4 ways to be more productive at work

Google's offices in New York City
An employee for Google works at the internet company's new office space inside historic Chelsea Market June 23, 2008 in New York City.
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Americans put in some of the longest hours at work in the world, yet productivity levels are surprisingly low. How can we improve productivity in the office and in our lives, and how can we change a culture that often rewards face time in the office over actual results?

Robert Pozen, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School and senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, joined The Daily Circuit Friday to talk about ways to increase work productivity. His latest book is "Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours."

He said the workplace mentality of assuming those in the office longer hours are getting more done doesn't make sense and employees should be rewarded for the work they produce in set periods of time.

"It's really a relic of the old industrial world," he said. "And it makes even less sense when we have online working and people able to telecommute. What we have to do is move organizations from focusing on how many hours you spend to what results you get. And if we can do that, we can have a much more productive work relationship."

Pozen wrote a piece for The New York Times this month on work productivity:

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By applying an industrial-age mind-set to 21st-century professionals, many organizations are undermining incentives for workers to be efficient. If employees need to stay late in order to curry favor with the boss, what motivation do they have to get work done during normal business hours? After all, they can put in the requisite "face time" whether they are surfing the Internet or analyzing customer data. It's no surprise, then, that so many professionals find it easy to procrastinate and hard to stay on a task.


Set priorities. Most people have a vague sense of their work priorities, but you should create a more concrete list. Write down your priorities by time period and rank them, Pozen said. "Only when you know what your top priorities are can you start to become productive because you know what to focus on," he said.

Rethink your email usage. Pozen said you can discard 80 to 90 percent of your emails based on the email's subject. When you have whittled down your inbox to the important messages, respond to them immediately. He recommends the OHIO method: Only handle it once. Pozen also recommends checking email just once an hour.

Limit meetings and get to the point. "We have lots of meetings which really only exist to convey information that could be much more efficiently conveyed by memorandum or by email," he said. A normal meeting shouldn't last more than an hour, should have an agenda sent out ahead of time and all materials should be emailed and reviewed before the meeting. Keep comments short and on topic. A meeting should close with a clear set of plans and goals moving forward.

Manage your boss. Monitoring hours and face time instead of results is a crutch for managers, Pozen said. They feel comfortable seeing you at your desk and believing you're working hard. "Get your boss into an objectives and metrics mode," he said. Sit down and discuss the plan for projects for the week and month and decide what metrics to judge success.

How do you get the most out of your work day? Comment on the blog.

Madelyn Mahon contributed to this report.