Extreme Productivity

"Success depends a large part on a proper mind-set: focusing on the results you plan to achieve, rather than the number of hours you work."

- Extreme Productivity, page XII

Have you ever marveled at the productivity of some business executives and wondered how they managed to get so much done AND maintain a healthy family life (let alone, their sanity)?  And, have you ever wished that you could get some face-time with one of these business executives to learn their secrets of productivity?  If so, then you’ll want to read about Robert C. Pozen’s guide to being productive, Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours.

Pozen is the former chairman of MFS Investment Management and is currently a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute.  Over the years, he managed to serve on many of the boards of local charities and public companies, author six books, write hundreds of articles and raise a family with his wife of more than four decades.  His own productivity record eminently qualifies him to advise the rest of us on how to be extremely productive.

Extreme Productivity is for those who want to be productive at work, but do not necessarily aspire to launching an online business.  It’s a guide to being as focused and productive as possible at work so that you can have a more successful career and more time to spend with family and friends.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Three simple, but powerful, ideas

"Let’s begin with what I mean by ‘personal productivity.’ I mean the quantity and quality of your results in achieving your own objectives."
- Extreme Productivity, page XII

Pozen’s formula for boosting your productivity and improving your performance centers on the application of three fundamental ideas:

1. Articulate your goals and rank them in order of priority. (I write specifically about how to do this in insight #1.)

2. Keep your focus on the final product.

3. Don’t sweat the small stuff.  In other words, spend your time on what is most important to you and find ways to simplify and spend as little time as possible on lower-priority items.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Get clear on what matters most

"To be productive, you need to articulate your goals clearly and prioritize them."
- Extreme Productivity, page 18

In the first chapter of Extreme Productivity Pozen takes us step-by-step through the process of listing relevant goals (i.e. our personal and career goals AND the goals of those to whom we report) and then prioritizing them.  He recommends doing this once a year and then using the results to help you focus your energy for the rest of the year.

There are six steps to Pozen’s process:

1. Write everything down – Take out one or two sheets of paper and write down all of your career-related duties.  Then, add short-term and long-term goals (things you want to do) and aspirations you have for work.

2. Organize by time horizon – Divide your list into three time categories: Career Aims (5+ years), Objectives (3 – 24 months), and Targets (1 week or less). Pozen recommends that you have at least one or two Targets associated with each Objective.

3. Rank your Objectives – In this step, Pozen recommends that you attend to both supply (things that you want to do and things that you are good at) and demand (things that the world, your organization, or your boss need from you) as you rank your Objectives from highest to lowest priority.  The importance of acknowledging “demand” should be obvious.  If your boss wants something done and it’s something that supports the strategy of your organization, then it needs to be at or near the top of your priority list – if keeping your job is important to you.

4. Rank your Targets – First, divide your Targets into two categories: Enabling Targets (those that help you accomplish your Objectives) and Assigned Targets (things that your boss and boss’s boss have given you.)  For your Enabling Targets, Pozen suggests that you consider which Objective(s) they support and how effectively they advance your Objectives.  For your Assigned Targets, he suggests that you consider who created the Target, its implied importance, and its overall importance.

5. Estimate how you actually spend your time – With the exception of professions that bill by the hour (e.g. attorneys and consultants), most people never take the time to really record how they are spending their time.  To get a better grasp of how you might really be using your time, Pozen suggests answering three questions regarding your current work schedule and three regarding your work schedule as you expect it to be next year.

6. Address the mismatch between priorities and time spent – The next step involves comparing your time estimate to your prioritized list of Objectives and Targets. If the mismatch seems large, don’t lose heart.  Pozen asserts that most professionals spend no more than half of their time on their highest priorities.

7. Fix the mismatch – The last step involves the creation of a tiered to-do list that focuses your time and energy on your priorities.  At the top of the list you write your highest priority Objectives and Targets with precise deadlines for completion.  At the bottom of the page you write your lower priority items with rough estimates of when you’d like to finish each of them.  Once you’ve created this two-tiered to-do list, Pozen recommends that you check and make adjustments to it each day.  Then, on the weekend complete a detailed review of your list and make adjustments as you see fit.

Completing these six steps takes time, but I promise you that it will be time well spent.  I found it difficult to complete all the steps in one sitting, so it probably took me longer to complete than you might need (i.e. It took me several 20 minute sittings over four days in a local coffee shop.) Once I finished the initial process, however, I found that it helped me focus and get more done.  Now, at the end of a week, I also feel a greater sense of accomplishment than I did when I allowed others “orders” and “requests” dictate how I spent my time.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

The Magic of Routine

"Try to keep as much of your daily routine as simple and automatic as possible. That allows you to spend more time on your work, family, and friends, and it helps you avoid fatigue."
- Extreme Productivity, page 59

When you take time in the morning to decide what you want to wear, you are wasting time that could be spent doing something related to your top priorities.  This is also true of time you spend figuring out where to go and what to order for lunch everyday.  Pozen’s solution to this is to routinize these items and as much of his day as possible, thus eliminating time and mental energy wasted on making choices.  For example, he eats the same things for breakfast every day (a banana and a bowl of Cheerios or Life), opts for a chicken salad sandwich on whole wheat bread with a diet soda in his office for lunch unless there is a specific reason for eating out (such as recruiting a new employee or networking with colleagues) and, taking a cue from President Obama, he limits his wardrobe choices to either a blue or gray suit (he has five summer and five winter suits) and shirts and ties that his wife assures him go with the suits.

Although I’m probably not as extreme as Pozen, I have targeted areas of my life that I consider mundane and have simplified them.  For example, like many male corporate employees, during the warmer months I wear the same color slacks (khaki) and short-sleeved polos of various colors (any color goes with khaki, right?) When I wake up in the morning I can pretty much mindlessly grab slacks and any polo shirt and I’m good to go.  I won’t win any fashion awards, but then, winning one of these awards is not one of my top priorities. I have also routinized my breakfast on workdays, saving variety and satisfying my taste buds for the weekend when I have the time to indulge in something different.

I like many of the suggestions that Pozen makes for increasing productivity, but am not so sure about one of them in particular.  In the chapter titled, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff,” Pozen states that “. . . especially with colleagues, it is socially acceptable to multitask.”  I’m curious, how would you feel if one of your colleagues chose to respond to email or text messages while talking with you?

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Art Bingham

ABOUT Art Bingham

WHO ARE YOU? I am a learning and development professional with over 20 years experience in leadership, team, and organizational development; corporate training; and corporate coaching...
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