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Four Ways for MBAs to Maximize Productivity, According to an MIT Sloan Professor


Between juggling back-to-back classes, participating in extracurricular activities and navigating professional pursuits, it is unsurprising that MBA students sometimes feel overwhelmed by their ever-expanding to-do list. How should MBA students think about maximizing their experience within and beyond the classroom?

“No matter what your career aspirations are, you should begin by thinking carefully about why you are engaging in any activity and what you can expect to get out of it,” writes Robert Pozen in his book Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours. Pozen is a Senior Lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management, former president of Fidelity Investments and executive chairman of MFS Investment Management.

Given Pozen’s extensive experience juggling multiple hats across academia, finance, government, law, and journalism (just to name a few), I sat down with the productivity guru to draw insights on how students can boost their productivity to make the most of their time in business school.

Work smarter by identifying your priorities

The key to learning is becoming conscious about what you want to get out of the experience. Given an MBA’s regimented academic schedule, it is important to ask yourself these questions:

    • What are your priorities?
    • Which classes are the most important to you?
    • What do you hope to get out of these classes?

With finite time and competing priorities, it is crucial to be intentional about how you are spending your time and to devise a strategy to optimize your productivity. Pozen recommends the following: The night before class, review your schedule with your top priorities in mind. These priorities are the yearly goals that are operationalized through weekly goals.

Think about what you wish to focus on and how you will allocate time to prepare for your classes. He also suggests jotting down your objectives next to each event in your schedule. This will help align your daily activities to the yearly goals that you have identified.

Rethink how you read and write

According to Pozen, one of the things that characterizes productive people is that they always think before they act. How can students incorporate productivity principles into the act of reading and writing? “There are some materials that you read for background information and others that you read for a close textual analysis. To ensure that you are able to efficiently retain the information that you have read, you have to be clear about your purpose for reading before you read anything,” Pozen says.

With writing, the key is to first understand the logical order of your argument. Next, write an outline before you write anything substantive. An outline will keep you on track by putting the logical order of your arguments on paper. If you don’t do that, you will have a hard time figuring out what you are trying to communicate. Pozen also encourages students to start thinking about the exam or final paper midway through the semester instead of at the end of the semester. Students need to ask themselves the following:

    • Can I go through this course in a way that will prepare me for the exam?
    • What sort of questions are on the exam?
    • What areas do I need to cover?

For research papers, Pozen warns against waiting until the end to synthesize the data, suggesting instead that students should start writing a tentative conclusion after carrying out 2 days of research. “If you wait until the end, you may end up with unimportant information or risk losing out on critical information,” he notes.

Every research paper has analytical issues, which you should try to identify as early as possible. Start with a draft, which you can change every week as you obtain more information. If you keep working on it, you will be gathering the right data in a focused manner.

Map out your career goals

Beyond the classroom, a substantial part of an MBA program is networking. Pozen advocates for students to not only form close bonds with their classmates, but to expand their network by getting to know businesspeople in their communities.

At the outset, map out your career goals (the industry/area you wish to pursue), then think about the companies and people who would have the connections that you desire. “Unless you start off by being clear about the industry you wish to pursue, how would you know who to network with? The more focused you are, the more likely you are to succeed,” he says.

Maximize your options

When it comes to career planning, Pozen believes that students should remain agile as the world is changing at a rapid pace. His theory of how to build a career is to increase your options. “Let’s say you have been a trader on a trading desk and you have two options: more money to move to a different trading desk or an opportunity to be a manager.

You are better off taking the job as a manager, because in five years, you would have managerial experience as well as trading experience. This transferable knowledge will increase your probability of success in the future.” You don’t know what the world will look like in five years or how you will feel about your career at that point in time. As you consider your next career move, make choices that will maximize your options and alternatives.