The 5 Choices

Are you familiar with Stephen R. Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which has sold more than 25 million copies since it was published in 1989? And perhaps the sequel, The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness? Okay, here’s a bit of corporate history that probably passed you by but that’s nonetheless important to the story: Franklin Quest, the company best known for its planners, bought the Covey Leadership Center in 1997 to form FranklinCovey. FranklinCovey is today a publicly listed (NYSE: FC) global professional services firm and specialty retailer selling training and productivity tools to individuals and organizations. Its clients have included 90% of the Fortune 100 and more than 75% of the Fortune 500. It holds the copyright to this book.

The three authors—Kory Kogon, Adam Merrill, and Leena Rinne—are all affiliated with FranklinCovey. Kogon, the company’s Global Practice Leader for Productivity, has already co-authored two other FranklinCovey books. Advanced praise for the book, blazoned on the cover of the uncorrected proofs, comes from New York Times bestselling author Sean Covey. As you should begin to understand by now, The 5 Choices: The Path to Extraordinary Productivity, published by Simon & Schuster (who also published Stephen Covey’s books), was written in-house as part of the firm’s productivity suite.

So, after all this background, what does the book actually promise? Its claim is straightforward: to achieve extraordinary productivity you need to make the correct five choices in three areas: decision management, attention management, and energy management. When making a decision, act on the important and go for the extraordinary, don’t react to the urgent or settle for the ordinary. With respect to attention, schedule the big rocks, don’t sort gravel, and rule your technology, don’t let it rule you. As for energy, fuel your fire, don’t burn out. The combination of high-value decisions, focused attention, and high energy will yield extraordinary productivity.

If these principles sound familiar, it may be because they “are anchored in the timeless principles of human productivity that we and others have taught at FranklinCovey for over thirty years.” (p. 20)

The authors describe the Time Matrix, which is divided into four quadrants. Q1 is necessity, and includes crises, emergency meetings, last-minute deadlines, pressing problems, and unforeseen events. Q2 is extraordinary productivity, with proactive work, high-impact goals, creative thinking, planning, preventing, relationship building, and learning and renewal. Q3 is distraction: needless interruptions, unnecessary reports, irrelevant meetings, other people’s minor issues, unimportant email, tasks, phone calls, status posts, etc. Q4 is waste: trivial work, avoidance activities, excessive relaxation (television, gaming, Internet), time-wasters, gossip.

If you’re like most people, you’re spending only 60% of your time on important things and 40% on things that aren’t important to you. (Actually, the self-reported 60% figure sounds high to me.) You wouldn’t be satisfied if your car only worked a little more than half the time or if only half of the players on your favorite team showed up for a championship game. So, the authors ask, “why settle for less when it comes to your time?”

To be extraordinarily productive, you not only have to use your time wisely, you have to make wise decisions. And, the authors explain, “high-value decisions don’t come in a predictable order. They are nonlinear opportunities. If we are not aware, we might miss them entirely, or only address them in a rushed, low-quality way. A linear approach in a nonlinear reality is a recipe for failure.”

Consider the gap between the least and most productive performers in low-complexity, medium-complexity, and high-complexity jobs. In the first case (for instance, a worker in a fast-food restaurant) the most productive workers are three times more productive than the least productive; in the second (like a production worker in a high-tech factory), top performers are twelve times more productive. “However,” the authors write, “in high-complexity jobs, where the right decisions make all the difference (like software engineer or an associate in an investment banking firm), the differences between the top and the bottom performers were so profound they were unmeasurable.”

Well, that should make you put down the potato chips, stop mindlessly surfing the web, get up off the sofa, and take notice.