by John Kieffer
The Results Group
– There is never enough time to get done what I want.
– All I do is bounce from one issue to another.
– I must be responsive to my clients but they run me from one challenge to another.
– I don’t have enough time to plan.
– I can do that. I can do that. How am I going to do all of those commitments?
– I’ll just do it myself because it takes longer for me to tell them what I need and they won’t do it the way I want anyway.
Sound familiar. I have said those things as have you. Let’s look at the reactive environment in which we live. The urgency versus important quadrants that Steven Covey laid before us more than a decade ago captures the challenges, but what have we done about it? For the most part, the business arena is far more reactive then ever. Improved technology has made our days less proactive with greater stress then ever before. Our newest tools improve access but not increased effectiveness and results. Less time is spent in the highest pay off activities that generate results. More time is eaten by interruptions.
Let’s review what Covey said. If we look at a quadrant model with urgent and not urgent from left to right and important to not important from top to bottom a picture appears of four quadrant. Urgent things must be done immediately and important things advance us in the direction or our goals. Of course, if we no predetermined definition of goals, the only force that shows up is urgency with the squeakiest wheel winning. Without long term goals we are urgency driven and wander quickly into the mission-less future. What do we want out of life? If we don’t clearly think out our priorities, out life offers us a minimal return. Socrates had it right when he said” the unexamined life is not worth living.”
Quadrant 1 is the upper left quadrant is the React zone in that not only are these things important but must be done now (or yesterday). These things are important to our success and defined by our goals and desires. This is where we earn our dollars meeting client needs, fighting fires and producing results. Here, We get strokes for helping others as we accomplish super hero feats in adrenaline generating fashion. Could this be considered an addiction as we put on the six-guns and blaze away at the problems that pop up?
Quadrant 2 is also important put the pressure of urgency hasn’t ground these things into our face yet. So we put these issues on the back burn until they migrate to urgency catching fire and then we can justify focusing on them. That’s the way our environment has conditioned us. When did I study for the test, buy the Christmas or anniversary gift or file my taxes? After all the postal service has assisted me by putting on extra folks to receive my income tax forms at midnight on April 15th. I rationalize that I do my best work under pressure rather than thinking deeply and I get more kudos from appreciative others with endorphins flowing. None of that happens in Quadrant 2. Many of these Proactive tasks are just as important if not more so than the reactive ones. Planning, relationship building, physical wellbeing, longer term issues are in this quadrant. Some of these never move to urgent and that is indeed a loss for a person that desires a balanced life. Other tasks will accelerate so rapidly that they blow us away. Example: I come home and there is a note on the kitchen counter from my wife saying she has left with the kids and to not come looking for her. Or the massive heart attack or the 16 year old son or daughter who makes a suicide attempt. How did those things happen all of a sudden. But, you see, it wasn’t all of a sudden but had been brewing for years. Anyway, these things only happen to others. Oh, really.
There is another category called Quadrant 3 which is made up of things that are not important but very urgent. Explain this. They are not important to me but are thrust into my life by others, customers, cohorts and associates, husband and wife; kids, mom, dad, in-laws; outlaws, regulatory entities. Solution: just blow them off? I don’t think so. If you do you will find yourself in a pickle (I don’t know if I have ever used that phrase before). You see, these things will immediately leap to the React zone. Why? The things that are in this quadrant are not important but the people that have place them in front of us are very important. Blow them off and the customer, associate or personal relationship explodes.
What we have created is an urgency treadmill of quadrant 1 and 3 that we can’t outrun. We can fool ourselves into thinking that we can keep up but the rat race moves faster and faster as more things and tasks are place squarely in front of us. Can we slow down? Not anymore than George Jetson could when he was walking his dog in the cartoons and flew off (OK, most have you have never seen the Jetson’s but for those of you that have, what was the dog’s name?).
Quadrant 4 is the waste zone of not urgent and not important. I run the treadmill of urgency and am so burned out that I need downtime. It’s Miller time or TGIF or situation comedies or the ballgame or Soduku or reality TV or computer games or web surfing…. But I need these things for my sanity.
My question is do they move me toward or away from what I want and is there something that can recharge me without draining my time purposelessly? I enjoy the ballgame or watching the Apprentice but what is its true value for the measure of my life that I have exchanged for it?
Now that we have defined this model that most of us are living, what can we do about it. That will be our next topic of discussion.
John Kieffer is a Professional Business Coach with The Results Group. To find out how John can help your company call 513-470-4287 or firstname.lastname@example.org