How to achieve extreme productivity
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How to achieve extreme productivity

7 ways to use “systemized common sense” in your day.

By Kara Baskin  |  January 17, 2018

7-ways-to-be-productive

You don't have to do all of this. Here's how to temper your daily routine and focus on what matters.

Why It Matters

There actually are enough hours in the day. A bit of “systemized common sense” can make each of them count.

Robert Pozen is a very productive person: An MIT Sloan senior lecturer, he served as the former 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,” and he teaches the MIT Sloan executive education course Maximizing Your Personal Productivity: How to Become an Efficient and Effective Executive.

Pozen shared productivity tips in a Jan. 16 webinar moderated by MIT Sloan associate dean of executive education Peter Hirst, part of the Innovation@Work series.

“I see so many people struggling with their daily routine. This is the application of systemized common sense,” Pozen said.

Here’s what he had to say:

Measure productivity in results, not hours
Hours are a traditional way of tracking employee productivity, said Pozen, but this is outdated. Instead, think about performance-based productivity.

“Hours aren’t a good proxy for what we produce,” he said. “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?’”

Rank your goals and prioritize your time
Rank your key goals for the following week and the following year. “So few people do this, and it’s so important,” he said.

Divide them into supply and demand. On the supply side: Do your goals reflect what you like and what you’re best at? What’s the purpose behind each activity and goal? On the demand side: How much do your goals take into account your organization’s needs?

Don’t sweat the small stuff
“We have so much small stuff that overwhelms us, and we wind up using our time on it, like email. 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,” he said.

Pozen uses the “OHIO” technique. The “Only Handle It Once” method means that when you do read an email, decide whether it warrants a response. If so, reply immediately. But 80 percent of emails don’t require a reply, he said.

If you’re stuck with an essential but menial task you just can’t complete, don’t procrastinate.

“Break it into a few easy pieces,” he said. “Start with the easiest one. Once you get started and can do a piece, you’ll feel good enough to get on to the next one.”

For high-priority projects: Start at the end, not the beginning
Don’t wait until the end of a project to write conclusions, Pozen cautioned. Instead, do one to two days of research and formulate tentative conclusions. Perform a “mid-flight” check to revise, then draw final conclusions.

“Most people spend six or seven weeks gathering data, speaking to people, and then in the last week or two they spend time trying to synthesize and come up with the key answers. That’s an inefficient way to handle research projects,” he said. “If you wait, you will gather lots and lots of data that turned out to be irrelevant.”

Take time to think
Build time for contemplation into your daily schedule. Not every hour has to be scheduled.

“You need downtime to think — it’s part of most people’s jobs,” he said. This way you ensure your day is aligned with your goals instead of spent in meetings.

Be boring
Former President Barack Obama would travel with a few blue suits, Pozen said, so he wouldn’t be bogged down with fashion choices. Take the variables out of your routine — what to wear, what to eat for breakfast — and make it predictable to reduce decision-making time.

“In the morning, try to be a boring person,” he said.

Go home
“Every day cannot be an emergency,” he said. There’s rarely a reason to stay at work beyond dinnertime. Get home at a reasonable hour and have dinner with your family. Unplug electronics. Don’t take phone calls or emails, he said.

“Stop at the door and go through your emails, so by the time you’re at dinner, you can focus [on your family] for two or three hours,” he said.

Often, people are afraid to leave early because other employees might judge them.

“Sometimes people are proud to have face time, and they think it makes them productive. Sometimes people are afraid to leave at 5:30 even if they’re done because they’re looked at strangely,” he said. “But those people might have been playing video games or in meetings all day.”

See the full webinar below.