4 Steps to Mastering Choice Driven Productivity

This is a guest post by Mark Woods. Mark is a Productivity Trainer, Business Consultant, Speaker & Author of ‘Attack Your Day! Before it Attacks You’. Connect with Mark on Twitter or at Attack Your Day.

How wisely do you invest your time? Good investment of time comes down to prioritizing activities and choosing what we’re going to do next. In today’s fast-paced and technology driven world, top producers are simply great activity choosers. By mastering choice driven productivity, these top producers know when and where to invest their time for maximum output. In this article, I’ll share with you how you can master choice driven productivity to make the most of your day.

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1. Learn When to Say No

An essential part of choosing activities is also knowing when to refuse activities. These are the activities that are fun to do but have low to no payoff. These are also the activities that come to us during the day from others in the form of chat messages, text messages, emails, phone calls, and drop-in visitors.

So if you often ask yourself, “where did my day go?”, then consider the following.

Learn to say no. Most people think saying no only means saying no to other people. The reality is that it begins with saying no to ourselves first. There is always the temptation to say yes to things that are fun, fast, and instantly rewarding. For me, it’s purging my email spam folder. This is a fun activity and one that is instantly gratifying, but it’s not something I should do first thing in the morning when I am most alert and focused.

2. Avoid the Temptation of Instant Reward

We also tend to welcome interruptions as an excuse for procrastinating on things that we just really don’t want to do. Examples might include the expense report you’ve been putting off, or responding to a customer complaint email.  When we choose activities that tend to be instantly rewarding over those that have high-payoff, our productivity goes down.

What’s the best way to gain control of time and increase your productivity?

First, take some time to create clarity of purpose. Gain a clear understanding of your desired result before committing to the activity or task. Ask yourself, “Is this activity going to get me closer to the completion of a project or goal?” The skill of making effectual choices starts with this process.

Once clarity of your desired outcome has been established, it’s possible to choose and refuse daily activities to ensure the choices you make will drive productivity.

3. Prioritize Your Tasks with Color

Next, you must have a method to quickly prioritize your choices. In our book, Attack Your Day! Before it Attacks You, we suggest prioritizing your daily activities with the colors of a traffic light.

We assign the colors of the traffic light to three types of activities we deal with every day. Green, Yellow and Red.

Red = Urgent

Red means stop whatever you are doing and do the red activity as soon as possible.  Activities that are classified as red are urgent and provide a high payoff, meaning they require some form of immediate action.  Examples include; a project deadline, a customer complaint or a sudden demand from the boss.

Green = Go

A task classified as green means go. Green activities do not require an immediate response. In other words, they are not urgent but are value-adding activities and must be done to complete a project or achieve a desired goal. Greens are the majority of the activities you set out to accomplish when planning and arranging your day. Examples of green include; a customer call, creating proposals, building business relationships, exercise, research, team meeting, prospecting or other activities attached to a project or goal.

Yellow = Caution

Yellow means caution. They do not require immediate action like red. They may not be value-added activities like greens. But, yellow activities do need to be done at some point in the future, but not today, tomorrow, or maybe even this week.

Be aware: Sometimes yellow activities come to us wrapped in the context of counterfeit urgency, like when a co-worker drops in stating our help is needed right now! One of the challenges of technology today is that it can create false urgency. An email or instant message announced with a beep or an alarm can easily catch our attention and seem urgent, when often they are not urgent at all. When this occurs, remember that yellow means caution. They can and should be rescheduled for a later time that is more appropriate.

Think of yellow activities as your list of all future activities that need to be done.


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4. Begin Each Day with a Prioritized Plan

Begin each day by color-coding your choices in both your work and personal life, asking yourself the following questions: What color is this activity and is this activity necessary for the completion of a project or goal?

Avoid the ricochet effect to stay on task. The ricochet effect is the human tendency to lose focus after an interruption. Interruptions break our continuity of thought. They can result in our failure to refocus on what we were doing before the distraction. This can minimize our effectiveness.

Making a prioritized list using red, green and yellow at the beginning of the day is a good way to correct this tendency. But be wary, this only helps if we keep the list visible at all times. When the list is constantly in our view, it serves as a tool to re-anchor our attention after an interruption. Sailing through the day without something to remind us to keep on task is like trying to navigate without a rudder.

So question all activities, interruptions, and distractions that come your way during the day and drive your productivity to new heights.


So there’s Mark Woods’ advice on how to manage your time and increase your productive output by color-coding your way to mastering choice driven productivity.

If you have any questions, comments or feedback, let us know in the comments below!