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Tips on getting things done from a productive man

Robert Pozen, a longtime fund industry executive, says it’s “not about the amount of hours you work, it’s about getting results.”
Robert Pozen, a longtime fund industry executive, says it’s “not about the amount of hours you work, it’s about getting results.”Brian Feulner For the Boston Globe/Brian Feulner for the Boston Globe/file

For most of his life, Robert C. Pozen had to produce.

When he was young and his father lost his job as a traveling salesman, Pozen had to produce for his family by working two part-time jobs through most of high school while also playing on the basketball and tennis teams.

When attending Harvard University and later Yale Law School, he held down part-time jobs to help pay for school and living expenses. And when he was a top executive at Boston mutual fund companies Fidelity Investments and later MFS Investment Management, he found time to write six books, teach at Harvard Business School, serve on a number of government and charitable boards, and raise two children along with his wife, Elizabeth.


He also managed to squeeze in a year as former governor Mitt Romney’s economic development chief.

Pozen is now telling how he does it in yet another book,“Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours.” The self-help guide for busy people, published by HarperBusiness, a unit of HarperCollins Publishers, is scheduled for release next month.

For Pozen, “Extreme Productivity” is a departure from his previous books, which tended towards the wonky, examining the mutual fund industry or how to fix the US financial system. Pozen, 66, who still teaches full time at Harvard, said the book grew out of a post on the Harvard Business Review blog in which he shared his thoughts on personal productivity. The post was so popular, it was later turned into a full article on productivity for the magazine.

“I got such a strong response from the Harvard Business Review piece, that the book kind of came after that,” said Pozen. “I also wanted to reach a broader audience than I had previously done in my other books. So this is it.”

The 258-page book is part advice, part autobiography, and part nut-and-bolts suggestions for thinking about, organizing, and approaching careers and home lives.


Throughout “Extreme Productivity,” Pozen hammers away at the theme that too many people, particularly white-collar professionals, waste too much time on low-priority tasks and ideas — and not nearly enough time prioritizing and pursuing what’s really important to succeed in both their careers and personal lives.

Right out of the starting gate, Pozen presents readers with an exercise on how to list long-term career goals, medium-term objectives, and short-term “targets” — and then rank each item in terms of their true importance and the time it takes to do them.

To Pozen, it’s all about efficient use of time. His book is strewn with examples of how to run efficient meetings, organize business trips, write effective reports and memos, handle bosses and employees, and flat-out produce — all with the goal of getting home every evening to eat dinner with your family.

When he worked at a law firm, he recalled in an interview, he was appalled at the system of billing by the hour because it rewarded lawyers for the time spent on cases, rather than the swift resolution of cases or beneficial outcomes for clients.

Pozen’s bottom line: It’s “not about the amount of hours you work, it’s about getting results.”

In an interview, Pozen, the former president and vice chairman at Fidelity Investments, didn’t hide his admiration for the management style of Edward “Ned” Johnson III, the legendary and longtime chairman of Fidelity. Among other things, Pozen said, he admired Johnson’s entrepreneurial spirit and willingness to delegate to others the tasks of starting new ventures.


The ability to delegate is a key component of productivity, Pozen added.

“He was very much a mentor for me,” said Pozen, who started at Fidelity in 1986 and rose to become Johnson’s effective right-hand man until Pozen left the firm in 2001. “Ned is a genius in a lot of different ways. He’s always tried to run the company like it was a lot of smaller companies [banded] together. He’s gives managers the autonomy and resources to run their departments and subsidiaries.”

Johnson could not be reached for comment.

Robert Reynolds, a former vice chairman and chief operating officer at Fidelity, said it was often Pozen who mentored younger employees there. Reynolds, now chief executive at Putnam Investments, another Boston mutual fund company, said Pozen was known to be a methodical person who cut to the heart of matters quickly.

“If you ever had a problem, you’d want to go to Bob Pozen about it. He didn’t suffer fools easily, but he had respect for people who pushed back with their own argument,” said Reynolds. “I’ve seen him change his mind on really major issues, which to me is the mark of a great leader.”

Pozen, who was executive chairman at MFS from 2004 through 2010, said “Extreme Productivity” is ultimately a compilation of what he learned over the course of his life about being productive, beginning with his mother’s emphasis on achieving education goals.


“I’m used to being productive, ever since I was young,” said Pozen.