how he describes his approach:
    • Every night I look over a schedule of exactly what I’m going to do the next day. I might have a call at 8:30 a.m., a meeting at 9 a.m., and so on. For each event on my schedule, I’ll write down a few words about what I want to get accomplished. Then, on the same page as the schedule, I’ll compose a list of tasks that I want to get done that day, in order of priority. As the day goes by, I check off the tasks that are completed. At the end of the day, I review the ones not done and decide when I should do them in the future — or to delete them if circumstances have changed.
  • Nap! Pozen is a realist when it comes to circadian rhythm and understands that not everyone can work at peak productivity all afternoon.  Therefore, he is an advocate of the 30-minute power nap. It’s the pause that refreshes — and it makes the rest of his highly accomplished life possible.

Before you leave the office tonight, make a list of the key things that need you need to accomplish on Monday.  Then go off and enjoy your weekend!

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If you’d like to read more from Bob Pozen, here is a link to Pozen on Personal Productivity, which lists his other blog posts on productivity.

[Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds]

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