First Things First

Image source: Grufnik
Image source: Grufnik

I have to admit that April has been my most unproductive month in comparison to the first three months of 2015. There are several creative projects that I have been working on for a while which have stalled. This is because I haven’t managed my time in April as well as I would like.

It was during the period of coming up with today’s blog post as well as thinking about April’s productivity challenges that I recalled Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix. It just felt like the right topic for today’s post and a good model to help me examine my time management issues.

 Stephen Covey is the author of the popular “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” I will not reference this book in this post but another of his books called “First Things First” which I recommend you read.

Covey’s Time Management Matrix is made up of four quadrants and a person’s use of time can be mapped to one of these four quadrants.

Time Management Matrix by Stephen Covey
Time Management Matrix by Stephen Covey

Quadrant 1 represents things that are both “urgent” and “important.” It is advisable to spend time in Quadrant 1 because this is where we manage, where we produce, where we bring our experience and judgement to bear in responding to many needs and challenges. We become buried alive if we ignore this quadrant. But we also need to realize that many important activities (Quadrant 2 tasks) become urgent through procrastination, or because we don’t do enough prevention and planning.

Quadrant 2 includes activities or tasks that are “important, but not urgent.” This is the ‘Quadrant of Quality.’ Here’s where we do our long-range planning, anticipate and prevent problems, empower others, broaden our minds and increase our skills through reading and continuous professional development. Increasing time spent in this quadrant increases our ability to be do or be truly effective. Ignoring this quadrant feeds and enlarges Quadrant 1, creating stress, burnout, and deeper crises for the person consumed by it. On the other hand, investing in this quadrant shrinks Quadrant 1. Planning, preparation and prevention keep many things from becoming urgent. Quadrant 2 does not act on us; we must act on it. This is also the ‘Quadrant of personal leadership.’

Quadrant 3 is almost the phantom of Quadrant 1. It includes things that are “urgent but not important.” This is the ‘Quadrant of Deception.’ The noise of urgency creates the illusion of importance. But the actual things, if they are important at all, are only important to someone else. We spend a lot of time meeting other people’s priorities and expectations in this quadrant whilst thinking that we’re really in Quadrant 1.

Quadrant 4 is reserved for those activities that are “not urgent and not important.” This is the ‘Quadrant of Waste’ which we really should not be in at all. It involves any time wasting activities that does not yield any productive gains e.g. watching ‘mindless’ TV shows etc.Covey argues in “First Things First” that people spend the majority of their time in Quadrants 1 and 3. This means that urgency is the primary driver of most people’s lives while important things are starved of time and attention.

He asked two questions which I would suggest you try to answer:

What is the one activity that you know if you did superbly well and consistently would have significant positive results in your personal life?

What is the one activity that you know if you did superbly well and consistently would have significant positive results in your professional or work life?

He stated in his book that your answers would probably be in Quadrant 2 and the reason why you are not doing these things is because you don’t consider them to be urgent. They are not in your face demanding your attention. They don’t act on you but rather you have to act on them.

Covey advises of the need to take time from Quadrant 3 to invest in Quadrant 2. This is done by tackling activities based on their importance rather than on their urgency. Just because something is urgent doesn’t mean it is important and worthy of your time .

I have been guilty of this in April.

3 replies on “First Things First”

Hey Prof… I gotta say that this post really hit home for me. I have also been wondering what I did with my April!
I definitely appreciate the Time Management Matrix illustration, I’ve printed this post and I am going to ‘study’ it. I think it will help me troubleshoot what might have gone wrong…at least I hope so. I really like the idea of prioritizing what I do/activities.

Thanks for being transparent in this matter, Prof. It is encouraging to know i am not alone in this discomfort…and that there is a way to bounce back.

Hey Oge. I am glad that you found the post and the Time Management Matrix useful. It is only by keeping it ‘real’ that readers of this blog will find it practical and applicable. It is a win-win because I gain a lot from reflecting and articulating my thoughts and experiences as blog posts.

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