Have you heard the saying, “Work smarter, not harder?” Then, have you thought: “What does that really mean?”
Here’s how Harvard Business Review contributor Bob Pozen interprets the approach. Pozen has 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.
Here are his six principles for a more productive work life:
1. Know your comparative advantage.
Pozen says: “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.” Instead, the question should focus on what only the CEO can perform or what duties only certain managers can perform. This will help find the best person for the task.
2. It’s not the time you spend, but the results you produce.
Pozen says that many leaders put a huge amount of time into their jobs. This might be necessary in a crisis, but shouldn’t be a daily practice because more hours worked doesn’t necessarily equal more work being accomplished.
Find ways to make sure you’re seeking results and not just logging hours.
3. Think first, read or write second.
It’s easy for a leader to feel overwhelmed by the information they need to process when running a company. Pozen says, “They don’t realize that the key to faster and more effective reading and writing is more rigorous thinking in advance.”
He advises that with e-mails, the first thing to do is to decide which ones need to be read. If they’re important, he answers them right away. If he can’t, or they have lengthy attachments, he has them printed out and responds the following day.
With more complex responses, he advises that you first figure out your message —identifying four or five main points — before responding.
4. Prepare your plan, but be ready to change it.
Each night, Pozen composes a high-level schedule with a few words about what he wants to accomplish. He also composes a list of tasks in order of priority. At the end of the day, he reviews what he has accomplished, which helps him set the next day’s priorities.
5. Let others own their space.
Pozen advises that when you present a project or problem, do it in a way that encourages debate, which, in turn, encourages creativity and collaboration. Here’s an example of how he might present a problem to a group: “Here is the area where we really need to do something. It is a difficult area, and there are several ways to address the problems. Now, this is my tentative view of the path we should take, but I could be wrong. I want you to feel free to disagree and offer alternatives.”
Then, be willing to accept new ideas; have participants agree to an action plan; and ask them to set up their own timetable for how they will contribute.
6. Keep things short and simple.
Pozen follows a daily regimen based on simplicity. For example, he follows a morning ritual regarding what he wears, eats and when he leaves for work. He says, “The keep-it-simple rule applies equally well to other aspects of work life, such as meetings. Almost any meeting can be completed in an hour or at most an hour and a half. After 90 minutes, people turn off — they get tired and stop paying attention.”
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