After reading Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People several years ago (I highly recommend it) I really attempt to consider his four quadrants for time management as I attempt to organize my life. Covey proposes that all activities fall into one of four categories – Urgent and Important, Not Urgent but Important, Urgent but Not Important, or Not Urgent and Not Important – and that how much time we spend in each quadrant impacts our effectiveness.
Of course we tend to focus on things that are urgent (because they’re urgent)– and often those things, the ‘fires’ really ARE important. But they also keep us running around frenzied and disorganized. Covey recommends taking the time to focus on important things before they become urgent and completing activities that help you do things in a way that’s faster and easier. That covers the first two quadrants.
It’s probably quite normal and understandable that many people have a tendency to spend more time than they should in the last two quadrants, but it’s not effective. The third quadrant (Urgent but Not Important) can feel so important sometimes – things like long phone calls, answering emails, and doing things for other people – it’s difficult to pass those things up and if you do you risk feeling guilty.
Then there’s the fourth quadrant, things that are almost unquestionably time wasters. They’re usually anything that you do without conscious thought – eating, watching TV, surfing the internet. In my experience I spend more time in the fourth quadrant when I spend less time in the second. I have significantly less energy when I don’t take care of my health and spirit properly and end up wasting time with things that drain me at a soul level.
It may even be possible that the ‘fires’ in Quadrant One are simply an indication that you are spending too much time in Quadrants Three and Four and that the best way to prevent them is by spending a lot more time in Quadrant number Two.
PS: I keep a copy of the quadrants in my office to help me remember where I should spend my time.
Make Your Minutes Matter!