- The overwhelming flow of decisions we have to make in daily life
- That our attention is under unprecedented attack with modern technology
- We feel a drain on our personal mental energy
The authors propose that we make five choices in order to experience extraordinary productivity. Choice 1 is to act on the important, but not to react to the urgent (what feels like it has to be done now, but may not lead to any results). Borrowing from Stephen Covey, they use his 4 quadrants of how people spend their time.
- Quadrant 1: Necessity: crises, emergency meetings, last minute deadlines, pressing problems, and unforeseen events
- Quadrant 2: Extraordinary productivity (what we want to focus on): proactive work, high-impact goals, creative thinking, planning, prevention, relationship building, learning and renewal
- Quadrant 3: Distraction: needless interruptions, unnecessary reports, irrelevant meetings, other people’s minor issues, unimportant emails/tasks/phone calls, etc.
- Quadrant 4: Waste: trivial work, avoidance activities, excessive relaxation, TV, gaming, internet surfing, gossip, and other time wasters
They explain that the results we achieve in life are impacted by our discernment. With practice we can rewire our brain to become more discerning and less reactive. They recommend settings these goals:
- Minimize the time spent in Quadrants 1 and 3
- Eliminate entirely all of the Quadrant 4 time
- Maximize what we invest in Quadrant 2
- Speak the language of importance to those around you
The authors say that it takes three steps: pause, clarify, and decide.
- Is this important?
- When does this really need to be done?
- How will this impact what we are currently working on?
- Is there another resource for getting this done?
- Where does this fit relative to the other priorities I am working on?
Choice 2 is to go for the extraordinary and not settle for ordinary. They quote brain expert, Dr. Daniel Amen, “To harness your brain’s power, it needs direction and vision. It needs a blueprint.” According to the authors, most people do not take the time to clarify what is most important to them and do not end up spending their time on those things. They recommend that those seeking to be more productive identify our few most important roles and define what success looks like in each role. These roles should be:
- Represent our key relationships and responsibilities
- Be relevant to our life right now (not the future)
- Be meaningful to us
- Give a balanced perspective of our life
- Be limited to about five to seven (maximum)
We should then determine our vision of success in each role. Anchor our purpose and passion in a role title and craft a role statement for each role. Decide what contribution we want to make in each role. As (role title), I will (extraordinary outcomes) by (specific activities). The authors remind us that roles are dynamic therefore constantly changing. They discuss the importance of setting SMART goals.
Extraordinary productivity means going to bed each night feeling satisfied and accomplished. By identifying the few most important roles we play, this gives us a framework for balance, motivation, and fulfillment. Anchoring our role titles and statements strengthens our ability to make good decisions about our time. Setting specific Q2 goals helps us direct our brains in the most productive ways.
Choice 3 is to schedule the big rocks, and don’t sort gravel. This is a figurative illustration. The big rocks represent the important Q2 priorities in our lives. We are to put those first. The gravel represents the distractions (Q3) and time wasters (Q4). If you start with the gravel, then there is no room for the rocks.
Everyone has the same amount of time, but some people can cram more in the spaces than others. The key is to focus our very best attention and energy on the few priorities that really matter. The authors recommend that we spend thirty minutes each week and ten minutes each day in Q2 planning so we can dramatically increase our ability to be and feel accomplished at the end of every day.
- Review our roles and goals to see if they connect with our vision for our Q2 life
- Schedule the big rocks (the 1 or 2 most important things you can do this week)
- Scheduling a specific time and place to do something represents our higher-level commitment
- Organize the rest of our time
The bottom line is that we should decide what is most important and get those activities already scheduled before our week begins. Schedule Q2 times during the week to proactively protect your Q2 priorities.
Choice 4 is to rule our technology and not let it rule us. Technology in and of itself is not the problem. It is how conscious and deliberate we are about how we use it that can be a problem. The book discusses sorting tasks into one of the Core Four.
- Our appointments set at specific times
- The tasks we need to do that are not scheduled
- Our information about people we interact with
- Other information we want to keep track of that does not fit into any of the other 3 categories
The book asks readers if we know that over 196 billion emails are sent and received EVERY DAY?! At the moment of choice, we can act to make an appointment or schedule a task or file away contact information and notes. If this is not something we need, we can trash or delete the email. No need for our emails to pile up!
Choice 5 is to fuel our fire, but not burn out. The book discusses five energy drivers:
- Move (exercising improves memory, brain health, and physical fitness)
- Eat (choosing healthy foods and supplements over junk food and sugary food)
- Sleep (we must get enough rest and not be sleep deprived which leads to poor decision making and even accidents)
- Relax (to turn off our stress responses and restore our energy by taking regular breaks)
- Connect (to make positive social interactions)
The 5 Choices: The Path to Extraordinary Productivity states that our brain is our number one asset in a knowledge-work world. Being conscious and intentional throughout the day takes a lot of energy. We need to have a clear and motivating purpose and a healthy physical body (be as healthy as we can be) in order to fulfill our purpose. Thus, we should invest regularly in the five energy drivers above to keep us from burning out. By implementing the five choices recommended in this book, we can be on the path to extraordinary productivity!
- Act on the important and do not react to the urgent
- Go for the extraordinary and not settle for the ordinary
- Schedule the big rocks and do not sort gravel
- Rule our technology and not let it rule us
- Fuel our fire to not burn out