How to be Extremely Productive

Unfortunately, most of us do not have 8 arms (Source of image)

From organisational speed, let's move on next to individual productivity.  Once again, Harvard Business Review's Ideacast features good ideas worth considering.

In "Productivity Secrets of a Very Busy Man", Bob Posen, a senior lecturer at Harvard and executive chairman of a major investment firm, offers some great tips. Other than holding down two jobs, Posen sits on a few boards and manages to write a couple of articles a year.

How does one juggle multiple responsibilities given only 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? Posen offers the following:

1) Focus on results and not time spent. Representing a radical shift from inputs (hours spent) to outcomes, focusing on results forces one to prioritise and become efficient at what one does. One way in which agencies, law firms, and consultancy firms can do this, for instance, is to bill their clients based on performance rather than hours spent on a project.

2) Know your comparative advantage in an organisation. Fighting tooth and nail internally in a competitive manner is counter productive and damaging to a company's culture. Instead, one should consider what the firm most needs from you and how you can add the greatest value while delegating the rest. The same principle applies lower down the chain in divisions, departments and teams, with each contributing a different skill to the mix.

3) Think first before reading or writing. If you're truly time strapped, you can ill afford to fritter away hours reading or writing stuff that doesn't add to your ultimate goal. An example on reading newspapers was given by Pozen, where one could pick up different types of news (eg Finance from one, Sports from another) from different titles.

In writing, conjuring an outline and a skeletal framework before putting down the flesh also helps one to be clearer in producing a piece of work.

4) Plan ahead on a daily and weekly basis, but change it if necessary. Pozen looks at his schedule the night before and decide how he should prioritise the tasks at hand before the day starts. When something else comes along, he will reprioritise quickly and defer the less important stuff.  Stephen Covey spoke about this concept many years ago in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The principle is embodied in the quadrant below, and one should focus on the important and urgent matters before moving towards the important but not so urgent matters.

Courtesy of The Socionist

(A useful tip here is to start your day earlier if possible.  Mornings are the best time to get things going.)

5) Don't be afraid of taking naps.  Yes, sleeping on the job isn't that bad actually, especially if it refreshes and re-energises you.  I'm not sure how practical this is for those of us working in frontline jobs, but closing one's eyes for even a few minutes can sometimes do miracles. 

6) Eat a boring and routine breakfast and lunch.  I suppose this is a quick and easy way to get around the task of having meals, without spending undue time and mental energy to choose a different place every day. 

Other than the above suggestions from Bob, I have a few more to add.

7) Maximise your "waiting" time.  At work, it is common for us to balance a few projects and tasks and to rely on other colleagues for inputs.  Rather than wait for one to complete before commencing another - a luxury that few of us have - use the in-between time waiting for a response from others to do something.

8) Anticipate what's needed ahead of time.  Waiting for instructions and commands is probably a fairly unproductive practice as it often means that you're only at the starting blocks when asked to do so.  A more efficient way to work - up to a certain point - is to look ahead to see what's needed and begin work on them.  Of course, this also means understanding what is needed at that point and prioritising accordingly.

What other productivity tips can you suggest?

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