HBR Guide to Being More Productive: A book review by Bob Morris

HBR Guide to Being More Productive
Various Contributors
Harvard Business Review Press (July 2017)

“There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”  Peter Drucker

Most of the volumes in the “HBR Guide to” series are anthologies of articles previously published in Harvard Business Review in which various contributors share their insights concerning a major business subject such as Better Business Writing, Getting the Right Work Done, and Project Management.

As is also true of volumes in other such series, notably HBR Essentials, HBR Must Reads, and HBR Management TipsHBR Guides offer substantial value in cutting-edge thinking from 25-30 sources in a single volume at a price (each at about $15-20 from Amazon in the bound version) for a fraction of what article reprints would cost. What we have in this volume are 34 articles previously published by Harvard Business Review. If purchased separately as reprints, the total cost would be about $238. Amazon US currently sells this volume for only $14.40.

Drucker offers offers a useful reminder that identification of what should be done — and should not be done — must precede consideration of how and when to do it. Then they must be prioritized to establish order of importance. What we have in this volume is a wealth of information, insights, and counsel that can help leaders in almost any organization to focus on the right work, stop procrastinating, and get more done.

This what Julian Birkinshaw and Jordan Cohen have in mind in have in mind in Make Times for Worth That Matters: “Sort the low-value tasks into three categories: quick kills (things you can stop doing now with no negative effects), off-load opportunities (tasks that can be delegated with minimal effort), and long-term redesign (work that needs to be restructured or overhauled). Our study participants found that this step forced them to reflect carefully on their real contributions to their respective organizations.” (Page 9)

The articles in Sections One and Two, for example, will help prepare the careful reader to achieve strategic objectives such as these, each preceded by the same prefix: “HOW TO….

o Make sufficient time for the work that matters most (See Birkinshaw and Jordan Cohen article)
o Determine if you are too stressed to be productive
o Identify your personal productivity style
o Plan your work so that you can work your plan (channeling IBM mantra)
o Make the most of “slow time”
o Get time allocation in proper alignment with the given goals
o Decline taking on more work than you can properly handle
o Know whom and what to ignore
o Feel less rushed by giving away time I (yes, really)

I agree with the HBR editors who selected and organized the 34 articles in this volume. To produce more and better results in less time, first identify what to do now, soon, eventually, or not at all. (Of course, there are times when delegation is the best option.) That is, “establish a baseline for what work you have to do, how stressed you are, and how you like to operate. Read all three articles and take all three assessments [in Section One] in one setting. Or choose just one, evaluate that aspect of yourself, and take what you’ve learned forward into another section of the guide. No matter which approach you choose, what you learn will inspire you to think about your work — and the way you’re working — differently.”

Keep in mind that Harvard Business Review Press has published dozens of other article anthologies in various series, each of which focuses on improvement in specific areas of competency such as allocation of resources, collaboration, decision making, delegation, problem solving, and working with analytics. There is no shortage of cutting edge information, insights, and counsel available.

Obviously, their value will be determined almost entirely on how effectively and diligently you apply them to your specific needs, interests, and objectives.


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