According to Kory Kogon, Franklin-Covey productivity expert and co-author of “The Five Choices to Extraordinary Productivity” (Simon & Schuster, 2014), the phenomenon of “operating on autopilot” and using time unproductively is widespread today.  An international six-year study by Franklin-Covey found that 40 percent of respondents indicated they spent 40 percent of their time on things that were “not important” to them or the companies they work for.  The problem, according to Kogon, is, “Our attention is under attack, and people feel overwhelmed like never before.”

That’s an important message.  It’s not that people are overwhelmed, it’s that they feel overwhelmed.  Emotion and logic are usually seen as balances to one another, especially when speaking about tasks and “to dos.”  Personally, I remember downloading an app just to keep track of those things I’d always written on 3×5 index cards, even though I track big projects and their progress through a different app.  Almost overnight, the list of “stuff to do” grew to contain 84 items.

While such a large list may seem to be hopelessly overwhelming, the ability to analyze and prioritize the list makes it logically possible to accomplish many of the items, and when a number of the items are checked off, it produces a feeling of accomplishment.  That feeling is what continues to propel the enthusiasm to get more of the items accomplished the following day.  When items aren’t checked off, it makes it feel like one is simply spinning their wheels, stuck in the mud.  Today, there are 12 items on my “do” list, but because they require someone to respond before the item is completed, the feeling of “not getting things done” persists.

Technology plays a role in productivity, but technology has also left individuals feeling overwhelmed not just with the number of things they have to do, but the number of decisions they must make during the day, as well as the drain on their personal energy to handle them throughout the day.

Adam Merrill, another co-author of “The 5 Choices,” says that his research for the book made him aware of how these challenges tax and tap out individuals, since the focus is on simply getting things done, rather than nurturing relationships and exceeding goals.

The authors offer these five choices to be aware of to help restore the balance among the cognitive (thinking), affective (feeling), physical (doing) and conative (relating) domains of our daily lives.

1) Act on the important; don’t react to the urgent.  Once you understand the text’s reference to action quadrants and time matrix, it will still take time to stop the reactive brain.

2) Go for the extraordinary; don’t settle for the ordinary.  Once you make time for what matters, you begin to work on “what success looks like” in your most important roles.

3) Schedule the “Big Rocks;” don’t sort the gravel.  In the Franklin-Covey world, the “Big Rocks” represent the major tasks you want to accomplish in a given time.  Rather than filling the “task jar” with gravel, fill it with the big rocks first, and let the gravel fill the cracks in between.

4) Rule technology; don’t let it rule you.  Technology must become your servant.  “Mastering technology” is a great phrase, because if you don’t master it, it will master you.  Doing so means learning how to see order in chaos, and sort information into four “buckets” – appointments, tasks, contacts and notes.  Interestingly, seeing order in chaos is one of the tenets of systems thinking.  Unfortunately, we are not skilled in systems thinking, but are expert at process or linear thinking.  Thinking linearly is what depresses us when we encounter roadblocks when we’re trying to reach a goal, rather than being aware of all possible outcomes and unintended consequences of our actions.  Personally, I believe you need a fifth bucket – the “dump” bucket.  That’s where you put everything that has to be done, and then be able to sort the entries into appointments, tasks, contacts and notes.  The difficulty with current technology is that they’re all separate entities, and, if you’re a mobile device user, there are calendar apps, task apps, contact apps and note apps.  Using them separately means technology is ruling how you do your work.  Finding apps that can interact with one another moves you toward ruling technology.

Personally, I love how Kanban works.  It moves tasks through stages (such as “Waiting for Response,” “Delegated,” “Monitor” or “Done”) and can also reprioritize importance within those stages.  However, it would be great if some developer could create a platform where everything goes in the middle of the screen, and then items could be sorted into the appropriate quadrant, and then the quadrant could open into a new app where the items could be appropriately addressed – like a Kanban for tasks, a Notepad for notes, a calendar for events, and a contact file for contacts.  One could argue that Microsoft’s Outlook does all this – but all the apps are their own sections with their own shortcuts.  There’s not a place to dump everything and then sort.  Technology doesn’t handle sorting well.

5) Fuel your fire; don’t burn out.  High-pressure work environments leave employees drained.  Unfortunately, the logical approach to achievement is to work harder, longer and do more to continue to raise the achievement bar.  Instead, you need to recharge your mental and physical energy to feed your “thinking” brain.  This is done through physical activity, adequate sleep, healthy food options, relaxation and healthy relationships.

And I’m sure you noticed there are 5 elements in that list, too!

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2015-2022