Avoid the Avalanche: 5 Choices to Extraordinary Productivity

Have you ever felt like an avalanche of gravel will bury you alive?

Perhaps not, but as a recent NextGen Training Summit breakout session pointed out, the barrage of tasks and information we experience in our daily lives can feel much the same. And right when we think we’ve dug ourselves out, it starts over again…

In a world of distractions and competing demands, how do you avoid the “gravel” pile and figure out where to spend your time, attention, and energy? The key to extraordinary productivity, said Suzette Blakemore of FranklinCovey, is to make high-value decisions, focus your attention, and manage your energy.

Though we might shake our heads that it is easier said than done, Blakemore laid out “The 5 Choices®” process to help us get there. Here’s what she advised:

  1. Act on the important – Evaluate which choices will give you the highest return on your time and attention.
  2. Go for extraordinary – Define purposeful, high-impact outcomes for the significant roles you play and determine where you want to be extraordinary. What will you accomplish in your work and life?
  3. Schedule the big rocks – Make sure your biggest priorities, the activities that will move you forward professionally and personally, are in your calendar. You will have a harder time fitting in the “big rocks” if your bowl is filled first with “gravel,” or the smaller, less important items.
  4. Rule your technology – Set guidelines for yourself about how and when you will engage with your email, texts, tweets, etc. so they do not control you. For example, you could decide to only respond to nonessential emails between 9 am – 10 am and 4 pm – 5pm (but be sure to let your colleagues know your system if you want it to work well).
  5. Fuel your fire – Move, eat, sleep, relax, and connect to renew yourself and ensure you have the maximum energy to do what matters most. Simply standing up or taking a ten-minute-walk break every hour can help our brains work at higher capacity.

The session concentrated on the first choice of those five, and discerning what is important, urgent, both, or neither. Extraordinary productivity happens when we focus most on the things that are important, but not urgent, and minimize or eliminate the other three categories. That may sound confusing to those of us who like working in a fast-paced, even crisis-driven environment, but in actuality, busyness does not equal productivity.

When we focus on the urgently important – the last minute deadlines, emergency meetings, unforeseen events, and other items that we do out of necessity – we are reacting, instead of being proactive. Although we might feel a “productivity high,” our brain is just releasing adrenaline in response to the situation, and at some point, we will lose the energy to maintain that pace. We tend to then escape by doing unimportant activities such as responding to unnecessary emails or binge-watching our favorite TV shows. While these latter items are not completely unworthy activities, they give us less or no return for the time and energy invested. Catching up with a few friends is great, but following up with the statuses of all 1,365 of my Facebook friends, not so much.

The best way to ensure you end the day feeling accomplished, and still energized, is to concentrate on what is important, not just urgent. Make sure your time, attention, and energy is spent doing proactive work on high impact goals, whether that includes creative thinking, planning, relationship building, learning, or renewal. Breaking our addiction to urgency can be challenging, but it will ultimately feel a lot better than being buried under an avalanche of gravel.

How are you going to start your path to extraordinary productivity?

From July 20th – 21st we’ll be blogging from GovLoop and YGL’s Next Generation of Government Training Summit. Follow along @NextGenGov and read more blog posts here.

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