The 5 Choices for Extraordinary Productivity

After holding this book The 5 Choices for more than 2 years, I have finally finished reading it early this year. What took me so long? Not productive enough? Not really. I guess it’s due to I practice each choice once I finished reading it. My own experiment with implementing these choices and trying to make things work, among other things, that took me this long to finish the book.

So to celebrate that I have finished one book this year, let me share how I have been practising these 5 Choices.

Choice 1: Act on the Important, Don’t React to the Urgent
Choice 2: Go for Extraordinary, Don’t Settle for Ordinary
Choice 3: Schedule the Big Rocks, Don’t Sort Gravel
Choice 4: Rule Your Technology, Don’t Let It Rule You
Choice 5: Fuel Your Fire, Don’t Burn Out

During Choice 1 and 2, the following 4-quadrant diagram is very useful in making decision and I have shared previously about Choice 1: Act on the Important.

I have shared on my previous post about how I use OneNote to focus on Q1 and Q2. As I moved on to Choice 3, I have learned to focus only on scheduling the rock and don’t mind the gravel, which means schedule those tasks in Q1 and Q2 and make sure to get things done. This is easier said than done as many Q3 and Q4 tasks will eventually creep up. It’s up to the individual’s ‘super power’ to ignore the unimportant tasks.
Moving on to Choice 4 is more interesting as technology is really a big part of my life. I live, teach, and breathe technologies. For many times, I really think I spend too much time on my mobile, replying what seemingly important/urgent WhatsApp messages or trying to reply the emails from boss that I received at 10 pm. Everyone knows this is unhealthy but how many of us really do something about it. Don’t let technology rule you! It’s really an important reminder. I rely a lot on my mobile apps and software at work but I have to stop myself from spending too much time on them. I consciously put away my mobile by 10 pm when I go to sleep. I don’t reply anything when I wake up until I reach my office by 7 am.
What really interesting takeaway in Choice 4 is The Core 4: Appointments, Tasks, Contacts, Notes/Documents.
Act File
Appointments Contacts
Tasks Notes/Documents

The reasoning about The Core 4 is we receive all kind of requests/tasks every day. We should act by scheduling appointments (tasks we need to do on specific times) and list down the tasks (where no specific time decided yet). We should file contacts, notes and documents for future reference, preferably all in one place or at least we know where to find them.

The book recommends either paper based system or fully digital system or blended system to store The Core 4. Here is my blended system:

The Core 4 Paper Digital
Appointments Quick/Short appointments Repeating/Scheduled appointments (weeks or months ahead)
Tasks Daily to-do list To-do list that takes longer time to finish
Contacts Email/Mobile contact
Notes/Documents Scribble section on the organizer OneNote for everything

I chose a blended system because I still like to write on paper so I use my organizer planner to put in short and quick appointments that come up on that day or the next day. I like to use Google Calendar to schedule repeating appointments such as weekly meeting or classes and some scheduled meeting that are weeks or months ahead. I like the reminder feature from Google Calendar that will prompt on my mobile to remind me. As I have shared before, I put my tasks of Q1 and Q2 on OneNote. Not so much of Q1 now as I put them mostly on paper for my daily to-do list. My Q2 tasks that sometimes take longer time to complete is on OneNote. I only keep contacts on either my mobile or GMail. I love to scribble words on paper during meetings and free times, just to get inspired sometimes. For everything else, they are all on OneNote where I have different sections and pages for almost everything.

Lastly on Choice 5, the most important message is don’t burn out, which means we need to take good care of ourselves. Productivity is only achievable with healthy functioning brain and body.

So if you haven’t heard of The 5 Choices yet, do check out the videos on this website. The lead author Kory Kogon gives very impressive explanation on the 5 choices. Hope you find this post useful somehow and all the best in achieving extraordinary productivity.


Exploring OneNote for Extraordinary Productivity

I’m happy to be back to office from my Chinese New Year break. I have to admit that I had been living a ‘pig’ life during this break where I only ate, slept, and watched TV every day. Anyway, I’m happy to have time to sit here and update a post. Today I wish to share about Microsoft OneNote and how I use it as part of keeping up with the Extraordinary Productivity.

When I first tried out OneNote, I was quite impressed with all the options available to customise my Notebook. I can create multiple notebooks which I can switch one to another easily. Each notebook can contain multiple sections (just like divider/folder for physical file) and each section can contain multiple pages. Let’s take a look the options to make my page:


There are simply so many tags to choose from and a search/filter can be done through these tags. I’m a big fan of To Do list, of course. They are very easy to create with keyboard shortcut Ctrl+1. Putting a tick to each task simply makes me happy.


Here is how they are look like on a page.


If you prefer to have real notebook feel with rule lines or grid lines, fear not! You have various options to choose from.


Finally, here is how I use OneNote. I created JennNotebook where I keep sections of Writing Ideas (where I keep ideas in various pages for writing blog post like this), Academia (where I keep track of things to do during the semester), Cool Tools (links to online tools I want to try out more), and Meeting (where I keep notes of meeting). I literally transfer my extraordinary productivity method from physical page to online OneNote. The best thing is this OneNote sync to my phone or any device with OneNote on mobile. I do not carry any physical notebook with me now, though occasionally I still like to scribble on the paper for some impromptu notes.

I have seen OneNote being used on Surface with the Surface pen and the usage of OneNote is so much and the only limit is our imagination. I’m so tempted to buy one just for that! Maybe I should just get one in the hope to increase my productivity. Haha!


Thinking is hard and it is slow

I couldn’t recall how I got to know about this book but I’m so amazed with it that I bought one from the bookstore many years ago. It’s one of my precious possessions. I actually started reading a few chapters quite some times ago and I forgot about it until today when I visited a page to listen to the author, Daniel Kahneman talking about bias in our reasoning. As a researcher and academic, reasoning is so important and we all know we are sometimes bias.

Listening to that interview reignites my interest in behavioural sciences where I always find it amazing how different people think and I sometimes wonder how we come up with certain conclusions that shape our lives. Anyway, I just wish to share with you this wonderful interview by Social Science Bites. I found this particular excerpt interesting when the author was asked why we don’t use System 2 (the slow and effortful thinking) more often.

Daniel Kahneman: Because it’s hard work. A law of least effort applies. People are reluctant, some more than others, by the way, there are large individual differences. But thinking is hard, and it’s also slow. And because automatic thinking is usually so efficient, and usually so successful, we have very little reason to work very hard mentally, and frequently we don’t work hard when if we did we would reach different conclusions.

And we thought we sometimes think too much. I guess we don’t think slow enough to mentally exercise our brain. Let’s start to think hard and slow today!


The 5 Choices: Act on the Important

This post is to follow up on my previous post Extraordinary Productivity where I introduced this awesome book called The 5 Choices. My reading on this book is slow because I only read on and off. When I finished one or two chapters, I started trying to apply what the book recommends. So here’s a summary what I have done on Choice 1: Act on the important.

Here’s my initial attempt on building my four quadrants for my daily tasks. Not fully optimized yet because I had problem deciding some tasks to be in which quadrants. Obviously, I put many as urgent/important (Q1) and trying to sort some into not urgent/important (Q2). Although I did some urgent/not important (Q3) tasks throughout the day but I forgot to write them. For example, some urgent email to reply that normally took me less than 5 minutes. Sometimes, that’s a big mistake because replying one 5-minute email sometimes could lead me to one hour of replying multiple consequent emails that require my attention. If I were to be honest with myself, I’m such a failure in email handling. I wish I have better plan to handle these. I’m now taking the book’s advice, trying to put off some urgent tasks like replying to emails that just drop in to my inbox. I’m still practising on that and starting to dedicate certain time of the day to handle all emails.

This was my improvised version where I started to follow up more advices about making a bullet journal. I also realised that my quadrant 3 and 4 were actually waste of spaces so I started not to include them in my daily task list. So now I can focus more of my daily tasks in Q2 and Q1 in my hope to be more productive. Of course, I understand that although I put Q3 and Q4 out of sight does not mean they do not exist. Disturbance from others’ problems would continue to happen throughout the day but if I could help it I would want to avoid them.

For the new year, here is my improved version on a new notebook. I really must get more colourful pens. They really make me happy and I feel more productive. After I laid out my schedule for January, I realized I have a very busy January with many invigilating duties and marking workload plus I have to prepare to run a public course for 7 Saturdays starting end of this month. It’s really helpful for me to have something like this on paper so I don’t feel that panic with the amount of work to be done. My greatest worry is forgetting an important task especially when it comes near to due date.

Okay, that’s all my sharing for Choice 1: Act on the important. Next will be Choice 2: Go for extraordinary.

Be a fitter academic

It’s now Week 7 of the 14-week long semester. I can finally breathe and take a break to write because I have settled the final examination papers and midterm papers. I know work is actually endless so this breather is just temporary. Anyway, I’m simply happy to have time to write something.

Today I would like to share with you about my latest fitness gadget that my husband bought for me. As an academic who spends most of the time sitting around in front of the computer (and also one who is getting older), I’m getting quite concerned about my health and fitness. I don’t actually run or exercise a lot, but I have started learning to swim in the hope that it helps me in keeping fit. I had always wanted this gadget to help me improving my fitness and I didn’t get it myself because it’s quite expensive. Thanks to the husband, he got it for me for no special reason and I truly appreciate his loving gesture.

Come and say hello to my Sony Smartband Talk. You can actually talk to this band. Seriously, I’m so in love with this new gadget because it’s the best fit for my Sony Xperia Z1 and to me, its ability to answer any phone call on the band is the best feature ever. Of course, this Smartband has all other fitness functions such as counting steps, counting calories, tracking sleep, and etc.

The smartband works well with Sony app called Lifelog, though this app can work on its own on the phone without the smartband. What I find this app so amazing is the weather animation. See my above screen capture. During that time, it was really raining and it showed in the app.

I have seen other fitness apps out there, but I found this Lifelog to be quite comprehensive with tracking the time I spend in commuting, viewing FB/browsing the Internet, reading books, and playing games. Of course, these are based on the activities I spend on the phone. The above screen capture showed the time I was commuting to work. The animation is really cute with the car moving.

Another reason I’m obsessed with my smartband and the app is about this sleep tracking. I had always wondered why I still felt restless though I slept more than 8 hours a day. After wearing this band, I realize I actually move a lot in my sleep every night, resulting in lacking of deep sleep. The above screen capture was the only night that I had the most deep sleep and that was on one of the weekends. I’m still trying to improve my sleep to increase my deep sleep.

In the campus, I actually walk a lot from one block to the other to conduct the lecture and practical classes. I really thought I should be fitter by just walking this much. After wearing this smartband, I have been proven wrong. It is recommended that we walk at least 10,000 steps a day to maintain our active lives. Anything lesser than that is considered less than active. To my surprise, I only managed to fulfill this 10,000 steps a day goal only once in the past few weeks.

Seriously, I didn’t think it was this hard. On average, I could only complete 7500 steps. Sometimes, it was lesser if I didn’t have a lot of classes and I spent a lot of times sitting in front of the computer. I’m still trying to aim for this 10,000 steps a day and I’m going to make sure it happens more often.

I have just updated the Lifelog and with this new update, the app can now show me insights. The above screen capture showed the data collected over last week and comparing it to the previous week, I have actually made progress with my steps. This is a great feature, as a good motivation indeed for someone (like me) who is obsessed with data and statistics.

Are health and fitness a major concern to you nowadays? Are you already on the ‘band’wagon? Do share with me how you are keeping fit and most importantly how to stay motivated?

Writing at home on my day off

I actually took 3 days leave from work since Monday. It’s the semester break and it’s the only time I can officially apply leave. I’m not sure about other academics in other universities but for me, applying leave is one of the hardest thing to do in my university. Unfortunately, taking day off to really enjoy myself at home is not usually so easy. Just yesterday, I was required to go back to campus to attend an important meeting. Good thing is I stay quite near to campus so going back is not such a chore. 

Today is my third day off and originally I thought I would need to go back too because last night I received another email with urgent and important task from the boss. After I woke up this morning, I have second thought. By the way, I have actually started reading the book I discussed in my previous post: The 5 Choices. So I actually pause-clarify-decide in arriving at my decision today for not going to campus to deal with the urgent and important task. I guess it’s not really that urgent that I need to deal with it today, so here I am staying at home typing away. Simply so good to be able to write comfortably at home.

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Here’s my setting at home for writing today. I love this bluetooth keyboard unfortunately I didn’t utilize it that much. Blame it on my laziness. Whenever I’m at home, I tend to watch more TV than write. My excuse was I no longer have my laptop to write. The laptop I used for my dissertation was too old now to work properly and I didn’t replace it. I normally try to write at my campus desktop but it didn’t do me much good recently. I was struggling yesterday to write at my campus desktop. Staring at the monitor without any words coming out. Even a simple blog post to update the blog was extremely hard yesterday. 

I guess today is a new breakthrough. I feel so motivated to write with this new setting. Make me happy. I’m going to spend my free time today to read more and hopefully I can write more. Okay, now is time for lunch. 

Extraordinary Productivity

This post was seated in my draft since early March when I came across this great Chronicle’s article about being Extraordinary Productive. What really caught my attention was the word productivity (oh…it also said extraordinary) as I have become quite obsessed trying to be more productive. Needless to say, I’m not always successful so I’m even more obsessive to find out more. Since I have finished grading my first batch of exam scripts today, I thought it’s best to revisit my drafts and publish this particular post.

Anyway, according to the article, this new book about The 5 Choices we need to make to become more productive. It’s actually an updated version on Stephen Covey’s productivity tool on Important/Urgent matrix which I’m sure many of us are already familiar with.

Let’s take a look at the updated matrix below with some guidelines of what should be done in each quadrant.

It does look quite clear that obviously we should be doing more important but not urgent tasks but by looking at the list I wonder how many of us (academics) have been doing proactive work, high-impact goals, creative thinking, etc. Definitely not me. What have I been doing so far? Attending emergency meetings is way too a common practice here because apparently we often have crises to solve. Unnecessary reports or paper works are definitely part of my lecturer’s life, though they are sometimes not really urgent. Replying to emails is the most tedious task and now I understand what other academics have been talking about Inbox Zero. Although I always keep all my emails read, I have a very hard time sorting them out. Retrieving or searching for old emails is a nightmare to me. Now ever since I became the leader for Industrial Training Committee, my other more urgent tasks are solving students’ problems and dealing with unforeseen events. I guess I can proudly say I don’t waste time on gossip but I do relax a lot after work while at home by playing game or watching TV series. Have you noticed that I have nothing much from the Q2 quadrant? Perhaps I did do some planning and learning but that’s all.

Okay, let’s look at what are the 5 choices that I should have considered:

  • Choice 1: Act on the Important, Don’t React to the Urgent
  • Choice 2: Go for Extraordinary, Don’t Settle for Ordinary
  • Choice 3: Schedule the Big Rocks, Don’t Sort Gravel
  • Choice 4: Rule Your Technology, Don’t Let It Rule You
  • Choice 5: Fuel Your Fire, Don’t Burn Out

Interesting! Especially the “Don’t Burn Out” part as I did feel burn-out recently. I guess I need to look for the book to learn more. Anyway, the article does mention one important process we can do: Pause, Clarify, and Decide. It’s important that we don’t rush into a task without thinking about its value and then decide whether to do or not do. Sound simple but sometimes it’s hard to achieve when others are pressing you for urgent tasks. I have always known productivity is about the choices we make on what to do at what time in order to get things done but many (including myself) are still not good at being productive because we are too overwhelmed with so many (never-ending) tasks that need to be done. Oh, not forgetting the distractions from so many sources, especially the social media and the Internet. Guilty as charge!

Have anyone read this book yet? Do you have any good productivity habit you want to share?

[Image from]