How to Master the Art of Productivity

Editor’s note: Dan Schawbel of Forbes interviews Robert Pozen regarding his latest book, Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours.

When you were at Fidelity, how did you balance your time?

When I was president of Fidelity, I made a point of getting home almost every night at 7pm for dinner. Those dinners enhanced our family life and gave me a break from work. I also learned that I didn’t need to stay late every night to get ahead. If I still had work to do, I would retreat to my home office around 10pm, after my children had gone to sleep. The break often let me come up with fresh solutions to thorny problems.

What are your best productivity tips for workers who are looking to get ahead in their careers?

In thinking about their careers, many young professionals try to figure out their ultimate goal – say, becoming CEO of their company, or being appointed a federal judge. But that perspective is unrealistic – the world is far too random for such rigid planning. Instead, young people should take a step-by-step approach to career planning. They should think about what next step would increase their career options in the future. That means gaining transferable skills or knowledge—such as leadership, or computer programming. It also means growing their professional network by working with a wide variety of other professionals.

Do you think there should still be a 9-to-5 workday or that companies should focus more on results over where and when work gets done?

For most knowledge workers, a 9-to-5 workday (or even worse, an 8-to-8 workday) makes little sense. Your productivity shouldn’t be measured in terms of hours you log at the office, but rather the results you achieve for your organization or for your clients. So managers should offer flex-time to their trusted employees, and downplay face-time at the office. For example, why not let parents attend their children’s soccer games on a weekday afternoon? They will get the work done at another time, and you’ll earn their loyalty and respect.

In this hyper-connected world, it’s easy to get distracted. How do you recommend workers stay focused?

Email and mobile phones can be great contributors to productivity, but also great detractors by wasting lots of time. So I urge you to ignore a large chunk of your emails and then use OHIO—short for “only handle it once”—for the important ones. If an email is important, respond to it immediately. If you wait a few days, you will forget it or take several minutes to find it again. As to your cell phone, I strongly urge you to get a separate ring tone for your boss so that you can easily ignore all other after-hours calls if you so desire. And make an agreement with your boss that you’ll be unreachable during certain times—such as family dinner. Don’t be afraid to “unplug”—turn off your phone, and close your laptop.

What is the best way to efficiently use your time at the office?

To use your time efficiently at work, you need to prepare in advance. First, you should write down your goals for the next week and the next year, and then carefully consider which ones are most important to you and your organization. Next, you should each night go over your schedule for the next day and see if it is consistent with your highest priorities. You might find that your schedule is mainly reactive to the needs of others, rather than your own goals. To better align your schedule with your priorities, don’t be afraid to decline invitations to unnecessary meetings, and recognize that certain tasks only require a quick and dirty effort.