Anything that causes lost productivity is on the naughty list for any employee. And the search for the next great productivity hack is never ending, with efforts now extending from working remotely to increase productivity to working a four-day workweek while still improving output.
So any time a big, new study emerges that offers insight on personal productivity, my interest peaks on behalf of my readers (and for myself).
MIT senior lecturer Robert Pozen designed and conducted a huge productivity test and recently reported the findings in Harvard Business Review. It’s called the Pozen Productivity Test, a 21-question survey based on seven habits of productivity: developing daily routines, planning your schedule, coping with messages, getting a lot done, running effective meetings, honing communication skills, and delegating tasks to others.
19,957 people took the test, leading up to the analysis Pozen and his team conducted. (You can take the survey yourself here).
Two overall trends surfaced from the productivity test that I found interesting. First, the number of hours worked did not correlate with productivity–it’s about working smarter.
And if you want to work smarter, pay attention to the second trend: Older professionals scored better, speaking to the experience that more seasoned professionals have in maximizing personal productivity. Yet another reason for the younger professional to find a trusted older mentor.
But insight really surfaces when you take a closer look at the test results. Pozen suggests that if you want to become far more productive, build these specific habits:
1. Plan top priorities, act with definite objectives.
Review your schedule the night before to ensure it’s focused on your top priorities. After all, once the day gets going, reviewing your priorities is an even bigger struggle then actually getting to them.
Pozen suggests also jotting down your objectives next to each event on your calendar, something I find quite helpful. Other proactive moves are to identify your purpose for reading something before you read it. Say the objective out loud if you have to. I do a lot of research for my speaking/teaching/writing, and before I dig into a study’s findings, I’ve found it helpful to say to myself, “Now, with this study I’m looking for data on….” It keeps me focused and efficient in combing through what can be dense text. You get the idea.
Pozen also suggests that before writing anything substantive, write an outline to keep you on track. I couldn’t speak and write for a living without doing this.
2. Be intentional about managing the overload of information and tasks.
Interestingly, Pozen suggests making daily processes (like getting dressed or eating breakfast) into routines so you don’t waste time thinking about them. I shared in Make It Matter that former President Barack Obama and heavy-metal guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen, oddly, have one thing in common: They both used to wear essentially the same thing every day so they could save their brain power for bigger, more important decisions. Standardizing things like this free up mind space to not only sift through decisions but also information and tasks.
He also suggests leaving small blocks of time on your calendar to deal with truly urgent, unplanned events. Nothing can blow up a day’s productivity like a good (bad) crisis.
Breaking projects into large pieces is key, as is delegating work that doesn’t advance your top priorities. That’s worth repeating. You likely know that delegating is key to efficiency, but are you truly shedding the things that don’t serve your most important to-do items? Easier said than done, but when all is said and done, it’s better done than said. Delegating is one of my most important tools for creating what’s most critical to my business model: content.
Pozen’s most important device-management tip is to establish a habit of checking your screens only once per hour (versus every few minutes, which I sometimes catch myself doing–I mean it’s not like I’m an air-traffic controller for cryin’ out loud).
3. Power pack your meetings and be rabid about clear objectives and success criteria.
Pozen says no more than 90-minute meetings, with any meeting ending with clear next steps and corresponding responsibilities assigned. I’ve also found it’s critical, as owner of a meeting, to encourage a pattern of debate, decide, commit.
Finally, according to Pozen, nothing throws a team into a more unproductive, inefficient tailspin than unclear objectives and success criteria. Give them if you’re a leader and demand them if you’re a subordinate.
So punch up your productivity and punch out anything in the way (unless it’s a co-worker–don’t do that).