"Meetings und E-Mails sind Fallgruben"

21. März 2014
Produktivitätsfresser: Schlecht vorbereitete Meetings

Produktivitätsfresser: Schlecht vorbereitete Meetings

2. Teil: Lesen Sie Gavetts Interview mit Robert C. Pozen

Executives' Biggest Productivity Challenges, Solved
by Gretchen Gavett

Robert Pozen knows a little something about thriving at the top - he's the former chairman of MFS Investment Management, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School, and the author of the book Extreme Productivity. I recently asked him about how demands on executives - and CEOs in particular - have changed over the years, and how today's leaders can best navigate their busy days. An edited version of our conversation is below.

What are the most pressing productivity issues executives are facing today, and how can they tackle them?

For executives who aren't part of the C-suite, I think the two most pressing issues are meetings and email. They consume a ridiculous amount of people's time, and a lot of it isn't well spent. But they're both solvable problems.

On email, my suggestions are pretty simple. First, don't look at it every minute; look at it every hour or two. Second, try to discipline yourself to read only the subject matter in order to discard 50% to 80% of your emails right away. We all get so much spam. Third, practice what I call "OHIO" - Only Handle It Once, immediately deciding what to do with each email. Concentrate on the emails that are important and answer them right away. And don't put them into some sort of storage system, because by the time you're ready to finally tackle them, you'll spend another half an hour trying to find them.

As to meetings, I've really been clear in my book about what makes a good meeting. First, you ought to have the materials and agenda sent out in advance. Second, the person who's presenting the issues should speak for a short amount of time, 10 or 15 minutes, and not consume the whole meeting. Third, you need to have a real discussion and debate. Fourth, you should end the meeting with clear to-do's - what are the next steps, who's going to follow through on them, what are the time frames? And fifth, you should end the meeting at the very latest in 90 minutes, and try for 60 minutes.

But there are slightly different issues CEOs and the C-suite are facing, right?

A lot of the critical issues that I see from advising CEOs, and being one myself, stem from how to allocate your time.

There are two classic errors CEOs make. One, they often schedule their whole day up, every hour and every day. I believe you need to leave time - an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon - for thinking, and for things that come up, for emergencies.

And the other error, which is much more fundamental, is that many CEOs are asking themselves the wrong question: since four main functions need to be done, who's the best at doing them? Many top executives often come up with the same answer in all four areas: Me, me, me, and me. Which leaves them with a lot to do.

But the better question is, what can I and only I as a CEO do? That's a very different question.

For instance, CEOs might have come from the advertising or marketing side of the company, so they may be very well the best person to put together a new ad campaign, in terms of skill set. But that's not a good use of their time, because it's a very delegable task. On the other hand, if a company executive has to meet with a top regulator, the CEO may be the only person that has the clout to get the meeting. Or if someone needs to deal with the board, the CEO may be the only one who can do this effectively.

It is imperative that CEOs make the best use of their time - their scarcest resource. But many CEOs wind up spending huge amounts of time doing things that are really delegable and not enough time on the things that are really critical to being the CEO.

You've been analyzing this topic for a long time, both as an academic and as an executive. What big changes have you seen over time?

A lot of the same issues continue to be there; the crucial difference is technology. And technology is both a big positive and a big negative. It's a big positive in the sense that now you can, as a CEO, use your time very efficiently. That is, you can speak to people by phone from almost anywhere. You can get information instantaneously - CEOs can accomplish a huge amount from the back of the car.

On the other hand, because it's so easy for people to reach you, it's hard to have thinking time. And if you let yourself be a person who is giving detailed directions all the time, your reports are going to ask you for directions all the time.

So it's about setting up boundaries.

Yes. Before a lot of this technology, you could be a little sheltered. Now there aren't any constraints on the amount of information you can be sent or the number of people who contact you, or where you can go quickly. That's the negative part of technology. The potential is there for you to go everywhere, try to read everything, and be totally overwhelmed.

© Harvard Business Manager 2014
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