Enlightening Tips from a Professor of Productivity

By Greg Nathan posted November 3, 2022

I arrived 15 minutes late due to an unrealistic back-to-back meeting schedule, ironic given the webinar was on solving work overload problems. But I was quickly in the groove, listening to Bob Pozen's wise words on improving productivity, delivered with the gentle cadence of a Leonard Cohen song.

While not meaning to be judgemental, I do make judgements on the competence of so-called experts, based on their ability to communicate well-researched, important ideas in simple language. I've also found a good indicator of a person's knowledge is how they answer questions. Do they understand the point and provide a direct, pragmatic response, or do they waffle with jargon, creating further confusion?

Bob quickly demonstrated his expertise in spades, no doubt honed from an impressive career spanning academia (Harvard and MIT), commerce (Chair of a multi-billion dollar investment firm) and politics (adviser to President Bush and Governor Mitt Romney). Before I share my key takeaways from this webinar, don't be fooled by their apparent simplicity. The power of good ideas often lies in their simplicity.

Measure your team's performance on success metrics, not hours

While leaders should set the objectives, a team should come up with their own success measures. To help them, pose the question, "How will we know we've been successful?" This will bring greater understanding to your business objectives, help avoid the need for micro-management, and promote better life balance by giving your team more autonomy and work satisfaction.

When you are trying to crack a large project, start at the end

Spend two days researching the subject and write up your tentative conclusions, even though this may feel awkward. Then do more research and revise your conclusions. Next, bounce these tentative ideas off outside experts. Finally, break your project plan into segments, and review and adjust these monthly, as new insights come to light. The reason why large projects often blow out financially and fail, is too much overplanning and rigidity up front.

Manage email overload by filtering emails into important categories

Attend to high-value messages right away. Bob cleverly defined these as "Messages from people who are important in your life." The rest can wait, and when you do read these, skip over 50% of the content to get to the point. Unsubscribe to low-value newsletters and practice OHIO (only handle it once). Finally, turn off alerts and read messages in chunks. Bob's personal method is twice in the morning, twice in the afternoon and once in the evening.

Have business guidelines around the use of messages

Develop guidelines in conjunction with your team. Here are some examples:

  • Only send an email to those who need to know.
  • If it requires a response, mark it with 'Action'.
  • If a message trail starts going back and forth, call the person on the phone. (Often best to text them first.)
  • Do not hit 'Reply All' when responding to group emails.
  • Don't use emails for team messages, use internal messaging such as Teams or Slack.
  • Minimise the number of messaging channels, and have a clear purpose for each.

Finally, 7 tips to improve meeting effectiveness

  1. Research shows the optimal meeting size is 6 to 8 people, so just invite those who can add value.
  2. Send an agenda in the invitation with specific, actionable items. This helps invitees make an informed decision of whether to attend.
  3. Do not book meetings back-to-back. Schedule for 45 minutes or less, so you have a 15-minute buffer to stay on top of things. (Remember, meetings tend to adjust to fit the time allowed).
  4. Send materials 24 hours beforehand with the expectation people will read them.
  5. Use meetings to discuss issues, not to read or disseminate information.
  6. Call on quieter people by asking "What do you think about this?"
  7. Allow 5 minutes at the start to restate the purpose and desired outcomes, and close with a summary of what's been decided, next steps and who will do what.

I hope you found these tips useful. I certainly have room for improvement in most of these areas. Well done to The Growth Faculty for providing these refreshing webinars led by wise, humble people who know their stuff.

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