Extreme Productivity: Secrets of a Very Busy Man

Justin Fox interviews Bob Pozen, senior lecturer at Harvard Business School and author for HBR and HBR Blogs, who shares with us his tips and trips for being more productivity in and HBR IdeaCast. The following are the key points discussed:

  • Focus on results, not on time spent. For a long time, and perhaps still in many organizations, much value is placed on the employee who works long hours to complete a project. It is seen as a sign of dedication, devotion and commitment. The problem is that it’s completely inefficient. Pozen suggests that  finding efficient ways of getting results should be the focus and priority. He mentions that in the past, he has told clients that he worked work twice as fast but charge them double his time and they had no objections. In the organization that I work for, more often than not, we charge by deliverable and by results rather than by time, which is another way of tackling this issue.
  • Know your comparative advantage. Most of us are familiar with the notion of competitive advantage: what it is that we do better than our competitors. But in an organization, our peers are not our competitors, or at least, they should not be. When thinking of an organization as a system, being competitive within the system is inefficient. Rather, according to Pozen, you should be thinking about your comparative advantage, that is what does your organization needs most from you. Management-level individuals need to focus on the question: “What are the functions that I and only I can do” and delegate the rest. Even in work teams, individuals need to focus on their strengths and unique abilities.
  • Think first. Read or write second. This one really hit home. I’ve been applying this principle since as early as I can remember, instinctively. I always hid it, thinking it would be seen as taking shortcuts, which in turn could be perceived as laziness. Now I’m so thrilled to learn that this is simply efficiency! Pozen explains that when you think before you read and think about what it is that you are looking for, you know better what to focus and know what to skip over. Thinking before you write means developing an outline as soon as possible (which can be revised) to steer your research and what arguments you want to write.
  • Prepare your plan, but be ready to change it. What are the highest priorities you need to achieve today? Whether you plan these the night before or early in the day, identify what it is that you absolutely need to get done today. If you start the day with that approach and something comes along to disturb your schedule, which for extremely busy people is very likely to happen, you’ll know what are the key things you need to focus on getting done and you’ll be able to defer the less important things. An additional note on this last point: My professional coach Nancy gave me an extremely helpful tool designed by Stephen Covey:  The four-quadrant matrix for importance andurgency, which is an amazing tool for priority management.
  • Naps are also high on Pozen’s top tips for productivity. The benefits of reenergizing through sleep are well know, and it’s a wonder we aren’t better equipped in our modern offices to allow for this. According to Pozen, research shows that a 30 minute nap can let you refresh and be more productive. He does this by putting his feet up on his desk and dozing off.
  • Being boring, or perhaps what I like to call having a routine, such as having the same simple breakfasts and lunches, is a way to take away some of the non-necessary thinking out of your day. Again, this is something I instinctively do because he’s right, it is a huge time saver. I spend a lot of time thinking of what I should be eating in general, that is what kinds of foods I should be buying for nutritional and health reasons, but very little time being creative about breakfasts and lunches on weekdays. That said, I keep the creativity for supper when I’m relaxing.

You may want to listen to the podcast on the HBR site or download this podcast in mp3 format. For more blog posts by Prozen, check out a list of blogs on productivity which he co-wrote with Justin Fox on HBR Blogs.

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Initially published on Brandon Hall’s Workplace Learning Today