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MIT Management Executive Education

Quality Insider

Five Tips for Improving Everyday Productivity

If you can’t work without a deadline, create more of them

Published: Tuesday, June 10, 2014 - 14:13

We’ve all been there—staring down the week’s to-do list with the best of intentions, only to find, at the end of the week, that we didn’t accomplish everything that was required of us. Our tasks get carried over into the following week, and before we know it, we’re caught in the paradox of being simultaneously too busy and minimally productive.

If this sounds familiar, rest assured: There are indeed solutions to your productivity problems. Robert Pozen provides concrete strategies in his new MIT Sloan Executive Education program, Maximizing Your Personal Productivity, and we share some of them below.

“First, let’s understand that professionals are held back from being productive by both external and internal forces,” says Pozen. “External forces are things like emails and meetings—burdensome tasks that can derail even the most promising schedule. And internal constraints, like procrastination and perfectionism, can make us our own worst enemy.”

Five tips for cutting through the clutter

1. Get your calendar straight. No matter what tool you use to structure your day—digital, analog, or both—an effective calendar not only records all your daily commitments in one place but also defines what you want to achieve during each meeting or phone call. It should also reveal the relative importance of any unscheduled target goals for the day (for a clear definition of targets, see “Ready, Set, Prioritize.” This ensures you won’t waste too much time on low-priority tasks.

2. Only handle it once (OHIO). Tackle your high-priority items immediately, whenever possible. When you get a request, decide promptly whether to ignore it entirely (majority of items/low priority) or offer it a thoughtful, immediate response. Waiting to respond to an email only means you’ll waste time later relocating it, re-reading it, and thinking about the issues all over again.

3. Don’t book the conference room. Avoid meetings that can be replaced with emails, memos, and phone chats. Although it’s easy to fill every hour of the day with meetings, too many of them are convened simply to share information, rather than debate or discuss it. Unless you are establishing a personal relationship or need face-to-face dialogue, weigh your options. Technology makes video conferencing an excellent replacement for long distance travel.

4. Stop procrastinating! Whether you’re too easily distracted, or the scope of a project has you avoiding it altogether, help yourself by creating evenly spaced, mini-deadlines—interim dates for completing specific stages of the project. If you can’t work without a deadline, create more of them.

5. Accept imperfection. Professionals who demand perfection out of every task—without regard to significance—will soon find themselves overwhelmed by the sheer volume of their low-priority tasks. As a result, they won’t have time to accomplish their most important goals. Overcoming perfectionism is critical to becoming more efficient at work.


“Do A work for A priority objectives,” says Pozen, “but do B work for B priority items.”

The final post in this series will suggest strategies for managing both up (your boss) and down (your team).

First published on the innovation@work blog.


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MIT Management Executive Education

MIT Management Executive Education’s nondegree executive programs are led by senior MIT Sloan faculty and provide business professionals from around the world with a targeted and flexible means to advance their career development goals and position their organizations for future growth. MIT’s cutting-edge leadership training includes more than 40 short courses, executive certificates, online courses, custom programs for organizations, and its flagship program, the five-week Advanced Management Program.