I first met Hyrum Smith about 15 years ago. He wouldn’t remember the occasion—it was on a several-hours-long stretch of highway, and he was speaking to me from a cassette tape through my car’s sound system—but I’ll never forget it. Listening to Hyrum tell stories and explain the mechanics of how to get control of my time, my priorities and my life by using a Franklin Planner, I was captivated.

On that day in 1990, he became and continues to be one of the seminal teachers in my life. As with all great teachers, it’s not simply his material (which is always superb); it’s his humanity. Then and there, I decided, some day I wanted to work with that man. That dream came true about six years later, when I traveled to the Franklin (now FranklinCovey) headquarters in Salt Lake City, to work on a project to build a customized Franklin Planner system for a company I was working with. Having the opportunity to interview him for this issue has been icing on the cake.

In 2000, Hyrum published a wonderful book titled, What Matters Most. A year later the book’s significance and relevance became suddenly more vivid, as people were thrust into a time of vastly greater self-reflection and examination of their values, in the wake of the events of 9/11. Yet regardless of the social context, the things Hyrum writes and speaks about are always relevant, because they are truly timeless. — JDM

How did you come to have this association with the matter of time?

I’ve always been a little bit of a time freak; being on time is something I’ve been obsessive about since I was born. I think it’s a curse I got from my mother!

After doing a number of things—a two-year mission for my church, a few years in the military, and then finishing school—I found myself managing a sales force of 300 salespeople on three continents. This was the point when time became a serious professional issue for me.

I discovered that the average salesperson spent only one hour a day actually selling; this was the national statistic. I thought, if I could get that to just two hours a day, I’d turn the world upside down!

So in 1983, a friend and I created a little company called HW Smith and Associates. Our plan was to teach sales management, but in these recession years, productivity was a big issue, so we soon gravitated to teaching time management.

Ben Franklin’s autobiography had changed my life. I believe he was one of the most productive Americans in history: what he accomplished was amazing. He was also the first person to really write about time management, so we created a little seminar around Franklin and renamed our company the Franklin Institute.

We never dreamed we’d end up producing a physical planner, or be involved in any kind of business like that; we were just teaching a course. Actually, at that point we were giving people Day-Timer®! But we soon found we needed to make some significant changes in the planner’s format, to more closely match the system we were teaching, and the people at Day-Timer weren’t wild about the idea of doing all this customizing. Since we were kind of in a bind, we thought, Hey, let’s make our own.

I wish I could say the Franklin Planner was a strategic plan, a stroke of planning genius—but the truth is, it was this wonderful little accident. We said, Shoot, they’re not going to do one for us, I guess we might as well do our own. We mocked one up, sold three kits, and that funded us to produce a few more… and it went from there.


How many great success stories came out of “little accidents” like that!

It kind of exploded. People loved the seminar, and suddenly we had more seminars to teach than we could handle and had to bring in more people. Pretty soon, we had grown from the two of us to 4000 people.

One of our greatest clients was the world of network marketing. One company became a huge client, and soon others came along, working with us to customize our kits to their own systems and culture.


I remember—I was one of them! We came in to work with your people to create a customized kit for one company; it was an amazing experience.

That was you?! Are you serious?



I remember…that was a really fun group! I had a blast with all the network marketing companies who worked with us. They’re wonderful people.


To what do you attribute the huge popularity of the program? What was there that people so needed or wanted?

In the early 80s, corporations were laying off a lot of people; enhancing the productivity of the remaining people became a critical issue. We developed this pitch to corporations: “We’ll make the people you keep twice as effective.” And we delivered on that promise.

This was before PCs, of course. It was a paper world, and we hit a home run. People were hungry to be taught how to get better control of their days. They were out of control, living in reaction, doing what everybody else thought they should be doing—and the idea of taking back control, of me deciding what’s important to me…people just ate it up.


Control over our own time…what could be more important than that?

It’s so true. Over the past 25 years, I have had probably 1000 people come up to me—and I’m not exaggerating—and say, “Gee, I wish I lived 100 years ago when they had more time.”

But the only difference between 100 years ago and today is that we have more options than they had. Why? Because we do things faster.

If my grandfather missed the train, it was no big deal: he’d wait 24 hours and catch the next one. If my dad missed an airplane, no big deal: he’d wait five hours and get the next one. If I miss one section of a revolving door, I go nuts!

Nobody today would tolerate the speed of a PC of 15 years ago. We’re really into speed. That’s the only thing that’s changed. The basic principles that help human beings to become more productive and effective have not changed for 6000 years.

Of course, we all have to rediscover these principles, so we give them names and write books about them. I have a good friend who wrote a book, it’s called 7 Habits of…Stuff. [laughs] I wrote a book, What Matters Most. And there’s not a new idea in either one!

Here’s one of the seven habits of highly effective people: be proactive. In other words, do things. Whoa! That’s exciting! Fifteen million copies in 38 languages…“do things.” Don’t wait for things to happen: initiate them. That’s a 6000-year-old idea. And someone comes along, puts together seven of them, and it’s a bestseller!

Of course, the magic is in putting them together in such a way that works for the 21st century. But the basic principles themselves are 6000 years old.

So when people ask me, “What do you do at FranklinCovey?” my honest answer is, “We package very old ideas for the 21st century.”


Although our tools have certainly changed…

Our environment has changed, and the tools with which we implement our lives are changing dramatically. We do live in a time of tremendous change—but what has not changed one bit is the human being. We still have to put our pants on one leg at a time.

The same is true for network marketing. The things you do to be successful in network marketing haven’t changed since the beginning of network marketing.

If I’m going to build an organization, it’s going to take some time and focus. I’ve got to understand what time is, that it’s my most precious asset, and use it intelligently toward those ends. Farmers had to do that in the 14th century. This is not rocket science.


The fascinating thing about time is that when you start working with it, you inevitably bump into the question, “What’s really important to me?”

Exactly. That’s why we build what we call our “productivity pyramid,” and base everything in it upon the foundation we call your “governing values.” Until you know what that foundation is, you’ll never have a reason to manage your time.

People start to get excited when we ask, “What are your governing values?” Because we’re talking about what’s important.


Since 9/11, there seems to have been a shift in people’s relationship to their governing values.

Oh, very much so. And this has been one of the healthiest things that’s happened in the aftermath of 9/11: people are for the first time sitting back and saying, “You know, maybe the penthouse in Manhattan is not where it’s all at.”

I live 100 miles from Las Vegas, on a ranch in southwestern Utah. For the three weeks following 9/11, Las Vegas absolutely imploded. Nobody wanted to go gamble and party. They had to let go of 40,000 employees. Of course, it’s up and running again and doing just fine—but for a period of time, there was a huge reassessment on everybody’s part, a resurgence of values. Everybody was wondering, “What does matter most?”


And you had just published a book by that title!

It was really remarkable timing. People have been on a spiritual quest, looking for the deeper meaning of why they’re here on the planet.

During that time, garage sales started going crazy, because people started to see that having more stuff maybe wasn’t it. Every time you buy a new piece of stuff, you have to spend time with that stuff—and people suddenly realized, “I don’t have time for all my stuff! Why don’t I get rid of it!” People started traveling more, spending more time with their families; it was amazing.


And the more you examine what really matters to you, the more need you have to control your day.

Exactly. When I know what matters most, I develop an unusual new ability to say “No.” Most people have a hard time saying “No,” but it becomes much easier when we focus on what really matters to us.


Home-based businesspeople easily fall into the trap of having their business swallow them. There’s no time clock, and you can easily find yourself working 24 hours a day. How do we avoid this trap?

This is why identifying your governing values is so important.

If you don’t take the serious time to identify what are your governing values, you will get swallowed by something. The mistress becomes your business. All of a sudden it’s like dancing with the bear—you can’t stop dancing with the bear, because if you try, it’ll kill you.

But the minute you do sit down and do that work, those values automatically demand balance in your life. You say, “Well, one of my governing values is my wife, and another is my children, and I missed my son’s last 16 ball games…,” and all of a sudden you start rearranging things so that you’re making basketball games and saying “No” to business dinners. You discover the power of delegation. You realize that the reason you’re building a downline is to live certain values—and you can’t live those values if you’re doing this 24/7!


Much as I love working on my laptop, there are still some types of writing for which I need to grab a pad of paper and a pencil. What tools are people using today to manage their time and priorities?

It’s been an interesting journey. A PC is an amazingly wonderful tool, but it makes a lousy personal management system. You have to open up your laptop, get to your Outlook®…it’s cumbersome. People quickly discovered that as a device for managing tasks, appointments and notes, the PC was a little slow.

So our paper planner just blazed through that era, we didn’t have any trouble.

Then the PDA came out. The Palm Pilot® was portable and fast and sexy; people started flocking to the Palm by the thousands. We embraced it and adapted our system to a PDA platform; for the first two years, 97 and 98, we sold 10,000 Palm Pilots a week.

I started thinking, “Maybe we actually will see a paperless world.”


But it didn’t happen.

No, it didn’t. I tried the Palm Pilot myself, long enough to discover that I could do everything in my Palm Pilot that I can do in my paper planner—but I won’t do it all. It’s too hard! It’s a pain in the butt. So I came back to paper.

And over the last two years, people are coming back to their paper planners by thousands. I was in New York three weeks ago, doing something for Merrill Lynch, and this senior vice president came up to me and said, “Hyrum, you trained me 15 years ago and I used my planner for years, until the Palm Pilot came out. Two weeks ago I went back to my paper planner—and I am so much more in control of my life now!”

The reality of the PDA is that it’s a handy way to keep contacts, and maybe appointments, but it’s an awkward way to keep notes. People were starting to carry around their PDAs and also carry around yellow pads!


Floating pieces of paper!

Ninety percent of the people who carry Palm Pilots today, carry them because they’re cool. That’s it! [laughing] I carry one. It’s a wonderful receptacle for crucial information, a great address and phone directory. I can communicate my schedule to others, which is nice. I can download the Wall Street Journal every day, that’s neat. But for tasks, appointments and taking notes, my paper planner will beat it four to one for the time spent.

Our message to the world used to be, “Have everything in one place,” and that place was the planner. Since all this technology has come along, now our message is the same, only we’ve changed one word: now it’s, “Have everything in one system.” I have a device to manage me—my planner; then my receptacles for information—my palmtop and PC; and my communication devices—my palm, PC and cell phone. And you can now get your PDA and cell phone combined in one device, which is neat.

But for people who are genuinely interested in being in control of their day, the paper planner is still by far the best tool there is.


What kind of impact has the Internet had on people’s relationship to their tasks and time?

It’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to productivity in corporate America. People waste huge amounts of time fooling around on the Internet.

It’s a two-edged sword. It’s also a magnificent, wonderful tool. But for managing your day?

For people who don’t have a structured life and have to structure their own lives—in other words, for network marketers—the Internet can be devastating. It’s just too easy to waste a lot of time messing around.


Over the turn of this century, has what’s important to people changed?

No, and this is fascinating—in fact, we did a study on this.

When we started our company back in 1983, we couldn’t afford to do any research, so we just decided that what people wanted was inner peace. We went out and told the world, “You know what you want? You want inner peace. What’s inner peace? It’s finding out what you want, then bringing the events in your life into line with what you want. The minute you do that, you have a right to inner peace.” And people resonated with that.

Two years ago, we said, “We’re a big public company now, let’s take some research money and go find out what people really want.” We commissioned an international study to find out what the human being wants. It boiled down to four things:

1) People want balance in their lives. (And by the way, these are not in any hierarchical sequence.)

2) They want simplicity.

3) They want to be successful at something.

4) They want to be more effective at what they do.

When I looked at that I got so excited—because when you wrap those four things into one simple concept, it’s called inner peace!

I think if we’d done that 300 years ago, or if we did it 500 years from now, we’d find the same response. The human being wants inner peace—and inner peace is knowing what I want, then having what I do each day line up with what I want.


And the opposite condition…?

When there’s a gap between what I value and what I’m doing, I’m in pain.

If my value is to be financially okay and I’m in $300,000 debt, then there’s a gap between what I’m doing and what I value—and that’s painful.

And by the way, that happens to be a value that everybody has: to be financially okay.

This is why network marketing makes so much sense. I can fix my finances and bring what I do in line with what I value through a network marketing program. The reason so many people join these companies is that their quest is to bring peace into their lives financially.

This four-part description—balance, simplicity, success and effectiveness—this is what the human being wants, and it adds up to inner peace.

I don’t think that’s changed, and I don’t think that’s ever going to change, no matter how much technology you throw into the mix. Human beings want to align what they do each day with what matters most to them. And when we accomplish that, only then can we have peace in our lives.