5 mins

MIT Senior Lecturer Bob Pozen Shares His Ultimate Productivity Secrets

What do people get wrong about productivity? How can you tame your email so it works for you rather than against you? MIT Senior Lecturer Bob Pozen shares all.
by Therese Sivertsson | Jan 26 2017

If you thought productivity and time management were buzzwords only for the younger generations, think again. We spoke to Robert Pozen, senior lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management and author of Extreme Productivity to offer you some useful tips and helpful hints for how to be more productive in 2017. And Bob sure knows how to get stuff done. Whilst juggling a full-time course load at a top business school with a full-time position as Chairman of a global financial services firm and raising a family, Bob still found the time to write 6 books, hundreds of articles, and serve on boards for local charities and public companies. What’s his secret sauce”Hi Bob! What does it mean to you to be productive?
Being productive means to me that I am accomplishing what I have set as my top priority goals. So, the end goal of being productive is to accomplish my top priority goals effectively and efficiently. Being productive does NOT mean working long hours or expending a lot of energy; what counts is what you have done, not how long you have worked.

What do you think most people get wrong about productivity”A lot of people confuse making strenuous efforts with being productive. As I mentioned already, being productive means getting your top priority goals accomplished.

Other people believe that they are being productive if they get lots of low-priority tasks done, often tasks selected by other people. But that is not you being productive; you are not getting your top-priority goals done. You are passively responding to the goals and tasks set forth by others.

You have worked in the public sector under President Bush and Governor Mitt Romney. A common prejudice is that government moves slowly – how can you be productive in a slow-moving environment”You have to begin by assessing which of your high priorities can realistically be done in such an environment. You do that by going around and talking with your colleagues, asking questions and building relationships. Then you can develop a strategy for getting a few realistic goals done. That may involve changing an organizational structure, finding more budget or just convincing people that it is in their interest to do things more efficiently.

Being productive does NOT mean working long hours or expending a lot of energy; what counts is what you have done, not how long you have worked.

We clearly haven’t solved the productivity puzzle as there are a multitude of different methods constantly emerging to show us how to save time. I’m thinking of GTD, The Pomodoro Technique, etc. Do you think there’s a one-size-fits-all method to productivity?
Of course, there are many different techniques to being productive in carrying out functions. Some work for some people, but not others; some work in some environments, but not others.

On the other hand, all effective methods of being productive begin by your asking the question – What are my personal and professional objectives for the relevant time frame, and which are high priority? If you don’t start that way, you can work hard but never be productive in the sense of your accomplishing what you think is most important.

Is productivity a skill that can be taught”Yes, definitely. That is why I put together two notebooks that should help people become more productive in two key areas. One is called the Productivity Planner, which helps you integrate your goals into your daily schedule. The other Productive Meetings notebook helps you organize meetings — recording the decisions made and identifying the next steps to be taken, by whom and by when.

For those who want to learn a broader range of skills, they can learn by reading Extreme Productivity. The book begins with a disciplined process for setting goals for the next year, both personally and professionally. Then it discusses how you can overcome the constraints on getting your top goals done – both within yourself like procrastination and barriers raised by the organization such as emails and meetings. Finally, it tells you how to get your biggest projects done most effectively by starting at the end – focusing as soon as possible on your tentative conclusions, and revisiting your tentative conclusions on a regular basis.

Today there are a multitude of tools at our disposal to “be more productive” – tools that definitely did not exist when you began your career. Are there any tools available today that you wish you would have had 30-40 years ago”Yes, cell phones, email, and internet searches would have made my life more productive 30 years ago.

What is the biggest obstacle to productivity today”Cell phones, email and internet are also some of the biggest potential burdens on my productivity. In other words, they can be powerful forces for productivity, or they can overwhelm us and reduce our output.

How can we get the good side but not the bad side out of these tools? Here are my rules for handling email:

Bob Pozen’s Tips On How To Handle Email

1. Don’t look at your email every few minutes – that is a waste of time and effort. Instead check your email every hour or two.

2.When you check your email, discard at least two thirds immediately on the basis of the subject or sender. You can tell that these emails are not worth reading.

3. When you get to an important email, from your spouse or boss, answer it right then and there. If you put off answering that email, you may forget it totally or remember only weeks later.

4. I advocate the general principle of O.H.I.O. – only handle it once.

Bob Pozen’s guide to becoming more productive, Extreme Productivity, is coming on Blinkist in 2017. Until then, give these popular productivity titles a read:

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