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Want to Get More Done? Get Out of the Office

Allison Linn | TODAY, NBCNews.com
Thursday, 11 Oct 2012 | 11:36 AM ET

Forget face time, meetings and spending your nights and weekends in the office. There's a growing movement to dump the stereotypical signs that you're working hard in favor of actually working hard – and getting stuff done.

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"The majority of companies believe you have to be there from 9 to 6 or 8 to 5, " said Bob Pozen, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "But it really doesn't make sense to say a person who is in the office 40 hours a week is more productive than someone who is in the office 20 hours."

Pozen may well be the poster child for the movement. He's the author of a new book called "Extreme Productivity" that offers the logical – but in some ways radical – argument that companies should measure success by results rather than time spent at the office.

The idea of measuring worker success by what you get done – rather than the face time and glad-handing that remain so common in offices -- has been given a big boost by the advent of technology that allows white-collar workers to do the same work whether they are at home, in a hotel room or on a remote mountaintop.

(Read More: Hate Meetings? Why Most Are Complete Failures )

Pozen notes that the pressure is also coming from clients and customers, who in recent years have grown increasingly unhappy with systems that require them to pay lawyers, accountants and other outside firms by the hour rather than by the project.

As Pozen notes from his own experience, the system can actually work against the idea of being productive since getting work done more quickly means fewer billable hours.

"There's a bit of a revolt among the clients, " Pozen said.

Pozen began thinking hard about productivity when he was working two full-time jobs, teaching at Harvard and serving as chairman of the investment firm MFS Investment Management.

The fact that he was able to do all that and turn in his articles to the Harvard Business Review on time eventually led to a series of blog posts and a video on productivity.

In the video, he offered practical tips for everything from making the best use of your time in taxis (carry a flashlight so you can read) to being productive in the afternoon (take a short nap after lunch).

Read More: Employees Behaving Badly: Vampires, Terrorists & Gossips

Pozen is realistic about how hard it is to change the face time mindset, which he thinks has thrived partly because companies don't necessarily have good systems in place to measure results. That's why they end up giving more credence to the employee who shows up at every meeting than to the person who quietly sits at a desk, doing the work.

Still, the shift is gaining momentum. Executives such as Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg are increasingly speaking out about the value of leaving the office in time to have dinner with your family, for example.

Others are fighting back against corporate cultures that have gradually evolved – or devolved – to the point that many people are spending entire days running from one meeting to the next.

That's James Whittaker's big beef. Whittaker, a technology executive at Microsoft, recently wrote a blog post encouraging people to do radical, anti-meeting things like walking out of boring meetings and uninviting people who don't contribute.

So far he admits his success has been limited. In fact he was in an all-day meeting when he was contacted by TODAY, and he conceded that he occasionally has to hold meetings himself.

"It's very much an uphill battle, no question about it, " Whittaker said.

Still, he takes great pains to make his own meetings optional, and he encourages employees to come and go by leaving the door open and not offering enough chairs for everyone to sit.

He thinks companies sometimes hold a lot of meetings because people don't have a clear idea of what they are supposed to be doing. The ultimate goal, he says, is for everyone to know what their job is, so they don't have to attend a meeting to figure that out.

Read More: Gahhhh! What Stresses People Out the Most at Work

"It's not about holding a better meeting. It's about developing a culture that says meetings are bad, they're a last resort, " Whittaker said.

Whittaker also said he could care less whether his employees are working at home, in the office or at a coffee shop, as long as they are spending time on the right projects, and getting that work done.

"The results are what matters, " he said.

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