When recent travel commitments stressed already long to-do lists, we were reminded of an old professor, Bob Pozen, who, apart from teaching us the basics of various financial institutions, was something of a productivity guru – doing more in a day than most do in a year. While serving as full-time chairman of a prominent investment firm, for instance, Pozen was also teaching full-time at Harvard Business School, serving on multiple prominent boards and publishing articles in the Harvard Business Review. Pozen chose to share his habits in a book titled Extreme Productivity, wherein he describes his method for managing disparate work responsibilities without suffering from poor work quality and perhaps even more impressively, without becoming overwhelmed personally.
For Pozen, the essence of productivity means translating bigger picture ambition into short-term scheduling habits, thereby maximizing the amount of effort directed toward advancing stated goals while minimizing energy spent on everything else. To create accountability, he notes, “Your daily schedule needs to be connected to your yearly objectives; if not, you’re just getting through the day. If you want an active schedule, you have to husband your time so you can act on the things that are important.” Of course, Pozen acknowledges the realities of life dictate one must spend some time on non-priorities, such as attire and food, and for these items, he recommends streamlining as much as possible. Moreover, for work product that must be done but is not a priority, Pozen suggests aiming for B+ level work output and moving on, as only priority items warrant A+ effort.
Morten Hansen, professor of management at the University of California, Berkeley, corroborated Pozen’s personal recommendations through unrelated academic research he conducted which aimed to understand why some people perform better than others based on a hunch that the difference could not, as commonly believed, be attributed only to talent or hard work. Through a five year survey of 5,000 managers and employees across various industries, Hansen and his team found that specific behaviors led to high-performance in the workplace, as outlined in a recent Wall Street Journal article, titled ‘The Key to Success? Doing Less:’
“The common practice we found among the highest-ranked performers in our study wasn’t at all what we expected. It wasn’t a better ability to organize or delegate. Instead, top performers mastered selectivity. Whenever they could, they carefully selected which priorities, tasks, meetings, customers, ideas or steps to undertake and which to let go. They then applied intense, targeted effort on those few priorities in order to excel.”
It turns out the best performers seek to, whether deliberately or not, follow Pozen’s recommendations, and unapologetically focus on executing priority items well while saying no to distractions. From the Journal:
“Yes, the best performers work hard (about 50 hours a week in our data, like Natalie), but they don’t outperform because they work longer hours. They outperform because they have the courage to cut back and simplify when others pile on, to say “no” when others say “yes,” to pursue value when others just meet internal goals, and to change how they do their jobs when others stick with the status quo.”
As Chenmark grows, we find ourselves faced with ever increasing to-do lists, ranging from the entirely mundane (running payroll) to the strategic (compensation schemes that create long-term incentives). Often it can seem much easier to crank through the routine blocking and tackling type tasks precisely because they do not require much brain power, and their successful completion can provide the illusion of productivity. Conversely, we’ve found it more difficult to carve out time to tackle the ‘thinking’ tasks, which are arguably where we can provide the most value despite the fact that progress can be slow going and results intangible in the short-term. While our weekly schedules will always contain a balance of different commitments, this weeks’ reading renewed our commitment to ruthlessly protect the time allocated toward longer term goals even if it means our diet and wardrobe choices remain entirely mundane.