Wisdom is knowing what to do next; virtue is doing it.
– David Starr Jordan
Oh do you have time to linger for just a little while out of your busy and
very important day for the goldfinches that have gathered in a
field of thistles….It could mean something. It could mean everything.
It could mean what Rilke meant, when he wrote: You must change your life.
– Mary Oliver
How many times have you found yourself in a work day saying, “Is it 5 o’clock yet?”; or, “TGIF!” (Thank God, it’s Friday!). We all do this at times because we are trained to think that our evenings and weekends are “our time,” while the 40-plus hours in our work-week belong to someone else.
Stephen R. Covey, the management consultant and author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, offers a way out of the “divided time” trap. His “Time Matrix” also helps us make sure we spend the time we are in the office (and, by the way, also at home) doing the things that we want to accomplish – our first priorities – and not get caught wasting our time or letting others rob us of it.
In this post, I want to share with you some of the highlights of Covey’s Time Matrix and the benefits I have discovered in working with it.Click to View Sample Covey Time Matrix
Covey invites us to think about all our activities in one of two ways: Is it important? Is it urgent? These two questions, placed together on the Time Matrix, help sort through the myriad of things that draw upon our time and energy in any given day. Using the Matrix, we are able to see that while some things appear to be urgent, they are really not important. At the same time, some things that seem less urgent can be very important to our ultimate success.
Covey calls Quadrant I of the Time Matrix, “The Quadrant of Necessity.” It is reserved for things that are both important and urgent. Like it or not, these things have to be done, or there will be negative consequences.
The primary lesson of the Time Matrix is in learning to identify those things that are in Quadrant III; what Covey calls “The Quadrant of Deception.” In this quadrant are the things that may be crying for attention NOW, but really are not important. These urgent but not important matters require discipline and skill to handle them appropriately, and in their right time. Take, for example, the ringing telephone (or Blackberry, as the case may be). It is an interruption, maybe even a loud and annoying one. You want to answer it, if for no other reason than to stop the ringing. It feels very urgent.
Yet, at the other end of the connection, there may be only a credit card hawker with whom you have no need or desire to speak, now or ever. Can you let it go to voice mail? Even better, can you set it on silent mode, and determine for yourself a time when you will check your voice mail?
Co-workers stopping by your office can often be just as interruptive and urgent feeling as the phone. “Got a minute?” “About that report….” “Did you get my email?” You get the picture. It happens all too often.
Putting such experiences onto the Time Matrix helps motivate us to train ourselves to respond appropriately with statements like: “No, but if you come back at noon, let’s go to lunch and talk about your concern.”; “I’ll be glad to go over that report with you. How about 4 o’clock?”; “Nope, I check my mail at 10 and 2. I’ll see it on my next dive into it, and get back to you.”
Quadrant IV Covey calls “The Quadrant of Waste and Excess.” The things here are neither urgent nor important. Taking charge of your time and self managing it means spending only the time necessary on these activities, rather than letting them needlessly eat up time.
I have found using Covey’s Time Matrix particularly helpful in sorting through the activities that come up for me in a work day or week. The real benefit of the Time Matrix, however, is in its lesson that Quadrant II –what Covey calls “The Quadrant of Productivity and Balance”– is about your whole life, not just your professional or work life.
Working Covey’s magic in Quadrant II from a personal perspective can help you to get to a place where what you are doing in your “work” is what you really want to be doing with your life. It will help you become who you really want to be, and make your unique contribution to the unfolding of Life in our Universe.
Covey, S.R.(1990). The 7 habits of highly effective people. New York, NY: Free Press.