In my last blog post, I began summarizing a productivity book titled The 5 Choices: The Path to Extraordinary Productivity (library)(Amazon) by Kory Kogon, Adam Merrill, and Leena Rinne. Essentially, it is a book about efficient decision making. If we waste our energy on mindless tasks, we fall into decision-exhaustion (ego depletion) and don’t have the energy to pursue value-filled goals and projects. It is not as interesting as Jeremy Dean’s book Making Habits, Breaking Habits but this book still has a nice overview of some basic productivity lessons.
In the first part of the book, the authors explain that our primitive Reactive Brains are chemically wired to respond to easy, validating, dopamine-kisses of busy work. To build up our Thinking Brains, they offer some basic tips like not procrastinating, not accommodating others to your expense, writing down your Most Important Tasks for the day, not wasting time on “leisure” if it does not really renew you, and finding alternative dopamine hits (like checking off planning as a daily To-Do). But if you’re struggling to get through a long list of “tasks” then the most important step is FIRST, spend 20 minutes clarifying your ideal Roles and your ideal Goals.
I would read this chapter of the book carefully because it takes some time to thoughtfully craft these personal statements. They offer a few examples and talk the reader through the process of defining values and goals within our means. This is an abbreviated version with my own submissions:
- Identify important roles you currently take in your life. In my case, it would be: student, mother, spouse.
- Describe what these roles mean. I am not just a student, but a productive (writes a lot), aggressive (publishes a lot) junior scholar. I am not just a mother, but a nurturing guide. I am not just a spouse but an encouraging supportive partner.
- Then, fill this out: As a [role], I will [value rich outcome] by [activity].
- As a productive, aggressive junior scholar, I will take active part in my field by first finishing my dissertation and preparing chapters for publication.
- As a nurturing guide, I will provide a loving and interesting world for my child by having regular, balanced days of activity, education, and rest.
- As an encouraging, supportive partner, I will create a relationship of communication, trust, and renewal by actively listening, sharing goals, spending quality time together, and helping run an efficient household.
From here, you can begin to craft specific, long term goals for each role – I would limit these to 1-2 goals each so you aren’t overloaded. Make sure to be as specific as possible, even making dates and quantifying amounts if necessary. From here, you can mark out specific activities that will help you achieve them that you can act on every week. These ideal Roles and ideal Goals help direct our attention and energy in ways that will bring us a more fulfilling life.
Here is what it looks like for me.
- As a productive, aggressive junior scholar, I will take active part in my field by first finishing my dissertation and preparing chapters for publication. My first goal is to complete a full draft of Chapter 2 by May 15. In my calendar, I’ve blocked out times of the day for activities that work on specific portions (“April 23 3-5pm, use Haus to explain German eugenics” etc).
- As a nurturing guide, I will provide a loving and interesting world for my child by having regular, balanced days of activity, education, and rest. My first goal is to streamline our meals so that I spend less time cooking and always have veggies on hand. In my calendar, I’ve blocked out meal prep times and consolidated my recipes into X folder.
- As an encouraging, supportive partner, I will create a relationship of communication, trust, and renewal by actively listening, sharing goals, spending quality time together, and helping run an efficient household. My first goal is to make sure to use the end of the day better. Right now I zone out on Reddit, barely able to do anything. I’d like to spend 30 min watching a video with my husband and then chatting instead, making sure to go to bed early.
Now that your main priorities are already penciled in for the week, then you can tackle the onslaught of other responsibilities. It is now much easier to run through the question of, “So…is this important? How will this impact the project/goal I’m working towards? When does it need to be done? Is there another resource or method to get it done?” This way, our BIG tasks are taken care of and the SMALL tasks fit in around them. This is not so different from most productivity guides (like this one) that stress doing your Most Important Thing as the main priority for the day.
All in all, they suggest 30 minutes for the start of the week and 10 minutes of the day to plan. Your important activities should be specifically prioritized to suit your energy levels too, if possible. There is an entire chapter devoted to attention management – making sure you exercise, not be a slave to your smartphone, and so on.
While there is nothing very groundbreaking about the book, I did like their exercise in helping me define my roles and goals. It isn’t a new concept but the way they presented it struck a chord with me more so than other books I’ve read.