The lost time is never found again- Benjamin Franklin.
We have all heard the sayings “Time waits for no man” and “Time is Money”. Both of these cautionary statements are intended to remind us that we cannot delay the passage of time and that time is the most finite and valuable resource we have. Yet, the dilemma for many people is that they do not believe they have enough time to invest in the activities that are most important to them and that will ultimately help them achieve their mission and goals for personal and professional success. So, whether its finding time for building and maintaining relationships, taking care of their mental health and overall personal wellbeing, investing in self-development, to staying on track of career goals or meeting important job deadlines, many people are struggling. This struggle is compounded by the multiple and often competing roles that most people have, and the complexities of everyday life brought on by the many distractions of living in an information age.
Time is a one of the greatest equalizers among men because we all get the same amount in any given day and year. But then again, how we spend that time can also be seen as a great distinguisher, separating those who achieve personal and professional success and lead meaningful lives from those who never achieve their potential and settle for mediocrity. One of the common traits of highly effective and successful people is their superior ability to steward their time well and balance competing interests to maximize their talents and opportunities to achieve their goals and mission. Correspondingly, the people who fail to realize their potential and achieve success tend to be the people who procrastinate a lot, give inadequate attention to planning and executing their goals, waste time and miss opportunities to make meaningful progress in their personal and professional lives.
Time Management Matrix
Stephen Covey proposed we use the time management matrix to better understand how we spend our time, prioritize work, personal roles, goals and commitments. According to the matrix, most of what we what we do daily can be grouped into two categories: urgent and important. Things regarded as important usually include activities that contribute towards our personal and professional mission and goals. They usually come from within us and is based on our principles and values such as family, security, productivity. But like word suggests, things defined as urgent are those pressing things that require our immediate attention. They are influenced by what is happening around us and are often very popular. This could include other people problems, a crisis and putting out fires on the job.
These two categories of the time management matrix (urgent and important )are further broken down into four quadrants as described below:
Quadrant 1- Urgent and Important: The activities in this quadrant revolve around “fighting fires”, crisis, pressing problems and rush deadlines. Activities in this area are either a problem or is a problem in the making. While we cannot avoid this area entirely, we should try to reduce the amount of time we spend here. Spending too much of our time here will lead to higher levels of stress, anxiety and burn out. And we are more likely to be procrastinators as our goals and mission get hijacked by the urgent needs and agendas of other people.
Quadrant 2 – Important but not Urgent: This is where you will find most of the activities that contribute to a quality life and achieving your personal and professional goals. Time spent in this quadrant is focused on proactive activities such as planning, preparation, relationship building, personal well-being, and self-development. These activities are most important to achieving our life goals so must use your “will power” to say yes to them. People who spend their time doing these things are prioritizers who never lose sight of their goals.
Quadrant 3- Urgent but not Important: This is also known as the “quadrant of deception”. It is easy to spend most of our time on the things that are pressing, popular and right in front of us. But these are activities that we should be using our “won’t power” to say no to. Afterall, “the things that matter most should not be at the mercy of the things that matter least.” When possible, we should delegate the activities in this quadrant and avoid becoming that “yes person” who is constantly interrupted by others and is always taking on other people’s issues.
Quadrant 4: Not Urgent or Important: This is the quadrant of time wasting. It usually starts off as relaxing time (which is good) and before you know it, we have spent hours in escape activities such as busy work, binging TV, scrolling though social media, wasting time online and very long conversations. People who spend most of their time here tend to be slackers.
So, which quadrant do you spend most of your time in?
3 Tips for Better Life Management
The need to solve the dilemma of efficiency and attain work-life balance has never been more urgent. To solve this problem, some people turn to time management tools and strategies such as scheduling, prioritizing, to-do lists, alarms and the use of different apps to help them become more efficient and productive. And very soon, they become overwhelmed by the stress and sheer effort of keeping up with the tools and the anxiety that it produces when things go awry. So, are we stuck with the dilemma of managing time? No.
In his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey recommended that rather than focusing on the clock, getting more things done faster, schedules and control (which is the goal of time management) we should focus on relationships by “Putting First Things First”. He suggested three strategies to help us become more focused on the “big picture’ daily to increase our productivity and achieve our personal and professional goals.
- Review your mission and roles: We all have a mission and goals (big picture) that we would like to achieve in both our personal and professional life. This includes our vision for where we see yourself 5, 10 15 years from now and all the way up to retirement. Then plan your week, each week before the week begins by writing down the key roles you play in your life such as spouse, parent, professional etc. Then organize yourself around the many roles you have rather than around task and activities. Do not forget to include yourself since you have an obligation to practice self-care and engage in activities that will help you to grow and develop. This will help you to maintain balance and focus on your key relationships rather than focusing on tasks and things.
- Choose the Big Rocks: These are your weekly Quadrant 2 goals for each of your roles. So, look back at your big picture and long-range goals and select those big rocks that will have the biggest impact on your mission and goals. And for each role, ask yourself the big rock question- what is the most important thing I could do in this role, this week that will make the most positive difference? For me, one of my goals is financial freedom and to get rid of all personal debt. One thing that I can do toward this this week is to check my budget to ensure that I am sticking to the plan for expenses and make any adjustments necessary. Or it could mean reading a new book to help me get ideas for my next article as I prepare for a big picture goal to write a book. Big rocks should always be quadrant two activities. In essence, create a Quadrant 2 plan and priorities for the week so that they do not get lost or pushed aside by the things that are urgent.
- Schedule the big rocks: Block out time on your calendar for your big rocks before the week fills up with other activities. Then schedule your other activities around the big rocks. Consider the one thing that you can do, that you know would have a significant impact on your job or with one of your personal roles. Put that first thing first every week so that Quadrant 1 and 3 tasks and activities will not take over your Quadrant 2 activities. By being intentional about your big picture and planning out every week of your life, you will be able to organize your life better, spend time on those things that matter most in your life and make progress towards your goals. And ultimately you will achieve personal and professional success.
I know it can feel and sound overwhelming to plan out your life week by week when you might not have a clear vision or goals for your life. So, spend some time thinking about what that might look like for you-personally and professionally and write that down. In the process, try not to be overwhelmed by all the things you might need to do or how far off some of your goals may seem. Simply start. After all, “how do you eat an elephant? One bit at a time.”
So over to you, what is the most important thing you could do this week in your various roles, that will make the most positive difference in your life? You do have enough time. Until next time, Remember, It’sALearningLife!