Extreme Productivity

By: Robert C. Pozen



If there is one subject that fills more space in business bookshelves, it’s time management. At some point, we have all asked ourselves the question: “How can I get more time to do the things I want?”. Your timekeeping objectives may be career development, time with family, or a better work / life balance. In this week’s Readitfor.me Summary, we hear how Robert C. Pozen has successfully tackled the problem and how using his advice we can achieve Extreme Productivity, Boost our Results and Reduce our Hours.

Pozen’s methodology is built on a single premise: in order to be productive, we must focus on the results we want to achieve, not the time we spend at work. He tells us that to maximise productivity we need to apply three related ideas:

#1: Articulate and Rank our Goals.
#2: Focus on the Final Product.
#3: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.


Irrespective of what we are doing, we should know two things: why are we doing it and what do we want to get out of it. To answer these questions, Pozen gives us a six step process.

  • Step 1: Write down everything we are doing or planning to do to achieve our professional goals.
  • Step 2: Organise the items into the following groups: Career Aims, Yearly Objectives and Weekly Targets.
  • Step 3: Rank our objectives by their importance…both important to us and important to others. Make sure that each of our objectives has one or two associated targets.
  • Step 4: Rank our targets by relative importance, again from our perspective and the perspective of others.
  • Step 5: Estimate how much time we are spending on each and compare that with our prioritised objectives and targets. Notice any mismatch?
  • Step 6: Understand why and address the mismatches between goals and targets.


Most of the time, when we start a project, we commit to some research as the logical first step. Pozen believes this is an inefficient approach. Why? Because we could get bogged down in analysis paralysis. Too many facts, too little relevance. Instead, he tells us to think hard at the start of a project about where it’s going: what are the critical issues, and how are they likely to be resolved?

After no more than a day of consideration we should generate tentative conclusions for the project and provide a focus for subsequent research. He tells us to write down our “conclusions” as a list of facts that can be revised as the project progresses.

In fact, he tells us that it’s worthwhile scheduling a review midway through the project. Not only to ensure we remain on track, but also to refocus for the second half of our work.

The simple point behind this lesson is to ensure that we always have the goal in mind and we don’t get diverted by trivia or irrelevant actions.


Attention to detail is usually considered a positive attribute, but Pozen suggests our time commitment should vary according to the importance of a project and the needs of our audience. He believes it’s worth spending extra time and effort on our highest ranking objectives and targets. But where do you find that extra time? OHIO.

Pozen uses the acronym OHIO to give us the way forward: Only Handle It Once. OHIO means tackling our low-priority items immediately when we receive them and avoiding any backlog. When we get a request, we must immediately decide to respond or ignore. If we want to respond, we then need to figure out whether we have the ability to do so immediately or need more information. Hopefully we can respond immediately as waiting can double or triple the time involved as we may need to get re-acquainted with the task.

Another thing to avoid is over-analysis of minor details. Pozen believes overcoming perfectionism is critical to becoming more efficient at work. In summary, the rule is to decide rather than delay. Saving time means being decisive.


How can we make sure that we accomplish our highest goals every day? We need to re-jig how we use our calendar. Rather than taking a simple list based approach, Pozen suggests using a two-column calendar. On the left hand side we should enter our meetings, conference calls, and other appointments. We can also list targets that are less time dependent, but ones you still want to address on that specific day.

On the right hand column Pozen tells us to list what we want to achieve from each entry on the left – justification for each activity. This should also include the targets that are non-time dependent. Write down the purpose for the event—what we want to get out of it. This ensures that we are focused on the purpose of each meeting or call while engaged in them.

Pozen also tells us to leave some blocks of free time. Not only do these gaps allow us flexibility but they give us time to make calls, write notes or even think! The timing for these gaps should depend on when you typically have your most fertile mental periods.

At the end of each appointment, we should add new “to dos” to our calendar in the same way as above. That way we don’t lose track of significant issues or projects.


Reading is a great source of information to support your key objectives and targets. But reading ineffectively uses up valuable time. Normally we read for a number of purposes:

  1. Understanding key ideas.
  2. Finding specific facts.
  3. Discovering new sources of information.
  4. Evaluating an analysis.
  5. Supporting our job.

The key thing to note is that each purpose will take up time, therefore Pozen suggests to be an effective reader, we need to know our purpose for reading and use that to our advantage. Pozen gives us a three-step process…

Step 1. Grasp the Structure:
Before we start to read a document, we should take a few moments to understand its structure—how it begins and ends, and how it divides into its major topics. When they are available we should look at the table of contents otherwise the headings throughout the piece. This will help us both read faster and understand more, because we’ll already understand the progression from one idea to the next.

Step 2. Read the Introduction and Conclusion:
Pozen tells us to read the introduction carefully, looking for the theme sentence or paragraph that captures the ideas and structure of the piece. We should then skip directly to the conclusion. Why? Because the conclusion provides the main points and key takeaways.

Step 3. Skim the Tops of the Paragraphs:
If the introduction and conclusion give a good idea of the main points, Pozen tells us to skim the top of the paragraphs. He suggests a good writer starts each paragraph with a topic sentence, followed by supporting facts or arguments. That gives us enough to decide whether it’s worth reading the rest of the paragraph.

Pozen argues that writing is an essential skill for knowledge-based workers. They must draft documents to inform or persuade others, both inside and outside their organisation. As emails take the place of phone calls, our writing skills are becoming even more critical to personal productivity. Pozen believes that our writing can undermine professional productivity in many ways, frustrating our customers with unreadable product manuals, baffling employees with unclear documents, and creating office tension due to miscommunication.

Pozen’s approach to effective writing is to separate the planning from the writing. Why? Both planning and writing compete for the same “working memory”. Working memory is the mental space where information is held and processed in our brain, allowing us to perform higher-order tasks such as reasoning and learning. Good writing has three key elements: an introduction, a conclusion and the body.


A good introduction must fulfil three objectives: provide the reader with context, state the main theme, and explain the organisation of the writing.

A good conclusion should go beyond a simple summary of the document and draw out other lessons for consideration, or recommend further research.

Finally, the body of the article should be divided by headings or subtitles to show the structure of the document, and each paragraph should start with a topic sentence.

So, the next time you write an article, attack it from the perspective of the reader. Think of it as a go of productivity!