We are trapped in an endless task management loop. Tasks that are “urgent” and “require our immediate attention”, ruining our daily planning, stretching our nerves, and making us work till late. And when we finish, we are not actually finished, we just can’t stand continue working. And after days, months or years there comes a moment when we realize that our goals are not met, our career has not skyrocketed, our relationships have faded and our children are grown and we weren’t there to enjoy the moments with them.
What makes people invest their time in goals of low priority? What makes people neglect the signals and do not focus enough on important aspects of their lives (e.g. spouse, family, friends, etc.)? What if we feel it's too late and the damage has already occurred? How can we fix or avoid this situation?
The challenge is not actually to “manage time” rather than “manage ourselves”. As you can is in the below graph, there are 2 factors that define an activity: urgency and importance. Urgent means it requires our immediate attention. A ringing phone, an e-mail marked as “important”, an intruder entering your office (or virtual chatroom) without prior notice. And the list goes on. Urgent maters press on us, insisting on our action. They can be important, or not.
Importance on the other hand has to do with results. If something is important it contributes to our mission, value, and high priority goals.
In Quadrant 1 (Q1), lie issues that are both important and urgent. We usually call them “crises” or “problems”. Quadrant 1 tends to grow more and more until it dominates you. There are quite a few people I know that are beaten up by Q1 issues every day, all day long. Some typical characteristics of Q1 are stress, burnout, crisis management and always putting out fires. Their only choice to escape for a while is in Q4 (not important, not urgent) activities. So if you look at their daily schedule, it is 90% in Q1 and 10% in Q4.
Many people spend their time in Q3, acting as if they are dealing with Q1 activities. They act upon issues that are urgent and they assume they are also import, but they are not. And they make this assumption because those issues are important to others. People belonging to Q4 have a short-term focus, manage crises all the time, see goals and planning as worthless, feel victimized and out of control and break relationships. Q3 and Q4 have some common characteristics such as irresponsibility, getting fired from jobs, depending on others, hiding behind processes, etc.
Effective people have found a way to stay out of Q3 and Q4 because, urgent or not, they are not important. Q2 is at the heart of effective personal management, dealing with things that are important but not urgent. It has to do with building relationships, exercising, bonding with friends and family, preparing for a presentation/meeting/event, etc.
It takes courage to build up your Q2. But if you make it, you will enjoy the results of acting with vision/perspective, having balance and discipline, control, and less crises. It will require to say “NO” to things you have been doing so far. According to S. Covey, you always say “NO” to things, you just need to find the right ones.
Where do you see yourself in the time management Quadrant? Are you willing to move to Q2? What would it take?