Extreme Productivity – HBR May 2011

Bob Pozen’s article in HBR outlines six useful yet simple principles which enable him to be more productive in his working life. We at DCP think that these can be applied by most people, allowing them to be more productive and efficient in their own lives. The principles are as follows:

Know your comparative advantage:

  • Decide, not which tasks you can do best but which of the tasks only you can do, then delegate the others to team members who can also produce results in this area. This applies not just to CEOs but also mid-level executives
  • Similarly, if you are more skilled in one area, but able in another area, one in which others are not, turn your hand to the latter as it is where your talents will be best utilised and you will be most useful
  • Many executives spend too long on operational details and would be better to hire an EA to perform certain tasks in order to free up their own time to focus on more strategic big picture issues and save them from getting bogged down in the detail


It’s not the time you spend, but the results you produce:

  • Pozen, while working for a law firm in Washington found that billing clients by the hour encouraged people to work long hours and was counterintuitive to producing quick results. He advocates focusing on results rather than hours billed and charging clients accordingly, thus allowing a better work-life balance


Think First, Read or Write Second:

  • Know what you want to achieve before beginning writing. Outline four or five key points and then write the conclusion so that you know where your article or email is going
  • Similarly, he advises his children, when studying, after each chapter they read, to write no more than the one paragraph that they want to recall at exam time, this focuses them in their reading to make it as efficient as possible


Prepare Your Plan, but Be Ready to Change It:

  • When speaking to a group, don’t write out a speech, jot down the key points you wish to cover and a concluding paragraph. Get to the event early enough to hear the speaker before you in order to gauge the mood of the audience and tailor your points to its state of mind.
  • Keep at least one hour a day free in your schedule to allow you to deal with any unexpected events in a timely fashion.  If your day is filled back to back with meetings or phone calls, an unanticipated development can be much more difficult and disruptive than if you allow some free time each day to deal with such eventualities


Let Others Own Their Space:

  • Rather than telling team members and direct reports what needs to be done and how to do it, encourage debate by outlining the issue and a “tentative path” but encouraging people to disagree and suggest alternatives  – allowing others to come up with a better approach
  • At the end of a meeting, sum up by asking what needs to be done, who is going to do it and when will the objectives be delivered. This allows people involved to agree on what needs to be done and to set their own timeline, giving them an ownership interest in the project
  • An added bonus to this approach according to Pozen is that often people will come forth with more ambitious timelines and targets than he might have dared suggest


Keep it Simple:

  • Keep the material aspects of life as simple as possible in order to maximize your productivity. For example Pozen has five summer work outfits and five winter ones. He also follows the same breakfast routine and has the same thing for lunch each day, thus minimizing his choices and maximising his time
  • Keep meetings to an hour or an hour and a half at most, people tend to switch off after an hour and a half and productivity declines as a result
  • Circulate materials for a meeting to all participants in advance of the meeting and include a one page executive summary and ensure that everyone knows that it is necessary to read it in advance
  • The first five or ten minutes of a meeting should be the time in which the presenter sets the stage and outlines the key questions, the remaining time should be used to discuss issues and formulate a plan – as opposed to meetings in which the presenter talks through every word on 20 or more slides while everybody listens politely


Even by choosing to integrate one or two principles into your everyday life can make an impact on your productivity, so pick the ones that you think will make a difference to you and give them a go!