Is counting the number of hours an employee puts in a good measure of productivity?

Bob Pozen, senior lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, poses this question to students as he opens a discussion about his book Extreme Productivity: Reduce Your Hours, Boost Your Performance.

On a Friday afternoon, students crowd into the Jepson Faculty Lounge, where Bob Pozen discusses measuring productivity through a new system of objectives and metrics. To demonstrate how this method might work, Pozen leads the students through an activity to determine how a healthcare team can work to meet the objective of providing better patient service. He then outlines a three-pronged strategy for increasing productivity and meeting objectives in less time.

1. Set your goals in order of priority.

The work you do every day sets you up to meet your goals. Pozen recommends setting your goals a year in advance; while these goals can be fluid and change, they will lay a foundation. Pozen suggests translating these goals to your everyday life by using a two-sided planner. On one side, keep track of your schedule and commitments for the week, and on the other side, integrate your daily schedule with your goals. This will help ensure that your everyday tasks fit your goals.

2. Get rid of all the small stuff that clutters up your life.

People who spend even 50 percent of their time on their goals are rare, says Pozen. He claims that a more accurate estimate of the time most people spend working toward their goals is about 30–40 percent. How do you fix this? For one thing, stop checking email so much. Don’t look at your emails all the time, Pozen warns; try to keep yourself to checking email only once every hour or two and develop discipline to skip over 60–80 percent of them.

3. After the first two days of research on a project, write down your tentative conclusions, then revise throughout the rest of the project.

Fight the urge to spend too long doing research on a large project. By writing a rough outline for your final project early on, you have to focus on the analytic questions that you’ll need to address in the final project. This will help you determine which of the infinite number of facts available are actually important to the project and will focus your research.

The lecture, which is cosponsored by the Jepson Student Government Association, concludes with questions from students. Keeping with the fast pace he set in the discussion, Pozen moves around the table from student to student and responds with an easy conversational approach. By the end of the hour, students scribble over pages in their notebooks notes and tips that range from political to professional to personal. It is undeniable that this has been a productive afternoon.