If you ask Robert C. Pozen, such routines can be a powerful tool in modern life, where so many of us are haunted by the sense that we’re not getting enough done or managing our lives well enough.
Pozen ran a global financial services firm while teaching a full course load at Harvard Business School. He’s written six books, including “Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours” — published this month. Setting priorities is key to working fast and smart, he says. And working fast and smart is key to career-boosting performance at the office and a full and satisfying life beyond it.
He took the time to talk about his philosophy and strategies. The following has been lightly edited for length and clarity:
“Extreme Productivity” sounds exhausting. In a nutshell, what’s your philosophy?
“Extreme Productivity” is not about working harder; it’s about working smarter. The practices that I advocate do not require you to be a superhero. Instead, the book offers many practical lessons on how you can improve your output for each hour that you work.
The general philosophy of these lessons is that you should focus your time on your most critical goals. So first, you have to identify and rank your priorities, based on your own skills and desires as well as the needs of your organization. Then you clear away the lower priorities with as little headache as possible. Finally, you perform your high-priority goals more efficiently by quickly reaching tentative conclusions, instead of spending days or weeks researching basic facts.
So the key to productivity seems to be setting priorities and targets. How do you do that efficiently?
You can’t start achieving your goals until you know what exactly your goals are. So it’s worth taking the time to go through the following exercise. First, write down all your medium-term (one year or so) and short-term (one week or so) professional goals — including projects, their associated stepping stones and any routine assigned tasks.
Then, rank your medium-term goals by importance. Although you should certainly consider what you want to do and what you’re good at, you should also think about what your organization most needs from you. For instance, although you might be very skillful at designing advertising campaigns for new products, your company might need you to manage its recruiting campaign instead.
Finally, think about the broader implications of your short-term goals: a highly ranked short-term goal can either be an intermediate step to help you achieve an important longer-term goal, or it can be a task that your boss considers highly critical. This exercise can help you create a list of your highest ranked goals.