In The 5 Choices: The Path to Extraordinary Productivity (Simon & Schuster, 2014), co-authors Kory Kogon, Adam Merrill, and Leena Rinne explore how effective time management can improve overall productivity levels. In the following edited excerpt, they outline the three main challenges to achieving productivity, as well as the five choices to getting more done every day. 

It is both easier and harder than ever before to achieve extraordinary productivity and feel accomplished in our lives.

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The incoming flow of information enabled by today's technology fills our lives with tasks and demands for our attention, which in the end, may not matter that much. Technology allows anyone who feels like it, anywhere in the world, to drop something into our digital inbox, requiring us to respond, even if only to say no. 

The tech-enabled, hyper-paced nature of our work has impacted our lives to such a degree that people feel overwhelmed like never before. 

The productivity paradox revolves around three critical challenges:

1. We are making more decisions than ever. 

The productivity challenge is that the velocity of incoming issues demanding a decision is almost overwhelming. And what most people do--because they are committed, hard-working people--is they try to handle this flow in a linear way. They make decisions as needed, handling them one at a time as well and fast as they can, and then moving on to the next one--like an assembly line.

The problem is that high-value opportunities don't come in a predictable order. They are nonlinear, and if we are not aware, we might miss them entirely, or address them only in a rushed, low-quality way.

2. Our attention is under unprecedented attack.

While we are trying to make these decisions, our attention is under unprecedented attack. All the beeps, buzzes, and banners that invade our mental space come at a cost to our ability to focus on the things that really matter. 

3. We are suffering from a personal energy crisis.

With today's technology-enabled unstoppable flow of everything coming at us, we can often feel so worn out and tired that we face our own personal energy crisis. We can't muster the mental energy to think clearly and, in a knowledge-work world, that is a problem. 

Our premise is that everyone has the capability to do extraordinary work. Everyone has the potential to go to bed at the end of the day feeling satisfied and accomplished. You will need to increase your capability in three areas:

  • Decision management
  • Attention management
  • Energy management

The good news is there are five choices that, when consistently made, will help you do this. These five choices are anchored in the timeless principles of human productivity that we and others have taught at FranklinCovey for over 30 years. They also draw upon the latest thinking in brain science, biology, technology, and performance psychology. They have been vetted by tens of thousands of practical experiences that people have had in applying them in numerous situations and organizations around the world. They are proven and they work.

1. Act on the important, don't react to the urgent.

Discern and filter the important things from those that are unimportant, so you can focus on what matters most. Increase your ROM (return on the moment) in the midst of fierce distractions.

  • Pause, clarify, and decide (PCD) what you will do with every opportunity that comes at you, such as emails that are or are not important.
  • In the midst of fierce distractions, use more of your thinking brain and less of your reactive brain, which will increase your ROM (return on the moment).

2. Go for extraordinary, don't settle for ordinary.

Guide your decision making through a framework of what success looks like in your current, most important roles. Competing priorities often prevent you from achieving extraordinary results. Redefine your current roles in terms of extraordinary results to achieve high-priority goals.

  • Identify the few most important roles in your life today, and write them down.
  • Evaluate how you are doing in your roles today and then create a brief statement for each role that articulates your vision of success and the outcomes and essential activities you will accomplish in your few most important roles.
  • Keep these in mind as you use the PCD process to choose the most important activities that lead to your vision of success. 

3. Schedule the big rocks, don't sort gravel.

Plan weekly and daily so that you execute with excellence on the most important things.

Make the 30/10 promise: Set aside 30 minutes for weekly planning before the week starts and 10 minutes for daily planning before the day starts, so that you spend your valuable time on what matters most.

Create a consistent cadence of planning and execution that produces extraordinary outcomes.

4. Rule your technology, don't let it rule you.

Make technology work for you, not against you. Turn your technology into a productivity engine. An electronic avalanche of email, texts, and social-media alerts seriously threaten productivity, as never before. Leverage your technology and fend off distractions by optimizing platforms like Microsoft, Outlook, Google, and IBM Notes to boost productivity.

  • Mitigate and eliminate technology addiction by using the PCD process.
  • Detox your inbox; you must make decisions about each message you receive. Use filters and rules to automate many of the day-to-day emails that take your valuable brain power.

5. Fuel your fire, don't burn out.

Increase energy so you can think clearly, make good decisions, and feel more accomplished at the end of every day. Today's exhausting, high-pressure work environment can burn you out. By applying five energy drivers, you will benefit from the latest in brain science to consistently recharge your mental and physical energy. Start with one driver to increase your mental and physical energy--move.

  • Increase oxygen and good glucose to the brain not only by exercising, but also by combining exercise with ways to move around more during the day. For example, walking or standing meetings could be a great start.

These five choices, when consistently made, will help individuals personally and professionally feel more accomplished at the end of the day.