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

Stop Interrupting Employees and Let Them Work

The main reason why people can’t get work done at work are managers and meetings. That’s Jason Fried’s take on things as he exposes it in his latest TEDx Talk. He lays out the main problems to getting work done and presents three suggestions to making work work.

No Talk Thursdays: He actually suggests a compromise of one Thursday afternoon a month where no one disturbs anyone so that all can focus on getting things done.

I am fortunate that though I work in an office, it is a small office and I can often get quite a few hours of uninterrupted work time. I can actually sometimes get 3 to 4 hours without being disturbed, usually about once a week. This uninterrupted time is necessary for me when I need to analyse complex problems or systems, or work on a larger, more complex project.

Passive Models of Communication: Instead of interrupting people to have a face-to-face discussion about something, send an email or an IM. This reduces the instances of interrupting reflections, thoughts, a creative moment. The passive model allows for people to respond when they are ready to switch gears and respond to you.

This is my preferred mode of communication when dealing with dispatching tasks or requesting information. I had received a comment earlier this year that it could be perceived as impersonnal, which is a valid remark. I therefore took the time to approach the individuals that I exchange with to explain to them why I preferred communicating the bulk of work related information by email. They agreed and even told me that they appreciated the lack of interruption, especially the administrative staff who work in the open spaces and are constantly interrupted.

Cancel the Next Meeting: He doesn’t suggest postponing it. He suggests cancelling it all together. According to Fried, managers call too many meetings which are a waste of employee’s productive time. He relates that what managers talk about at meetings is usually not as important to company productivity than the managers think it is.

On this one, I only meet Fried halfway. If we are going to move to a mode of passive communication and no-talk periods to let people focus on their work, there needs to be a moment where we all get together and communicate face-to-face. That said, I think that the face-to-face time needs to be used wisely to do the things that are less well done in writing.

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Initially published on Brandon Hall’s Workplace Learning Today

    Strategically Implementing Microblogging in your Organization To Boost Efficiency

    In a recent blog post, Harvard Business Review’s Jeanne C Meister and Karie Willyerd advocate using microblogging to enable the members of an organization to communicate and share information with one another more rapidly and efficiently than ever before.

    So what exactly is microblogging? It is the practice of posting very short statements, commonly 140 characters or less, via a microblogging service such as Twitter.

    However, because the objective is to communicate internally within an organization, Twitter, which broadcasts in a public realm, isn’t going to be very good for sharing enterprise information. Enterprise social software such as Yammer will allow you to recreate a private social network for your organization and keep the information contained.

    Meister & Willyerd suggest that if you are considering implementing microblogging within your organization, there are three lessons to consider:

    • Start small and monitor results.
    • Provide training to employees.
    • Integrate Microblogging into your workflow.

    By strategically implementing microblogging in your organization, you leverage the social media savvy of your Tweeters and cut down on the time and effort to disseminate and gather enterprise information. Two birds, one stone!

    References:

    Initially published on Brandon Hall’s Workplace Learning Today

    Are You Multitasking or Are You Juggling? One Can Be Productive, the Other is Not

    There is a reason why sometimes I work with my door closed. It is not to be mean, it is not to be anti social. It is because I need to think. While I’m all for spontaneous meetings when needed, people need to be more respectful of people’s work space.

    About a year ago, I turned off all messaging services on my computer except for Skype where I’m Offline and I’ve put all alerts on my BB on mute, except for call from my boss when he’s travelling. I find my productivity went up in spades.

    When we get down to it, it’s really a question of avoiding cognitive overload. Gina Trapani gets to the heart of the matter in this article and the video included in this article really hits the nail on the head as well.

    When your brain switches its attention from one task to another, it takes time to get into a new train of thought. You lose any momentum you had on the first task, which costs you on the next switch. On the internet or in an office where distractions abound, switching tasks can cost hours. A recent study showed that office employees who were interrupted while they worked took an average of 25 minutes to get back to what they started.

    When it comes to splitting your attention between tasks, remember the difference between multitasking and juggling. When you have the choice, stop juggling and get things done faster–one at a time.

    Reference:

    7 Keys to Reading Faster

    This is actually a blog post from last November from thinksimplenow.com. The irony was that I was so overwhelmed with all the reading I had to do for school at that time that I wasn’t reading my regular favourite blogs 😉

    I will be trying out this technique!

    Want to read faster?

    In this article, I’m going to share the lessons I learned that doubled my reading rate, allowed me to consume over 70 books in a year and made me a smarter reader. I’m also going to destroy some speed-reading myths, to show you it isn’t magic but a skill anyone can learn.

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    Defining the Consultant 2.0

    A recent post entitled Dream to Reality: How I Quit My Day Job by Tina Su made me reflect on the evolution of my career vocation as well as life after the graduation—my thesis defence is tomorrow at noon. I have no plans to quite my day job any time soon. But I do want to make certain changes in order to be able to better balance my life and feel I’m getting the most out of it.

    Tina Su seems to have made a vocation of blogging. She writes:

    Through my quest to finding my passion, I discovered blogging as a platform where I can share ideas and lessons learned that are closest to my heart, as a way to serve others. For the first time in my life, I feel that I am living my life purpose.

    I “digged” Tina Su’s blog post and remarked the following:

    There is something to this blog post. I’m sort of halfway there – I’m working from home and blogging, developing a network and pursuing my passions on the side, planning for a moment where I can generate revenue with my opinion/online resources — it’s a kind of consultant 2.0. I most certainly appreciate the advice and tips.

    Then of course, I got to thinking about what does consultant 2.0 mean? Has anyone else used this term? And how did they define it?

    Noah D. Roth wrote a blog post in April 2007 entitled Consultant 2.0 where he gives a definition of what a Consultant 2.0 might be:

    Today’s consultant- let’s call him Consultant 2.0- isn’t just looking for 3 years of consulting as a gateway to a line role in industry. […] Consultant 2.0, working 80 hours per week at 80% travel, doesn’t have time for a second full time job looking for their next career move. And his next move is likely to be less-traditional. He may sacrifice cash for equity. Having been a generalist for most of his consulting career, Consultant 2.0 isn’t going to the first client who makes him an offer. He is choosing an industry and a role, and developing deep relationships with his own firms alumni network, and the recruiters who can get him in the door.

    Next, Leslie Bradshaw has a consultant 2.0 category for her blog, and though she never uses the term specifically, in one post entitled The rise of the “influential 2.0″ and the “strategist 2.0″ and the … ok, you get the point she writes:

    The “strategist 2.0″ – Strategists and consultants — such as those from the political, PR and advertising phyla — who make their money leveraging the influence, relationships, fundraising potential, Word-of-Mouth marketing, etc. from “the blogs” (and other online media, groups, networks, outlets, and so on).

    Next, I found a slideshare presentation created a month ago by Pat Kitano on How Web 2.0 and Internet Transparency is Changing Management Consulting:

    Last Monday, Dion Hinchcliffe wrote in his Web 2.0 Blog that Web 2.0 remains the top word used to describe Internet trends. He discusses offspring terms such as Advertising 2.0, Law 2.0, Library 2.0, Enterprise 2.0 and even Government 2.0 and remarks that:

    At this point there are some that like to invoke Buzzword Bingo at such seemingly gratuitously coining of new terms, but I personally find this a crucially important point: The global network of the Web itself, which is shaped continually by the endless participation of hundreds of millions of users around the clock, is no more than a reflection of those that shape it (which are then shaped themselves by it.)  That the principles of Web 2.0 cross all disciplines, types of business, types of government, languages, as well as types of people and culture has fostered an interesting phenomenon.  Namely, each of these topical areas are in the various stages of translating how Web 2.0 transforms and improves what they do, from architectures of participation and harnessing collective intelligence to radical decentralization (with cloud computing being the most interesting new example) and open service ecosystems. (links in quote provided by Dion Hinchcliffe)

    Google returned 7,540 results for “consultant 2.0”. There’s a machining calculator called Consultant 2.0. I don’t know why the author named it that way. Random.

    I’m still not sure exactly what Consultant 2.0 really means yet, at least not for me. But if I try to define some common points, it involves:

    • using blogs and other social media tools to build a reputation as well as a network
    • sharing with others what I know, what I read, what I think, how I feel… by extension who I am
    • being transparent and accessible
    • having an opinion, recognizing other’s opinion, being able to compare and contrast them
    • a lot of reading and writing
    • being able to effectively evaluate information I find on the Web
    • being confident, yet humble
    • developing a balanced scorecard approach to evaluating the return on investment of the practices listed above that involves more then an immediate cash return

    Anything else?

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