Managing Yourself: Extreme Productivity by Robert C. Pozen
Bob Pozen does a lot. He’s been a top executive at two mutual fund giants, Fidelity and MFS Investment Management. He’s also been an attorney, a government official, a law school professor, a business school professor, and a prolific author. And he has often been several of those things at once. Yet Pozen never comes across as overwhelmed, frazzled, or even all that busy. We know this because he’s a frequent contributor to HBR and hbr.org—with a reputation around our offices for writing faster than we can edit. Our experiences with him led us to wonder if he might have something interesting to say about personal productivity. So we asked him about it. The result was a series of blog posts for hbr.org (http://s.hbr.org/eDJ4g4), which Pozen has here distilled into six principles for a more productive work life.
Principle 1: Know Your Comparative Advantage
Many CEOs I’ve encountered say, “Here are the top five priorities for the company. Who would be the best at carrying out each one?” Then they propose themselves for all five areas. That might be the right answer, but it’s the wrong question, because it’s based on a self-centered concept of comparative advantage. It focuses on what an executive does best rather than on what the organization most needs from him or her.
The correct question is, “Which functions can only you as the CEO perform?” You may be the only executive who can meet with a top regulator or persuade a key client to stay. You may also be essential to recruiting senior staff. But a CEO has to hold back from taking on other responsibilities even if he or she excels at delivering on them. When CEO Rob Manning recruited me to join MFS as chairman, in 2004, we explicitly divided the high-priority functions. Although I had run the investment management group at Fidelity, Rob is a talented investment guy and a natural leader who wanted to take charge of that group at MFS. We agreed that I wouldn’t even show up on the investment floor.
The same applies to midlevel executives. You may be outstanding in finance and solid in marketing, but if your company is stacked with good finance people and very weak on marketing, your highest and best use is probably in the latter. So don’t focus just on what you do best. You’re more likely to succeed if you look around and gauge how you can be most useful.
Many executives also spend too much time on operational details, such as the best flight to take or the seating plan at a corporate dinner. Such tasks should be delegated, if possible, to an executive assistant. Of course, the boss must be able to rely on this person to get the tasks done correctly, quickly, and politely. Once confidence is established, he or she should go to great lengths to support and retain such an assistant, who is crucial to being productive.
Principle 2: It’s Not the Time You Spend but the Results You Produce
Most executives, professionals, and entrepreneurs put a huge amount of time into their jobs. In a crisis it may be necessary to burn the midnight oil, but the ambitious have a tendency to stay late every night. This tendency arises from the implicit assumption that more hours equal more value added. That is too simplistic. Your success should be measured by the results you produce, not the number of hours you log.
When I joined a law firm in Washington, DC, I soon realized that charging clients for the number of hours worked made no sense. That billing method encouraged lawyers to work lots of hours rather than to get good results quickly. After a few years, my clients knew that I was efficient, so I ran an experiment. I sent them a letter explaining that in the future I would bill them for double the time I actually spent on their work—unless they objected. Not one client did.
Focusing on results rather than hours has the added benefit of allowing a better balance between family and work. When I had young children, I came home most weekdays at 7:00 to have dinner and spend some quality time with them. Later in the evening, if necessary, I would work in my home office. On the weekends my children usually slept late, so I would work from 7:00 to 11:00 in the morning and have most of the day left to be with my family.
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