What are you waiting for?

May 31, 2008

Putting first things first is one of the seven esteemed “Habits of Highly Effective People”. On the surface, this may seem vague, yet obvious. If something urgent comes up, we focus our attention on it, and knock it out of the way. However, Steven Covey’s insight is much different, and it runs deeper as well. He encourages readers to place daily activities into a matrix, helping sort out which activities should demand the majority of our time and energy. (Here is a matrix specifically aimed towards bloggers.) In general, quadrant three and four activities are not important, therefore not much time should be spent in them. He notes that it is important to clarify which items are actually in Q3, but are often believed to be Q1. Just because something is urgent does not mean it is important. Covey strikes the nail on the head when he describes matters that seem urgent, but “are based on the priorities and expectations of others.” A simple question to ask if you are always strapped for time is “What would happen if I didn’t do this”. I remember hearing on a radio show a technique a women used for time management. If two events ever conflicted, she would ask herself, “What will the consequences be in 10 mins, 10 days, and 10 years?” This frame of thought gives a nice balanced outlook in the short and long run, helping determine if an activity is important and/or urgent.

Effective people stay out of Quadrants III and IV because, urgent or not, they aren’t important. They also shrink Quadrant I down to size by spending more time in Quadrant II…Quadrant II is the heart of effective personal management. -Stephen Covey

When I read over this passage, I was prompted to examine my daily routine to determine which of my activities were in Q3 or Q4. For example, when a few of my good friends were going out to see the Indiana Jones Premier midnight showing, they really wanted me to go, and they told me that I would not want to miss out on this. Social pressures made this event appear as if it was urgent therefore important, when in reality, it was neither. Sure it would have been great to tag along, but when my sleep would have amounted to only four hours, I knew my studies would suffer, especially during class the next day or two. Other activities that were in Q3/Q4 were video games and aimlessly surfing the internet.

What I really want to stress in this post is this main point, taken from Steven Covey: “What one thing could you do in your personal and professional life that, if you did on a regular basis, would make a tremendous positive difference in your life?” A few things popped up in my mind right away when I read this:

  1. Read more books
  2. Create a blog
  3. Learn to type 40-50 WPM without looking at the keyboard

Bottom Line:

  • I encourage each of you to determine what parts of your daily routine are not important, even if they seem urgent.
  • Try to minimize these activities, learn to say “No” if you are feeling overwhelmed with responsibilites.
  • Focus your efforts on matters that are not urgent at this point in time, but which would allow “quantum leaps” in effectiveness in either our personal or professional lives.