Dealing with procrastination, using a “two-sided schedule,” sketching out final deliverables as soon as possible — these are some of the tools that can make you more productive.
How many hours do you work a week?
If you’re like a lot of managers, including many who attended the recent “Maximizing Your Personal Productivity” program at MIT Sloan Executive Education, your estimate might be between 49 hours and 58 hours.
Robert Pozen, a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management and leader of the session, said when he speaks to groups, there’s usually a large cluster of people who say their work hours fall in this span. Some outliers claim as few as 80 hours a week for sleep and personal time, meaning they work 88 hours.
“People say they’re working so many hours because they have ‘so many things to do’ or they’re not productive enough,” said Pozen.
The broader problem, he said, is that people often don’t articulate their biggest goals and don’t have the right tools to make them true priorities.
How can we realign our goals and our time to better own how we spend our days? Here are a few strategies Pozen shared during the two-day program:
Use a “two-sided schedule” to take control of your days. Every night, Pozen writes a schedule for the next day that has two columns: times and tasks on the left side, and the purpose — what he wants to get out of each task — on the right side. “Everyone has a list of the left side,” he says. Adding the second side gets you to be less passive about you days and stop simply responding to other people’s goals.
Start shaping deliverables as soon as possible. For Pozen, that means that with every new project, he sketches an outline no later than two days into research. “You want to identify critical issues and have a tentative outline of where you’re going,” he said. People resist this advice all the time, he added. They argue that they can’t possibly have tentative conclusions so quickly. “You don’t have to have all the answers,” he said, “but you want to focus on the alternatives.”
Deal with your procrastination. For modest procrastinators, Pozen suggested setting up small rewards for chunks of work done. For heavy-duty procrastinators, people who are “almost physically incapable of starting a project until the day before it’s due,” he suggested breaking a project into a handful of deadlines. “Some people say, ‘that’s artificial,’ to which I say, ‘If you want to make them real, tell them to your boss.’”
For more on managing time better and taking charge of your goals, see Pozen’s website bobpozen.com. It has information about his book Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours (HarperBusiness, 2012). Visit MIT Sloan Executive Education for information about the productivity program and others.