Episode 131 –Solutions for Extraordinary Productivity

Episode #131
Original Air Date: 06.14.2021

45 Minutes

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Our Guest This Episode: Kory Kogon

Are you always busy, yet feel as if you’re never getting anything done? If most of what you’re doing is urgent, but not important, are you making the most valuable contribution possible in your roles? We’re talking with Kory Kogon about the science behind extraordinary productivity. Kory explains how to get the right things done, both personally and professionally, and with quality.

In her book The 5 Choices: The Path to Extraordinary Productivity, Kory highlights three productivity challenges: decision management, attention management, and energy management, and she describes the 5 choices to implement to master these challenges. Kory explains why the brain needs a routine, and how we can do our best work in a crisis. She describes the “time matrix” model which helps to establish what is important both personally and professionally. She gives advice on how to apply this model and create a “Q2” - Not Urgent and Important - culture for our teams. Kory also offers advice on being less distracted and more productive with our technology. Listen in for tips on how to stop scope creep, optimize decision-making throughout the day, and create a culture of awareness and intentionality of how we’re spending our time and attention.

Kory is FranklinCovey’s Vice President, Global Sales Enablement, and the co-author of the #4 Wall Street Journal bestseller, The 5 Choices: The Path to Extraordinary Productivity, in addition to Project Management Essentials for the Unofficial Project Manager, and Presentation Advantage. Kory has been featured on Inc.com and in its Productivity Playbook online series, on Fast Company.com, Forbes.com, and in Investor’s Business Daily. She has also appeared on NBC’s TODAY with Hoda Kotb.

Favorite Quotes from Our Talk:

“...those three challenges – decision management, attention management, and energy management – have risen to the top because, if you master those, you will end up with time management and go to sleep at night feeling accomplished”

- Kory Kogon

"So that whole “go for extraordinary” is who am I in these few most important roles in my life that really drive my purpose."

- Kory Kogon

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Kory Kogon talks about the science behind extraordinary productivity. Hear how to get the right things done, both personally and professionally, and with quality.  Kory highlights three productivity challenges: decision management, attention management, and energy management, and she describes the 5 choices to implement to master these challenges.

Table of Contents

00:25 … Meet Kory
02:52 … Extraordinary Productivity
07:24 … The Productivity Paradox
11:18 … Choice #1:Act on the Important. Don’t React to the Urgent
13:06 … The Time Matrix
16:37 … How to Model Productivity
18:51 … Scope Creep and Intentionality
24:43 … Choice #2: Go for the Extraordinary. Don’t Settle for Ordinary
27:53 … Choice #3: Schedule the Big Rocks. Don’t Sort the Gravel
31:14 … Best Way to Teach This to Your Team
33:42 … Choice #4: Rule your Technology. Don’t let it Rule You
37:59 … Choice #5: Fuel your Fire. Don’t Burn Out
42:17 … Sleep on It
43:45 … Connect with Kory
44:27 … Closing

KORY KOGON:  So those three challenges – decision management, attention management, and energy management – have risen to the top because, if you master those, you will end up with time management and go to sleep at night feeling accomplished.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Welcome to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers.  I’m Wendy Grounds, and joining me in the studio is Bill Yates.  Welcome, Bill.

BILL YATES:  Good to be in here with you.

Meet Kory

WENDY GROUNDS:  Today we are talking to Kory Kogon.  Kory has over 25 years of business expertise.  She is FranklinCovey’s Vice President of Global Sales Enablement.  Kory has been featured on Inc.com and in its Productivity Playbook online series, on FastCompany.com, Forbes.com, and in Investor’s Business Daily.  She has also appeared on NBC’s Today with Hoda Kotb.  And we’re very privileged to have Kory with us today.

BILL YATES:  Yes, we are.  And I’m so excited to talk with her about her book.  She’s a co-author of the #4 Wall Street Journal Bestseller, “The 5 Choices:  The Path to Extraordinary Productivity.”  She also wrote “Project Management Essentials for the Unofficial Project Manager” – we may have to have another conversation with her about that – and “The Presentation Advantage.”  This book at that we’re going to focus on, “The 5 Choices:  The Path to Extraordinary Productivity,” is so full of great advice.  And you know, one of the things I appreciate is she’s going to talk about the science behind some of this, too.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Yes.  Sometimes we struggle to get everything done that we need to do in a day.  And she’s just going to give us advice on how to choose what we need to do and what’s important.  And I think it’s going to be a great conversation.  Kory, welcome to Manage This.  Thank you so much for being our guest.

KORY KOGON:  Well, thanks for having me.  I’m excited to be here with you.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Yeah, we’re looking forward to getting a little deeper into this book that you’ve written.  But what we like to find out from authors is why did you write the book?

KORY KOGON:  Well, you know, I am part of FranklinCovey, who is very well known, like, oh, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and within that “First Things First” and our whole background around principle-based time management, life management.  Over the years we’ve iterated based on pointing those principles at the relevancy of particularly the workplace.  And so a few years ago we again updated our work around those principles in relevancy.  And it was just an honor to be able to, with my colleagues, really take this work into the 21st Century – when people are busier than ever before, and a little crazed – and, under the conditions pre-pandemic, able to really help people accomplish the most important things in their life.

Extraordinary Productivity

BILL YATES:  There are so many principles that we’re going to get into that are in the book that resonate with me and, on a personal level, have helped me.  So I know project managers will benefit from it, as well.  One of the questions that we wanted to ask you about was this definition of extraordinary productivity because that sounds very appealing to me.  What is extraordinary productivity?

KORY KOGON:  So glad you asked that because some people will say, oh, extraordinary productivity, that’s solving world peace.  How idealistic can you be?  And if nothing, this book is highly practical around extraordinary productivity.  So what we mean by that is, although world peace would be great, that’s not what we’re looking for.  But we define it to say extraordinary productivity simply means that I’m making the most valuable contribution that I can make in the roles that I serve and, blatantly, go to sleep at night feeling accomplished.  Like I got the right things done, with quality, both personally and professionally.

BILL YATES:  There’s like a personal level of satisfaction at the end of the day.  I think that’s a great way to put it.

KORY KOGON:  Well, how many times do you or anybody we know, at the end of the day we go, oh, gosh, I was so busy, but what did I get done?  And that’s not the best way to end a day because you just start over on that hamster wheel.  So how do I get very intentional?  But in my roles in life, I got her done.  And with quality.  That’s a word that you don’t see it as much in the book.  But since that book has written, as things have sped up, and it becomes about hitting deadlines, I worry that people are not giving their best in hitting the deadline.  So high quality becomes to me really part of the definition of extraordinary productivity.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, it was a study that you referenced very early in the book about when people look at productivity, I think the average person realized 60% of their work was important, 40% was unimportant.  That was kind of the average person.  And I think you guys were playful with it.  You know, you kind of look at the upside of that, or you could look at it for what it is, which is almost half of our time is spent on things that are unimportant. 

That’s sobering, right, from a P&L perspective, from a personal satisfaction perspective, to think that when I really track my time and the things I’m doing, and I come back and say, okay, almost half of my time I’m doing stuff that’s not important, it’s not strategic, it doesn’t have long-term value, it builds a strong case for, okay, I need to change.  So tell us more about that study.

KORY KOGON:  Yes.  Well, so if you look at individual team organizational levels, on the individual level I feel like I’m wasting half my time.  So it is very discouraging. That’s number one.  And in a knowledge worker age, there’s nothing to kill productivity more than “I feel discouraged” because it’s very hard to get ourselves going with that.  We have found around the world – we do that survey, that research all the time with organizations.  And this is both good news and bad news that that statistic has become status quo.  It’s for a team or an organization to turn the lights on.  Because we use our brains as the main tool in the knowledge worker age, we make so many assumptions about what’s important or not important that it’s the cost of doing business.

To your point about the P&L, any survey that we do initially with a team or an organization, those numbers will come out about the same, 60/40.  And so when you look at that, if you have a business unit of 500 people, and you can do the math on any other size, that cost is about $20 million a year as a cost of doing business.  It’s a terrible statistic and a great one because, once you become aware of it personally or as an organization, we are not saying, oh, you need to be 100%, you know, working on important things.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, sure.

KORY KOGON:  But just moving that needle a couple of percentage points will have you go to sleep at night feeling much better, and on the organizational level really important for those that really care about the P&L and the balance sheet because you’ll have a group of engaged people that feel like they’re playing a winnable game, they’re getting stuff done, it’s important, and the organization of course wins, as well.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  So I like the way you’re presenting those statistics.  There’s great opportunity for improvement.


The Productivity Paradox

WENDY GROUNDS:  Kory, we’re looking at examining these three different challenges that you talk about in your book.  Can you explain those productivity challenges in light of what you call the “productivity paradox”?

KORY KOGON:  Yes.  So the paradox is that it’s both easier and harder than ever to achieve extraordinary productivity.  And so the paradox really is it’s easier because of technology.  The pandemic unfortunately is such a good example of this.  Thank goodness for the technology, as everybody was forced to work at  home.  And again, always want to acknowledge those people that are not as able, if you don’t have access.  But a lot of people do, and almost a half do.  So it’s been easier.

Then it’s harder than ever because of the technology, because it’s created an unstoppable flow of everything that’s coming at us.  And so with that in combination with our earlier discussion around this is the world of knowledge workers, so we are paid to think, innovate, create, and execute.  And our brain is the number one tool that we need to optimize around this paradox of it’s easier, but it’s harder because I’m overwhelmed.

Out of this a lot of times people would say or over the years have said, “Oh, well, we need help with time management.”  Well, no, you don’t.  In this day and age, what has risen to the top are these three key challenges that you mentioned with the main one being that it really is about getting our arms around the skills of decision management because every email, every text, every child knocking on the door, every pet that comes up on your desk, all of that are decisions you have to make in the moment.  And our brains are acting in a linear kind of way.  We’re just trying to – you know this.  You go through your emails.  Like let me just get through these 20 emails before I get some real work, you know, that kind of thing. 

So decision management, how do we get our arms around that and make the highest value decisions is really key, as the number one challenge.

The second one is while we’re trying to make these decisions all day and getting completely bombarded by a million of them, our attention is under extraordinary attack.  And so the dings, the pings, and again in the circumstances we’re in, remote work, whatever, people have all kinds of new distractions that they didn’t have before, not just technology.

And then the third one is energy.  We’re just sort of it’s a 24-hour day for a lot of people, for a number of reasons.  One, they could be working for a global organization.  Or even if they’re working for a teeny-tiny business, the boundaries have been lost between when do I work and when do I stop working?  When do I open the office door?  So those three challenges – decision management, attention management, and energy management – have risen to the top because, if you master those, you will end up with time management and go to sleep at night feeling accomplished.

BILL YATES:  Kory, I’ve got to share with you just a quick – as you were describing the reality with technology, how it’s both easier and it’s harder because of technology today, a friend just shared an example of this with me.  This person’s working from home.  This person loves golf.  And the Masters Golf Tournament was on TV.  So he’s streaming that while, and I’m using air quotes, “working.”  But part of his brain is following the leaderboard that’s over here on one screen, and then he’s got two other screens that are dedicated to work. 

So it’s easier and it’s harder; right?  It’s like, okay, how do I cut work off?  How do I completely focus on work when I need to be doing that and not maybe watching a golf tournament or seeing what my stocks are doing or whatever.  So, yeah, technology is wonderful, but it’s so difficult to keep that balance.  So let’s get into these choices.

Choice #1: Act on the Important. Don’t React to the Urgent

 WENDY GROUNDS:  Yes.  I really enjoyed reading through the choices that you had laid out in the book, the five choices.  And the first one started with looking at decision management.  And the choice that I want to hear about is you said, “Act on the important; don’t react to the urgent.”  And this was eye-opening to me because I think I’ve probably been doing it the wrong way.  Can you tell us a bit more about that?

KORY KOGON:  Well, first, I don’t think there is a wrong way.  You know, I think there’s just a better way.  We’re all trying to do our best out there.  I’m going to take us back to the brain for a moment because the organizing principles with the brain is it looks for threat first, reward second.  That doesn’t change.  And the back of our brain wants to routinize everything and keep us safe.  And the front of our brain, the prefrontal cortex, is where we’re very intentional and conscious about decisions we make, how we plan and think.

The way the world is operating, and you, too, understandably is we go into this unconscious or subconscious mode of reactivity.  The back of the brain is about reacting to things and making sure we’re safe.  So we react to the urgent, or we’re saying go for important or go for proactive.  Choice 1 is really the process whereby the brain gets a process to intentionally think about what’s most important, less important, not important.  Because a lot of times, even when we talk about the paradox, and we say, oh, well, we just need to be more intentional, and we can look at our screen, and we look at all our emails and go, okay, Kory said be intentional, but now what do I do?  And the brain, I’ll go back to what I said, needs a routine.

The Time Matrix

So in Choice 1 we give it a routine.  We call it the “time matrix.”  It’s the confluence of the word “urgent” and “important” put together, and that forms the four quadrants.  And a lot of people will say, “Oh, the time matrix.  I know that from the 7 Habits.”  Or, you know, I read it and all of that.  And the key is knowing it and doing it are two separate things.  Oh, yeah, I know that.  We need to do it. 

So the idea with Choice 1 and decision management is to use this process, anything that’s incoming, to say is this a Quadrant 2 thing?  Is it important, not urgent?  And really making sure we establish first what is important to us personally, professionally, because I’ve talked to a lot of people, like, boy, I really needed to get clear on that because I find myself in the other quadrants because I’m not.

So I’ll close the loop on this.  I get really clear on what’s important in Quadrant 2 – important, not urgent.  And then I look at the other quadrants.  Is it a Quadrant 1?  Is it important and urgent?  Meaning it’s a crisis.  And how do we get our arms around that?  Because a lot of times, I mean, I think we all know crisis junkies, adrenalin junkies.  They live for it, and they think they’re doing their best work around crises, and they’re not.  That is a proven neurological fact.  So it’s is this important and urgent because there are things that are.  Somebody gets, God forbid now, sick, or the IT system goes down or something like that.  But there’s a lot of chronic stuff in there that we do over and over.

Quadrant 3, important, not urgent.  They’re just distractions.  This is a lot of times it’s our fault we’re here.  We accommodate other people’s needs all the time instead of our own.  We go to unproductive meetings all the time.  There’s things here that, if we really thought about it, we can help ourselves.  Unless Quadrant 4, not important, not urgent, really things that become excessive.  I’m sleeping more, I’m drinking more because I’m all burnt out from the other quadrants.  So that’s a little bit about the process around how do I get clear on what’s really important in Quadrant 2 and start to chip away and help myself around mitigating or eliminating some of the things that I’m doing in the other quadrants.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  I think back to my earlier example of watching the Masters while somebody should have been working, that probably a clear Quadrant 4 activity.  I think we could all admit to that.  But this is seminal work.  This is stuff that influences me.  I was sharing with Kory before we started recording, when I turn on my laptop at the beginning of a workday, the first Word document that I open is a backlog for me in my personal list of things to do.  And I keep it prioritized. 

There’s a bit of an analogy to an Agile product backlog with that, you know, keep the top priority things at the top and work your way down.  But I have personal and work, so I’ll start it up, and I’ll hide the personal stuff.  If I need to refer to it and add something to it during the day, I can do that quickly.

But in the work stuff right above it I have these four quadrants.  And I’ve had those there for years, just to remind me to focus on Q2.  Because Q1, that first quadrant, I can think of that as kind of like those are the emergencies.  Those are the essential things that have to be done.  But they’re not strategic.  And Q2 is the further I go in my career, the more time I need to spend in Q2.  If I’m going to really bring value to my company, to my organization, to my project, I need to be in Q2, and I need to encourage my team to be in Q2.

How to Model Productivity

So this has had a huge influence on me.  And for me it was great to see the practical advice that you have in the book about, okay, not only do you do this for yourself, and here’s some tips on how to do this, but you want to be a leader in this, as well.  And I think, okay, how do we model this for others?  Once we start to embrace this, how do we become infectious; right?  How do we show others how to follow up with this, as well?

KORY KOGON:  And that’s a language and a methodology that creates a culture of productivity.  So you’re right about that.  It’s a measurable process that if everybody’s speaking this, if the leaders are highly aware of it – and I always, well, I ask two questions of people, whether they are individual contributors or leaders.  One is, as you think about the quadrants or learn about them, what’s one or two things that you could do to help yourself?  Because a lot of times people will say, oh, well, boy, this is great, but my boss should be hearing this podcast, you know, that kind of thing.  And I get that.

My dad used to say to me – I’m one of three girls.  And I would say, “Oh, you should punish Ellie because she did this thing.”  And my father would say, “Listen, don’t worry about Ellie.  When you’re doing it perfectly, then we’ll deal with Ellie,” you know, kind of thing.  And I say the same thing here.  We have to reclaim our own time first.  So what are doing in those not-so-good quadrants that we can fix?

And the second question that I ask is what are you doing that is accidentally throwing other people into the bad quadrant?  So as a leader, are you procrastinating and then throwing it over the fence to the team and making them crazy?  Are you calling in to other divisions or companies and saying, “Hey, I need you to help me with this?”  When people are more thoughtful, even to say, “Hey, listen, I know this may not be a Quadrant 1 for you, here’s why it is for us,” people will reciprocate even the acknowledgment of that.  So it creates this culture when people are thinking about this, speaking of project management and Agile, it’s an optimized process by which people can move much faster by really identifying and staying clear on what’s important, less important, not important through it.

Scope Creep and Intentionality

BILL YATES:  This had not occurred to me until just the description that you gave, but there’s such a parallel to project managers.  One of the things that we hate is scope creep.


BILL YATES:  You know, we hate it when we sit down with our customer or our sponsor, the team all agrees to the scope that we’re going to perform on the project.  And then we start to do the work, and then the sponsor or that same customer comes back and says, “Hey, I just had another idea.  How about we add this feature?”  Or “How about we, instead of working on this piece now, let’s wait and do it next quarter.  Let’s go ahead and do this other piece first.”  And it’s very frustrating to the team; right?  And we can look at it and kind of beat our chests and go, that’s scope creep.  Shame on you, you know, you’re breaking some of the fundamentals of project management.  If you want us to be efficient and productive, don’t do that.

But then we’ll come around, and we’ll throw Quadrant 1 stuff at each other all day.  “Oh, gosh.  It’s my fault.  I can’t find a document.  Can everybody stop what they’re doing and find it for me, you know, instead of me spending five minutes looking for it?”  Or, “Hey, I just had a quick question from the customer.  Can you guys drop everything you’re doing and help me come up with a good answer for this?”  It’s like, how frequently do I break my own rules, you know, something from a scope standpoint that I’d never do, and say here’s a change request form, or here’s the process that we go through if we really want to interrupt our flow of work.  But then I’ll turn around and do the same thing to the team, introducing what I would call Quadrant 1 stuff.  So how do we stop that?

KORY KOGON:  I always like to say leaders, project managers, you know, don’t wake up in the morning and say, “Geez, how do I make them miserable today?”

BILL YATES:  Yeah, right.

KORY KOGON:  It just happens naturally kind of thing; right?  There’s no magic bullet.  It is called “intentionality.”  Because again, we’re using our brains, and we haven’t optimized in the knowledge worker age in the way we did in the industrial age.  We haven’t built the ISO9000 or the lean manufacturing for the brain yet.  And that’s, I think, when you ask the intent of writing the book, I mean, it really comes to that is we can optimize our systems in such a great way, and it’s just about everybody being intentional when they’re doing that and putting the brakes on, creating some friction to hold back before we go, hey, do you, and just being nice about it, like “Hey, we did agree on this change.  What’s the best way to proceed with that?” kind of thing.

But if everybody understands the language – because I do this all the time.  I will apologize.  Yesterday I had to do it.  I didn’t write down a deadline of somebody that owes me a video on something, and I wrote a note, and I said, “I’m so sorry for this Quadrant 3 email” because it was a complete distraction for her.  And I really was sorry.  But at least she knows I acknowledged it, and we have this language.

The other thing, when it comes to scope creep, I love the line item of “exclusions” to help with that.  If anybody in their interviews is not doing that, just to get the guardrails on, even though we’re in an Agile world, even just having a few, like we’re not going to consider that, and everybody’s on the same page, really helps you get clear on a Q2, you know, environment when it comes to a project.

BILL YATES:  Right.  I love this idea of creating a culture of awareness.  And some of it, you know, even as we’re kind of going back and forth, oh, that’s a Q1, that’s a Q2, that’s a Q3, and labeling our activities and our communications back and forth, even with our project team members, I could even see that being a part of the regular meeting routine, for a humble leader to say, “Hey, team, what have I done this week, since the last time we met, what have I put on your plate that, once we go back and look at it, it’s really not a Q2 activity, it’s Quadrant 1 or Quadrant 3,” just bring it up. 

I may actually have some more information where I can actually show, no, it was Quadrant 2, more than likely you’re right, and I need to apologize to you.  So, you know, it helps us all get better at that.

KORY KOGON:  Well, and, you know, the currency of the knowledge worker age is employee engagement.


KORY KOGON:  You can’t force somebody to give – they have to volunteer their best efforts.  And so when you do things like that, they’re like, whoa, that’s the guy or gal I want to work for because, you know, they really care, and really trying to help me stay focused on what I can get done that makes me feel like I’m making a contribution.  So it’s great.

BILL YATES:  It’s funny, I think of a – there’s a television show called “New Amsterdam.”  And the lead actor, I think his character is called Max, and he’s a leader of a huge hospital.  And his thing there with this busy, busy hospital in New York City is to always ask the leaders that report up to him, how can I help?  So it takes humility.  It takes him actually slowing down enough to listen, which doesn’t happen very often because he’s so busy, but that’s a part of the show.  But it’s, you know, I think it speaks to that.  It’s like, how can I help?  How am I putting things on your plate?  They contradict what I’ve asked you to do, which is to be strategic, to build relationships, to make sure you’re doing those things that lead to satisfaction at the end of the day.

KORY KOGON:  Well, let’s put the other shoe on because here’s the other side of that.  It’s not just about the leaders.  The people who report to leaders make assumptions about everything’s important to the leader.  So I have learned this over the years with my own direct reports.  I’ll say, oh, hey, we need this thing.  And if I don’t tell them I don’t need it for three weeks, it’s like on my desk the next day.  So if I talk to teams, they will tell me, oh my goodness, my boss needs everything right now.  But it’s not always true.

And so I strongly recommend for leaders to be really clear this is not a Quadrant 1.  I don’t need it for three weeks.  And I can give you example after example of leaders who are like, oh, my goodness, I can’t believe that they ended up stopping everything to work on this one thing, and I didn’t even – I didn’t even need it.

Choice #2: Go for the Extraordinary. Don’t Settle for Ordinary

WENDY GROUNDS:  I think this leads in very well into your second choice that you talk about in the book:  Go for the extraordinary; don’t settle for ordinary.  Just talking about being more aware and being intentional.  How can we be more aware of how we’re spending our time and attention so that we get into Quadrant 2?

KORY KOGON:  So go for extraordinary; don’t settle for ordinary.  Like you said, it’s the second half of decision management skills.  Quadrant 2 is really based on who we are.  How do I make those decisions?  And those decisions really need social/emotional in there.  And so where do you find that?  Well, you find that in the roles, the current roles that you play in life.  That’s what drives you, your purpose to get things done.  So as an author and a VP, as a mother, as a dog mother, as a friend, lots of people have lots of roles.  But the goal is how do we narrow the focus to, right now, what are the few most important roles in my life that I do need to, at the end of the day, feel like I’m making my best contribution in?

And we always say, this is a principle of ours, you can’t focus on a million things.  You’ve got to narrow the focus.  And so if we identify your roles – and I recently lost my father, you know, I’ve lost both parents – since the writing of the book and even prior to that, very conscious about the dynamic role of being a daughter and how my decision-making played out in his last couple of years on making sure in what we call our “Q2 role statement,” who am I?  What’s my target?  Who do I want to be in that role right now?

And so that during the day, when people say, “Kory, do you got a minute?” or “Can you do this?” or “Can you travel to Europe?” making decisions based on my role and my work role and my personal roles and carefully discerning, am I going to Europe for two weeks when I need to make sure that I’m in New York with my dad at this stage in his life?  He lived to 96.  So, I mean, he had a good long life.  So, and I’m just using that, not to bring everybody down, I mean, we all go through this journey.  But it’s that kind of thing.

And the same thing, our role at work.  If you’re passionate about your role at work, what does that look like?  Write it down.  Labeling and reappraising in a neuroscience world, it makes it very real.  Who do I want to be in this role?  And then making decisions.  Again, when somebody is chronically asking you, well, do you have a minute, can you help me, sort of what you were saying before, over and over, and I’m carefully making that decision.  If it’s chronic, I’m like, you know what, let me show you how to do it.  Next time you do it on your own.  Or if it’s a new person, I might stop what I’m doing and help them in the moment.

So that whole “go for extraordinary” is who am I in these few most important roles in my life that really drive my purpose.  And then my decision-making, coming through the time matrix, is helping determine and clarify my Q2 so that I’m optimizing all decision-making throughout the day.

Choice #3: Schedule the Big Rocks. Don’t Sort the Gravel

BILL YATES:  Very good.  One of the quotes that you guys have in the book is “what moves the head and the heart,” you know, getting into that.  Just as I was reflecting on that, it reminded me of some of the basic teaching of Simon Sinek in the “Start With Why,” you know, the name of that book.  To me, if it’s going to be extraordinary, I have to know the roles, that’s such a great point, and what value I bring into those roles, you know, how I can be my best in those roles.  And then reminding myself of the why.

The example with your father, that’s a touching and beautiful great example because we all have those things that we have to balance inside and outside of work.  Choice 3 is schedule the big rocks.  Don’t sort the gravel.  And I’ve seen this illustration used before, kind of live and in-person with a canister, maybe a big fishbowl or something that you can see through.  And then, you know, how do you get all this to fit inside this bowl?  It’s a picture in my head.  It resonates with me so well.  Talk a bit about the big rocks and the gravel.

KORY KOGON:  It’s a great visual for what we call “weekly daily planning.”  To say that those activities that are most important, before the week starts, get them in your calendar.  Whether they’re appointments, whether they’re tasks, get them in your calendar.  One of our great contributors to “The 5 Choices,” Dr. Heidi Halvorson, who wrote the book “Succeed,” she’s really an expert in goal setting.  And she said there are thousands of studies that show that the more specific you get, the higher the probability of accomplishment by 2 to 300%.

So when you take what are big rocks, the things that in my few most important roles are most important, get them in the calendar because you have a much better chance of getting them done.  Also it creates friction.  So when somebody comes to me and says, “Hey, Kory, do you got a minute?” and my Outlook calendar is open, and I’m about to start a project, it’s going to give me some juice to go, “Hey, you know what, I’m about to start something.  Do you have some time tomorrow?”  Or if it’s a chronic person, next year or whatever it might be.

So those big rocks, if you get those in first, and then a lot of the noise – we all have noise.  We all have – we call it “gravel.”  There’s things we have to deal with, whether we like it or not, all day long.  And so if we get the big rocks in, the probability of accomplishment will go up significantly.  So before the week starts, when you’re in your prefrontal cortex, you’re very intentional, take some quiet time, you know, not Monday morning, like okay, my task list, take some quiet time, get really clear, what are the few things.

And it doesn’t have to be in every role.  But just a few things that if I get those done next week, you know, I’ll really feel good because sometimes for me it’s one email that I’m like, I get that done in a day, I’m like, yay, because it was an important one, needed to be done with quality.  Because people are, like, idealistic.  “Oh, well, we’re going to get all these things done.”  Sometimes it’s just one thing, depending on the circumstances.

So 30 minutes before the week starts to get the big rocks in, and then we say 10 minutes at the end of the day to reconcile your calendar, mark things complete, you know, we love that.  Dopamine hit right to the reward center of the brain.  Move things that didn’t get done.  Be very methodical about the calendar without spending 12 hours on it, but really use that 30 – we call it the 30/10 promise.  Use that to keep those big rocks going.

Best Way to Teach This to Your Team

BILL YATES:  What’s the best way to teach that to your team?  Let’s say you’re leading a project team, and you’ve kind of got it, you know, you’re feeling like, okay, I’ve got a pretty good method of putting those big rocks in my schedule.  Without coming across like a know-it-all or trying to say I’m a theory ex-manager now, I’m going to tell you exactly what to do and how to do it, what have you seen be effective ways to kind of teach that to those that report up to you?

KORY KOGON:  Well, the good news is big rocks is, like you said, it’s pretty iconic kind of thing.  You know, of course we teach it all over the world all the time.  But even just casually, to share that, and even a little bit of the science behind it.  The other thing that makes people happy is they want to be playing a winnable game because a lot of time they feel like they’re losing.  They’re overwhelmed.  They have multiple projects.  They have a million tasks kind of thing. 

And if you just help them narrow the focus and say, listen, on our project, obviously as a project manager, that’s a big role.  For next week, what are the one or two things that’s going to help you, that if you just do those two things, it keeps everything on track?  And that’s it, you know, let’s just do that.

So you help them narrow the focus to just, like, hey, let’s not try to do everything.  What are the one or two things on this project you need to do next week, no matter what?  And then we’ll celebrate that.  It’s very helpful to them to create a winnable game.  Like I just need to do one or two things.  You have a full job.  But based on the importance of this project, in the midst of everything else, if we just get those two things that keep us on the critical path or whatever, we’re going to applaud you for that.

BILL YATES:  The communication that you were describing there is just perfect.  I love that.  That’s music to my ears when team members and the leader are talking to that level of detail, you know, where the leader says, okay, Susie, if you get these two things done this week, everything else is gravy.  This is what I need from you.  So block it out in your calendar so people will know that you’re not allowed to be interrupted during that time.  And if it doesn’t happen on Tuesday, it has to happen on Wednesday.  And you can tell people, I’m the bad guy, you know, right, I’m the one that said you’re blocked out like that.  That’s just great communication to have.

KORY KOGON:  Yeah.  And I’ll just add a little piece to that.  Even if you even ask them, based on what you know about the project, what do you think the most important things are to do next week?  If you just had to pick one or two things to keep us moving, what would it be?  And so having them take ownership of that is also another way to help them increase their productivity versus being told.

Choice #4: Rule your Technology. Don’t let it Rule You

WENDY GROUNDS:  I want to move us on to the second choice that’s under attention management, which is Choice #4 in your book:  Rule your technology; don’t let it rule you.  This one was so helpful for me.  How can we kind of change our thinking so that our technology becomes productive for us and not a distraction?

KORY KOGON:  So such a big conversation about this.  Lots of books being written about this where people jump right to how do we stop email, how do we stop.  And it’s really, to be honest with you, here’s my thoughts.  It is not about the technology.  So it is about this level of awareness, intentionality, because I’ll go back to the paradox.  Thank goodness for the technology.  Thank goodness for email, even though people are like, oh, my goodness, I can’t stand another email.  I personally love email because I’ve created an engine of productivity with my email system.

So the first thing is to understand that just because we love technology doesn’t mean we’re addicted to it.  Right?  Because it is one of the things we do, like are you addicted to technology?  Oh, yes, I am.  Really?  Is it causing you damage?  Is it taking away from work you should be doing or time you should be spending with your family?  So that’s number one is to get clear on what is real addiction and what’s just love of technology.  I love my technology.

The second thing, I’m going to loop it right back to the quadrants.  Picking up your phone is like picking up a pack of cigarettes.  It’s a perfect storm of the brains principle around a threat, like if your phone is over there, and it vibrates, it’s like that’s an unknown.  But then the reward center kicks in because, like, oh, somebody needs me.  So it’s almost impossible to avoid picking up your phone a hundred times a day.  And the goal is how do I think through, okay, my phone.  Am I about to go into Quadrant 3 or 4?  Or is this really about using my technology in a Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2?  Sometimes it’s an emergency.  Even the way you set up rings, right, on it.  We all do this.  It’s like, oh, that’s my children.

So we know how to do this.  We just have to get clear on the methodology of our brain and build the muscle around not picking it up every minute, not going to Quadrant 4, which is that’s what it is, excess.  And how do we use it in a Quadrant 2 kind of way?  The other thing that I’ll say is that the brain cannot do two things at one time.  And in organizations this is one of the most terrible things.  And particularly now is where it’s so virtual. 

So I’m picking up my phone.  And, you know, when somebody says, yeah, what do you need, oh, yeah, I can do two things at once; right?  I located the phone and talking to you at the same time.  And it’s pure neuro that your brain cannot do two things well at the same time.  And a human being will feel dissed, even subconsciously.  So imagine this at home, too.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, that’s exactly where I went.  I’m just sitting here thinking, my wife would say, “Yeah, you’re capable of listening to me if that’s the only thing you’re doing.  That’s it.”  So if there’s a TV or my phone or whatever distraction, I’m gone.  So, yeah, I’ve got to be focused in.  So I’m your sample on that one.  I’m your scientific research.

KORY KOGON:  Well, and it depends what you want out of it.  If you want a better relationship with your family, if you want more engaged employees, whether on Zoom or in person, even our eyes just glancing off slightly…

BILL YATES:  It sends a message.

KORY KOGON:  Another human being will pick that up and go, they’re not listening.  Even if they don’t consciously register that, but it’s not boding well, you need to give people your full attention.  And when people understand that principle, that will help drive putting their phones down.  And then once we understand that, then you really can optimize any of the technology.  You’ve really then become just masterful at how do I then optimize email or whatever it might be, any of those systems.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Yeah, just wanted to mention, in your book you did have some very useful advice on how to tackle an overloaded email inbox.  So I think, you know, if anybody wants to find out about that, go look at the book.  It’s really good.

BILL YATES:  The Email Manifesto, I enjoyed that.

Choice #5: Fuel your Fire; Don’t Burn Out

WENDY GROUNDS:  Which leads us to the last one, Choice #5.  Now, this is under Energy Management.  And Choice #5 you said fuel your fire; don’t burn out.  What’s your advice on how to focus on our sources of energy?

KORY KOGON:  It’s so interesting now because that has become more important than ever as people are really struggling with what are the boundaries.  Here’s the thing.  Decision management and attention management take extraordinary amounts of energy; right?  And our brain requires a ton of energy to be able to intentionally make those decisions all day long and not be distracted by everything.  And so therein lies why it’s so important, those five energy drivers which sound like what our parents told us we need to do.  You know, you need to exercise, you need to eat right, you need to reduce your stress, you need to get sleep, you need to connect is the fifth what we call “energy driver.”

But there’s so much research, I mean, we’re all sitting in front of our computers.  And the research shows, even if you work out, if you sit eight to 10 hours a day, you’re negating the effects of the workout.  With sleep they did studies where they only allowed people to sleep three or four or five hours a night, four to five nights in a row, and they tested out intoxicated and cognitively impaired. 

Now, again, knowledge workers were paid to think, innovative, create, and execute.  But if we’re not getting enough sleep, and then stress, the cortisol levels, which is hormone and neurotransmitter, that was used to take care of the saber-toothed tiger in prehistoric times, now we’re hitting that button all the time.  I mean, I’ve had people in the hospital for cortisol overload in their bodies where they’ve just had a chill for months.  And so how do you breathe?  How do you really reduce some of the terrible, understandable stress that we have now?

And the last energy driver when we wrote it was important, but became even more important during the pandemic, is connect.  That it’s a pure human need to connect with other human beings.  And we’ve seen the devastation of not being able to connect.  But how do we make sure, whether it’s with our family, with our employees, that we’re connecting, going back to put your phone down because we need real empathic connection with others at this day and age.  So all of those five are very integrated.  And all of those provide the oxygen, the nutrients that our brain requires in order to make the highest value decisions and stay focused a good portion of the day.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  It’s really – it’s science driven.  I really appreciate you talking through it this way, Kory.  If I’m going to bring my best to work, then I have to take care of my energy level.  One of the things that we’re so against is the idea of the project manager being the hero who comes in at the last minute, saves the day, you know, she shows up and has all the answers at the end, or he works overtime.  No, this needs to be sustainable. 

If you’re going to bring your best to the game every day, over the life of a project that means you’ve got to stay healthy.  You’ve got to know what fills your tank and what drains it, too.  I fall into that trap.  I think, okay, if I get an intense workout for 30 minutes, 45 minutes a day, I should be able to sit for 10 and work.  But it doesn’t quite work out that way.  Right?

KORY KOGON:  Well, and I’ll tell you, a lot of time people think taking breaks is a Quadrant 4 activity, not important, not urgent.  Every single time, around the world, I will ask that question.  How many of you like a little Quadrant 4?  And everybody will raise their hands.  I’ll say, what?  They say, well, I need a break.  Well, is a break important to you?  Yes.  So then it’s not a Quadrant 4.  So you need breaks during the day.  There’s all kinds of research about how that increases productivity.

And the other thing from a leadership point of view is if you’re doing that, then your team is seeing that as a model, and they don’t know what to do with that.  And particularly as you get into, not to stereotype, but the younger generations, they’re not all about working 24 hours a day.  Right?  They really do need to see leaders taking care of themselves and acting as the models because that’s what they’re looking for.

Sleep on It

BILL YATES:  There’s a – I’m butchering it because I can’t think of the exact quote right now, but one of Colin Powell’s big 13 was everything looks better in the morning; or sleep on it, it’s going to look better in the morning.  That’s just true.  I mean, there are big decisions that I’ve had to make where it may have been just by pure luck, but we couldn’t make the decision that day, so we decided to, quote/unquote, “sleep on it.”  Let’s wait until tomorrow.  Let’s wait until the end of the week.  And things just became more clear.

Either our thinking through it, the subconscious processing that takes place, or just a higher energy level.  It’s like, okay, now that we’ve rested and gotten our mind off of this thing, now we’re seeing it with clarity.  And I even see that with, like, puzzles or Sudoku or things like that.  You know, you can put it down, come back to it, and then the problem seems much easier to solve.

KORY KOGON:  Well, and I won’t bore you with the neuroscience.  But that is, even with learning, spaced learning is very helpful because when you do sleep on it, it processes through your hippocampus, and it’s very interesting what happens with learning and how you’re continuing to process overnight.  So it does look better in the morning because it’s more thought through.  That’s why you need a good night’s sleep because, if you don’t sleep, your learning mechanisms aren’t as efficient, as well.  So that’s a mathematical equation, too.

BILL YATES:  There you go, yeah.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Well, Kory, this has been fascinating and so very helpful.  I really do appreciate you taking the time to talk with us today.  Thank you very much.

KORY KOGON:  Well, thanks for having me.  It’s a delight to talk with both of you.

Connect with Kory

WENDY GROUNDS:  If our listeners want to hear a little bit more about what you do and to get in touch with you, is there a way that they can do that?

KORY KOGON:  Sure.  Can always reach me by email, which is kory.kogon@franklincovey.com.  And you can find me on LinkedIn and Twitter.  And you can go to the FranklinCovey.com website and find all of our work around productivity.

BILL YATES:  Thank you so much.  Project managers are always looking for the next step, how to level up in their game.  The principles that you guys teach and the applicability of it is just off the charts.  So thank you for this book.  Thank you for all the science that went into it, as well, and all the research that you guys have done.

KORY KOGON:  Well, thank you.  And stay safe out there.


WENDY GROUNDS:  That’s it for us here on Manage This.  You can visit us at Velociteach.com, where you can subscribe to the podcast and see a transcript of the show.  You just earned some Professional Development Units by listening to this podcast.  To claim them, go to Velociteach.com, choose Manage This Podcast from the top of the page, click the button that says Claim PDUs, and click through the steps.  Thank you for joining us.  Until next time, keep calm and Manage This.

11 responses to “Episode 131 –Solutions for Extraordinary Productivity”

  1. EdR says:

    This is was such a great podcast with Kory Kogon and a great reminder that as PMs we also need to manage our energy levels and our mental state of being. Thank you for this podcast!

  2. Judy Tamburri says:

    This was a very interesting podcast. I actually plan to listen to it again since there was a ton of great info and tips.

  3. Ramkumar Harihara Iyer says:

    An excellent, informative podcast. This certainly gives some inspiration on how to get things done better.

  4. JESSICA M says:

    I really enjoyed this podcast, the phone and the energy it takes!

  5. Bob Tatem says:

    Excellent presentation, well worth the listen!!!

  6. Mikael says:

    This was a very interesting podcast. Really enjoyed it. Thanks!

  7. Hoo Kooi says:

    Good one. Thanks!

  8. Firas says:

    Thank you for this interesting podcast!

  9. Tammi B says:

    Very good presentation.. Thanks for the info. I’ve heard about the quadrants before, and now will revisit them.

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