relaxed team meeting

Interesting Thoughts on Productivity Improvement Techniques

October 16, 2019

I bumped into Robert (Bob) Pozen while researching another content piece I was writing. You may have heard of the man before, but I certainly hadn’t. But as soon as I started reading what he had to say, he had my attention. 

So who is Robert Pozen and what interesting things does he have accredited to his name? After all, the single fact that I bring him up here must mean that he has something to offer for Project Managers

Robert Pozen is an MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer and has a long list of other impressive jobs to his name. That in itself must mean the man knows a thing or two. But it wasn’t his initial knowledge as a lecturer that put him in the spotlight. It was the fact that he seemed to get a lot more work done than any of his colleagues. As a result, he was asked to share his insights on Productivity Improvement Techniques. And that he did…

‘Extreme Productivity: Boost your results, reduce your hours’

Robert Pozen didn’t get his job handed on a silver plate. He had to juggle a lot of balls to get where he is now; combining High School with two jobs and playing sports. The lesson he learned as a young lad translated to the business world. His message: 

Don’t work harder. Work smarter. 

And how does he suggest we do this? 

Productivity Improvement Technique 1: Work smarter

Emails

‘About 80-90% of people spend less than 50% of their time on their top 3 goals. People are very busy, but it turns out they spend a good chunk of their time replying to emails. In other words, they spend their time working on other people’s goals. 

So, if you want to spend more time on your own goals, you need to find a way to get the small stuff out of the way quickly.’

Pozen’s reply is ‘OHIO or Only Handle It Once’. When you are receiving 150 emails a day, throw away 50-75% of your emails just based on the subject line. The other 50-25%, you respond to immediately. Not in an hour, not tonight and definitely not next week when you will spend an hour just finding the email.  

On top of that, don’t allow email notifications. Only look at your email once every hour. That’s it. 

Multitasking

Multitasking decreases your productivity according to the MIT Sloane review. What they mean by that is that you can’t do two important tasks at the same time. Which is fair enough if you are flying a plane. But for the less important tasks, it’s a very good way of working smarter. It’s just boils down to deciding what you pair together and how to be sensitive to the social morals of the group you are part of. For instance, it’s perfectly fine to eat your lunch while attending a conference call, but it may or may not be considered acceptable to read your emails while attending a presentation. 

Meetings

Pozen also has some rather strong feelings around productive meetings. Like emails, meetings are notorious for eating away at your time, distracting your from your top 3 goals.  He says meetings should be no longer than 60-90 minutes. Ever. The way he approaches that is by ensuring that material is available and read beforehand. Meetings are not places to read out from a PowerPoint. Rather, they are places for discussion and debate. And every meeting should end with clear action points, assigned responsibles and deadlines. 

Productivity Improvement Technique 2: Be a perfectionist the right way

According to Pozen, the biggest enemies of productivity are perfectionism and procrastination. There is a time to be a perfectionist. If you are doing something very important like transferring $1,000,000, you better get it right. But there are a lot of things that aren’t that important, like writing a report you know nobody is going to read. Is it necessary to write a 5 page report and get all the spelling and grammar a 100% spot on? Do A work for your top priorities and do B or C work for anything that is not a real priority. 

Productivity Improvement Technique 3: Stop procrastinating

Pozen thinks all people are procrastinators. I don’t know if that’s true or not. But I do know that some people can’t function until they feel the deadline breathing down their neck. 

So, if somebody only responds to deadlines, simply give them more deadlines. 

But there is also a different kind of procrastination. Most people try to avoid boring and difficult tasks. And for that, Pozen is a fan of rewards. Dangle an ice-cream in front of you (not literally, obviously) or treat yourself to a movie. 

Productivity Improvement Technique 4: Start Big Jobs with the end

This is one of his more controversial ideas. 

When faced with a big job, Pozen asks for tentative conclusions at the end of the second day.  This scares people and most of the time people will say they can’t do it, but Pozen says they are wrong. Interestingly enough, Stephen Covey says something similar when he recommends ‘to start with the end in mind’. Nobody is meant to know the final binding decision on day two. But they have the hypothesis; they can identify the factors that are important. Doing that, you immediately come to grips with the tough questions. Plus, you focus on what is relevant. 

Of course, because it is tentative it’s necessary to have a mid-flight review, and it’s never binding until you’ve reached the finish line. But it means the process is more fruitful and focused. 

Productivity Improvement Technique 5: Look at your daily routine

It makes sense when Pozen says that small things can have a big impact. 

  • Thinking is part of your job, so allow for ‘thinking time’ in your daily schedule. They also act as blank spaces in your diary for unexpected things that come up. 
  • Sleeping enough hours (at least 7 seven hours) is necessary to be productive. People think they function fine on less, but research shows the contrary.  
  • Same goes for regular exercise and taking mental breaks.
  • Pozen has the same breakfast every morning. Obama, when he was president, had 5 of the exact same suits. The idea behind it? Don’t spend time or mental energy deciding things that aren’t important to you. 

Obviously, there’s a lot more to Pozen’s ideas. You can’t condense a book in a short blog. I’m not even entirely sure if I agree with everything he has to say. But how enriching is it to step away from your daily routine and to look at how you can work things differently? Maybe smarter? Or….more productive.