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 (the majority of items are probably 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. For me, I schedule times that I will look at my email, then I answer the ones that I want to answer. I am not constantly checking and rechecking.

As a part of my series about “How to Slow Down To Do More” I had the pleasure to interview Bob Pozen. Bob is a Senior Lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. He is a former president of Fidelity Investments and executive chairman of MFS Investment Management. He has extensive experience in business, government and journalism.

Bob was executive chairman of MFS Investment Management from 2004 to 2011; during this period, the assets of MFS more than doubled from a starting point of $130 billion.

From 1987 through 2001, he served in various positions at Fidelity Investments. During his tenure as President of Fidelity Management and Research, from 1997 thru 2001, the assets of the Fidelity Funds rose from $500 billion to $900 billion.

Bob served as Associate General Counsel of the SEC in the late 1970s, and Chairman of the SEC’s Advisory Committee on Financial Reporting in 2007–2008. He was a member of the President’s Commission to Strengthen Social Security, and served as Secretary of Economic Affairs under Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

Bob has taught at Georgetown and NYU as well as Harvard and MIT. He has published seven books, mainly on financial issues. His latest book, Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours, was #3 on Fast Company’s list of best business books for 2012. Additionally, he often writes editorials for the Financial Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal.

Bob is an outside director of Nielsen and AMC (a second-tier subsidiary of the World Bank), and formerly of Medtronic and Bell Canada. He is also on the governing board of several non-profit organizations. He received the 2011 Fund Action Lifetime Achievement Award for his work in the mutual fund industry.

Bob graduated summa cum laude from Harvard College, and obtained a law degree from Yale Law School where he was a member of the editorial board of the Yale Law Journal. He also received a doctorate from Yale Law School for a book he wrote on state enterprises in Africa

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?

While serving as Chairman of MFS, an asset management company managing over $400 billion, and teaching a full course load at Harvard Business School, a number of people told me that I should teach them to be as productive as me. I finally took up their idea and wrote my book on productivity. Productivity is not about being busy all the time, it is pretty much the opposite. It is choosing what your priorities are and then using your time to meet those priorities. Typically, that means slowing down to do more.

According to a 2006 Pew Research Report, 26% of women and 21% of men feel that they are “always rushed”. Has it always been this way? Can you give a few reasons regarding what you think causes this prevalent feeling of being rushed? Teams and meetings are great if managed well, but if not, can cause us all to feel constantly rushed. Given the number of teams that we are all a part of today, I found that many people avoid delegating to other team members. Delegating means dealing with people, and many tell me “that is inherently messier than doing it myself”. Thus, many people just do the work themselves instead of delegating. At the same time, most people I have taught and managed want to be productive, but instead of doing what they and their manager have deemed as most important, they spend a lot of their time doing small tasks. Those might be helpful, but don’t meet the larger goals set for them. Lastly, people love meetings, which are a real time killer. Meetings suck up lots of time, but are rarely managed well or are productive and leave us feeling rushed to meet our real deadlines.

Based on your experience or research can you explain why being rushed can harm our productivity, health, and happiness? Rushing usually results in redoing, or at least performing at a relatively inferior level. Being productive, healthy and happy typically coincides with accomplishing your top priority goals. Accomplish your top priority goals effectively and efficiently. Being productive does NOT mean rushing, working long hours, expending a lot of energy, or always being exhausted. What counts is what you have done and the quality of your work; it is not how long you worked or how fast you got it done (especially if you then have to do it over because you rushed).

On the flip side, can you give examples of how we can do more, and how our lives would improve if we could slow down? Let’s take reading and writing — two key skills at work. Before you read any material, you should stop and think about why you are reading this material and what you hope to get out of it. Then read the introduction and conclusions to see if it is worthwhile to read more in terms of these objectives. Similarly, before starting to write, slow down and compose an outline — containing your key points and logic of presentation. Then you will write more quickly and effectively because you know where you are going.

We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed. Can you share with our readers 6 strategies that you use to “slow down to do more”? Can you please give a story or example for each?

These are my “Five Tips for Cutting Through the Clutter” which might be helpful as I haven’t put in a sixth just yet.

  1. Take the time to set up your calendar the night before. 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 our previous post on productivity). This ensures you won’t waste too much time on low-priority tasks. I do this every day.
  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 (the majority of items are probably 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. For me, I schedule times that I will look at my email, then I answer the ones that I want to answer. I am not constantly checking and rechecking.
  3. Don’t book the conference room. Avoid meetings that can be replaced with emails, memos, and phone chats. While it’s easy to fill every hour of the day with meetings, too many of them are called 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. For me, video conferencing is an excellent replacement for long distance travel to meetings.
  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. For large projects that I manage, I set lots of little deadlines to help us all get to successful completion of the project — whether it is preparing to teach my classes at MIT or speaking to large groups of executives.
  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. This helps me to achieve my goals and my teams achieve theirs as well.

How do you define “mindfulness”? Can you give an example or story? Mindfulness to me is concentrating on the task at hand, rather than dwelling on the past or speculating about the future. To be productive, it is often helpful to focus on the present — get the current tasks done well and efficiently.

Can you give examples of how people can integrate mindfulness into their everyday lives?

When you are at a meeting with significant colleagues, focus on the people and issues at the meeting. Don’t spend your time checking your email and having side chats. Those will undermine the effectiveness of the meeting and create the impression that you don’t care about your colleagues. Be mindful of the feelings of your colleagues and respect them.

Do you have any mindfulness tools that you find most helpful at work? Leave time for an afternoon nap. It might sound crazy given the world around us. But even if you can just leave 15 or 20 minutes for yourself in the middle of the day, and know that no one is allowed to interrupt you, that nap will energize you for the rest of the workday. Even when I am traveling and have a busy schedule, I still try to sneak in my afternoon nap or at least time take a walk around the block.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life? “Do A work for A priority objectives, but do B work for B priority items.” This life lesson helped me save time and get a lot done in order to be a top-level CEO. By freeing up time to accomplish my top goals, I could get home regularly to have dinner with my family.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂 I would like to inspire a movement to hear the voices of the political center.

The views of the right and left wings of the political spectrum are heard loud and clear. But I believe that the majority of Americans are in the middle — weighing carefully the arguments for specific issues, rather than being driven by ideological fervor. One way for the middle to have more voice is to increase the percentage of Americans voting in each election — which is often below 50%. In Australia, the government imposes a financial penalty on those who don’t vote. While that might not work in America, perhaps we could provide a financial incentive to vote to young people below the age of 30, so they would develop the habit.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

About the Author:

After 15 years working in Commercial Real Estate in New York City, Ashley Graber changed the coast she lived on and the direction of her life from Real Estate to the worlds of Psychology and Meditation & Mindfulness. Ashley came to these practices after getting sober and in the decade plus since, she now runs a busy mindfulness based psychotherapy practice at Yale Street Therapy in Santa Monica, CA where she see adults and children and speaks on the benefits of meditation and mindfulness practices.

Ashley is an Owner and Director of Curriculum for the next generation meditation app & mindfulness company ‘Evenflow’ and launched the company’s one to one online mindfulness mentoring program. Ashley also educates teachers and administrators in schools and presents in businesses across Santa Monica and Los Angeles.

Ashley was trained in Meditation and Mindfulness practices by prominent teachers; Elisha Goldstein, Richard Burr and Guiding teacher at Against the Stream Boston, Chris Crotty. Her Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) certification was done through The Center for Mindfulness at UC San Diego. Additionally, Ashley is trained by Mindful Schools to teach Meditation and Mindfulness practices to children and families. Ashley’s unique combination of psychotherapy, trauma reprocessing and meditation and mindfulness practices make her a sought after therapist and mindfulness educator and speaker. Her passion for the benefits of mindfulness practices as well as her enthusiasm for helping young kids and adults is the drive to teach these very necessary, life long skills and why she wrote and runs the Mindfulness for Families program at The Center for Mindful Living. This is where she teaches groups of families with children ages 6–12. Ashley was featured on Good Morning LaLa Land, presented on Resilience at the renowned Wisdom. 2.0 Mindfulness & Technology conference, and presented at the TED Woman conference offering an in-depth look at the profound psychological and physiological consequences of chronic stress, and how meditation and mindfulness practices can alleviate these effects.