The 5 Choices

The 5 Choices: The Path to Extraordinary Productivity by Kory Kogon, Leena Rinne, and Adam Merril is about how your organisation can be as productive as possible. The book is written by people in the Covey organisation and are along the lines of the infamous 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Here it is:

“Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.” – Stephen R. Covey

The 5 Choices for Extraordinary Productivity is a framework for achieving more, much more, productivity:


In times when everyone is busy, being productive is key to standing out. Every day many people work for 5-12 hours, however, some get much more done than others. That is productivity at work. The 5 Choices explain how you can (instantly) become more productive. This involves a) making better decisions, b) diverting your attention to where it’s needed, and 3) managing your energy.

5 Choices for Extraordinary Results

  1. Act on the Important – Do the things that are important, don’t react to what’s urgent
  2. Go for the Extraordinary – Good is the enemy of great, don’t settle for ordinary
  3. Schedule the Big Things – Focus on what adds value, don’t get lost in the small things
  4. Rule Your Technology – Use technology to your advantage, don’t become a slave to dopamine shots
  5. Fuel Your Fire – Strengthen your vitality, prevent a burn-out

The lessons from the 5 Choices are very clear, be proactive instead of reactive. With this, you can solve the 3 big questions (at work). First, how can you make many decisions, the right ones, every day? Second, how can you divert your attention towards the right places? Third, how can you manage your (limited) energy? That is what the 5 Choices help you to navigate.

1) Act on the Important

Our brain has different sections and they work in different ways. We are automatically reactive, this takes place in our old/reptilian brain. But if we put in some effort we can become pro-active, we can plan and exert self-control (pre-frontal cortex, new brain). Daniel Kahneman also called this, thinking fast and slow. This means you have to ask yourself a simple question: why am I doing X or Y?

The Eisenhower (or Covey) Matrix is the visual translation of this process. If you really ask yourself the ‘why’ question, you should come to the conclusion that the most productive tasks are those which are non-urgent and important. This is the pro-active work, creative thinking or relationship building. Tasks that are also urgent have a 1-on-1 return; if you extinguish a fire you save one house. But if you prevented 10 from burning by installing fire alarms and this took you the same time, the payoff is much bigger. This means we have to say no to urgency and focus on what’s most important.

2) Go for Extraordinary

In your life, you have many different roles. You can be a father, colleague, athlete, child, husband, etc. At many times, you may feel that these roles are conflicting, and they can be. Most important for being extraordinary is knowing what success means for you, in each of the roles. Define your goals and passions in your role description (e.g. Super Dad), and make a role statement. Also, note that roles can (and will) change during your life, they are dynamic.

If you know which roles you have you can make specific goals. You can use frameworks like SMART goals. What it comes down to is; from X to Y in Z time period. This way you will be making non-urgent and important goals that are aligned between your roles.

3) Schedule the Big Things

Your attention is limited and it should be going to the most important things. But as you know your brain loves dopamine, and will therefore gravitate towards urgent things. This is a challenge that you can tackle, it only involves some planning. Take some 10 minutes at the start of your day at the office to make a small planning. Here you can decide when you can work on the non-urgent and important tasks (preferably early in the day). Also, take 30 minutes each week to review your processes and make a global plan for the next week. This whole process takes less than 90 minutes and will make sure your attention is going to the right places. You will be pro-active, every day.

4) Rule Your Technology

There is a new addition on the block, not to alcohol or drugs, but to your technology. People check their phones 85-150 times a day, for many it’s more. And what are you to most likely find on your phone, unimportant tasks. You see the latest in internet cat memes, how a war is going in a faraway place, or what your friends are doing on vacation. There is a near-zero chance that you will find important and non-urgent things on your phone/devices. But what about your email or other places where information is entering your brain?

To combat this trend, you can manage your incoming information in a system. You can decide that you will 1) act on the information, or 2) archive for later use. If you act on information you can make an appointment with yourself when to do it (i.e. in google calendar) or make a task (i.e. in Basecamp). If you archive information you can save it as a contact (i.e. in your phone) or as a note (i.e. in Evernote). And if you really want to get good at it, you can make sure these systems can talk to each other, more on that in Getting Things Done.

5) Fuel Your Fire

Last, but not least, you need to manage your energy. To be extraordinarily productive and take the right decisions you need to be present and awake. To do this you can do five things; 1) move (keep your body active), 2) eat (healthy food), 3) sleep (at least 7 hours), 4) relax (important and non-urgent), and 5) connect (social relationships can boost your energy). If you keep your energy level high you will do your most productive work.

When to Use

This framework is important to keep yourself on track. Without it, you may revert back to being reactive, non-productive and stressed. Therefore I advise you to reflect on this framework when you feel the pressure is building. You won’t always sleep enough, work on those most productive tasks or stay away from your phone, but this framework greatly enhances your ability to do so.

“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity” – Sun Tzu

More on the Choices for Extraordinary Productivity:

1. – Youtube video about The 5 Choices

2. – Official FranklinCovey website

3. – My previous blog post about The 5 Levels of Leadership