Choice 1: Act On The Important, Don't React To The Urgent


How well are you using your brain?

In a knowledge-worker world where we are paid to think, create, and innovate, our primary tool for creating value is our brain. There are two basic parts of the brain: the Reactive Brain and the Thinking Brain. 

The Reactive Brain

This is the source of our fight-or-flight response and is also where we process our feelings and emotions. Most of these processes happen automatically before we have time to think about what's going on. Scientists say the Reactive Brain was built to ensure our survival.

The Thinking Brain

This is the source of our conscious and intentional decisions. It is often called the executive function because it is where we can consciously direct and override other impulses from the Reactive Brain. It is where we act rather than react. It is where we choose to pay attention to something in a deliberate, thoughtful way.

The good news from neuroscience is that, with practice, we can actually rewire our brains to be more thoughtful and discerning about our choices. It is in those discerning choices that we determine the quality, joy, and happiness of our lives. 

Being Intentional

In order to be truly productive, we need to gain the habit of being conscious and intentional about everything we do. In today's world, we can't just go on "I have a busy life" autopilot and expect to end up where we want to be. 

Anything less than a conscious commitment to the important is an unconscious commitment to the unimportant. - Dr. Stephen R. Covey

To be truly productive and make those high-value decisions, it helps to have both a framework and a process. FranklinCovey's Time Matrix provides the framework, and Pause-Clarify-Decide (PCD) provides the process. 

Quadrant 1 (Q1)

The quadrant of necessity. This quadrant contains things that are both urgent and important. It is filled with crises (like a hospital visit), emergency meetings, last-minute deadlines, and unforeseen events. If you spend a lot of time in Q1, you may feel productive, but you may also burn out. Although it is often necessary to be in Q1, it is rarely where we do our best work. 

Quadrant 2 (Q2)

The quadrant of extraordinary productivity. This quadrant contains activities that are important but not urgent. Unlike other quadrants where things come at you, you have to consciously choose to be in Q2. Time spent in Q2 reduces the crises and problems in Q1 because you will intentionally spend time planning, preparing, and preventing. The time and energy you invest in Q2 generates returns that are much higher than that which you put in. 

Quadrant 3 (Q3)

The quadrant of distraction. This quadrant contains urgent but unimportant things. Q3 is urgent, things feel like they need to be done now, but there are no serious consequences if you don't do them. Q3 contains needless interruptions, unnecessary reports, irrelevant meetings, other people's minor issues, unimportant emails, tasks, phone calls, status posts, and so on. 

Quadrant 4 (Q4)

The quadrant of waste. This quadrant contains things that are not urgent or important. We really shouldn't be here at all, but we often get so burned out fighting the battles in Q1 and Q3 that we go here to escape. This is where we let our brains go completely unconscious and fill our time with excessive relaxation, television, gaming, web browsing, gossip, and other time-wasters.


The key to getting into Q2 is to pause your Reactive Brain log enough to clarify what is coming at you, then decide whether it is worth your time and energy. We refer to this vital process at Pause-Clarify-Decide (PCD).

Our ability to do this comes into play the in the moment of choice when we consciously decide whether or not we will do something. Using PCD means that we take a brief instant to ask the question, Is it important? This simple process helps us get the return on the moment that we desire. 

For more on Choice 1, watch this video with FranklinCovey's Global Productivity Practice Leader and lead author of The 5 Choices, Kory Kogon.

Invest your time, attention, and energy on your highest priorities. Register to attend a complimentary 5 Choices to Extraordinary Productivity webcast to learn how.

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