An Expert on ‘Extreme Productivity’: Boost Results, Reduce Hours

BY Paul Solman  October 26, 2012 at 4:50 PM EST


Work-life balance illustration by Bjorn Rune Lie in Ikon Images via Getty Images.

Bob Pozen has been the vice chairman of Fidelity Investments, chairman of MFS Investment Management, a professor at Georgetown University, New York University and Harvard Law Schools and at MIT and Harvard business schools. He has served on non-profit and for-profit boards, was a lawyer at the SEC, a member of President George W. Bush’s Commission to Strengthen Social Security and secretary of economic affairs for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. He’s done all that and he’s younger than I am. But he prides himself on always getting home in time to eat dinner with his family.

So when I heard from a friend that Bob Pozen had a new book out — “Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours” — I thought: who could know better than this guy?

Plus, we’ve been developing a self-help stable here on Making Sen$e that’s proved unprecedentedly popular, featuring “Ask Larry” (Social Security) Kotlikoff and Nick “Ask the Headhunter” Corcodilos.

Why not a post from Bob Pozen? So here it is:

Bob Pozen: In this tough economic environment, your company might be leaning on you to get more done at work. Yet you don’t want to sacrifice your relationships with friends and family. How can you manage these competing demands? By becoming more efficient at work — that is, getting more done in less time.

Many professionals seemingly hop from crisis to crisis, putting out fires and responding to the needs of others. Although they are constantly busy, it’s unclear how much progress they’re actually making. Quite often, professionals like these have not taken the time to rigorously think through their goals. Instead, they unquestioningly accept the schedule that has been imposed upon them by their employer or their boss.


So, it’s critical that you establish your goals: literally write them down and rank them by importance. When ranking your goals, think beyond your own skills and desires. Also, think about what your organization needs most from you — fixing an internal process, perhaps, or mentoring young employees.

After ranking your goals, clear away those with a low priority as quickly as possible. Don’t waste your time and energy doing A+ work on assignments where B+ is more than good enough, given the payoff to you and the organization. And don’t be afraid to decline invitations to unproductive meetings or to delete unnecessary emails.

For those high-priority projects where your best effort is required, you can still adopt strategies to get them done more efficiently. In particular, don’t spend days — or weeks — at the beginning of a project gathering basic facts. Typically, most of those facts won’t end up being relevant to your project.

Instead, after a day or two of research, formulate tentative conclusions, accepting that they will be revised later. That way, you can quickly focus on the central issues of your project and narrow the scope of the rest of your research.

These practices should enable you to get your work done more efficiently, allowing you to leave the office earlier. Unfortunately, many professionals feel unable to go home at a reasonable hour, lest they be perceived as slackers. This is a symptom of a work culture that puts too much emphasis on time spent at the office, rather than results produced.
Even if you can’t change the culture of your entire organization, you can help ease your boss away from this mentality. In particular, make sure you and your boss come to an agreement on metrics for every project. This allows your boss to judge your work based on objective criteria — that is, criteria other than the number of hours you work.

Of course, there will be times when you won’t be able to finish your work during regular business hours, even if you follow all of these practices. In these situations, I personally made sure to take a break from my work so that I could go home for dinner with my wife and children. These dinners were immensely valuable to me; even when my children were less than talkative, I greatly enjoyed the quality time I spent with them.

After eating dinner and spending some more time with your family, you can then finish whatever needs to be finished. In my experience, a several-hour break can be just what you need to dream up a tricky solution to a thorny problem.

More generally, when you bring work home, you should establish a separate physical place for your “homework” — I was fortunate enough to have a home office, but a desk in your bedroom accomplishes the same purpose. And you should reserve certain times for your family, even if work is breathing down your neck. That way, it’s easier for your subconscious mind to separate its “work” and “family” modes.

Developing productive habits can allow you to finish your work in fewer hours, giving you more time for your friends and family. Some professionals — say, investment bankers — might opt to get more done in the same number of hours. In any event, becoming more productive at work can help you achieve something more important: a higher quality of life.

PS: For more lifehack hints, go to bobpozen.com

We at Making Sen$e are working on a story to explain where the monthly unemployment numbers come from. To do so, we are looking for interviewees who have worked on the Current Population Survey (CPS; household survey) and/or the Current Employment Statistics survey (CES; establishment survey). Are you a former surveyor? Do you know one? If so, we want to hear from you! Please email us at businessdesk@newshour.org. Be sure to include your contact information. Very much obliged.

This entry is cross-posted on the Rundown- NewsHour’s blog of news and insight.