A Developmental Approach to Time ManagementTomChilders
“Time and tide wait on no man” as the saying goes. Not only is it painfully true but it is the ultimate motivation behind the discipline of time management.
The discipline of time management is one of the hardest and most important we face in life. Those that do work on it and make progress will tell you they enjoy richer lives, more business success, and deeper relationships as a result. They will also tell you it is not easy and not linear. It is a developmental process and one that can help achieve balance and success in life.
While there are many approaches to time management and many experts to study, it is hard to beat the method introduced to us by Mr. Steven Covey back in 1989. In Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Habit 3, “Put First Things First”, Covey starts by walking us through 4 generations of time management early in the chapter. Generation 1 begins with the basic to do list, generation 2 moves to calendars and appointment books, and generation 3 progresses to include the prior methods but also uses prioritization based on values and other important factors. While the 3rd generation has, in Covey’s own words, “made a significant contribution”, it is still narrowly focused on efficiencies as opposed to the need “to develop human relationships, to meet human needs, and to enjoy spontaneous moments.” Consequently, a 4th generation has emerged that focuses less on time and to dos and more on results and relationships. Essentially, it asks what is important and how urgent is it. It is best represented in a 2 x 2 matrix that he developed along these same two axes. From below, you see quadrant 1 activities are important and urgent, quadrant 2 are important but not urgent, quadrant 3 is urgent but not important, and quadrant 4 is not urgent and not important.
Let’s discuss each quadrant briefly. Quadrant 1 would be the irate customer, an urgent delinquent notice from a key vendor, and things like this. These are crises more or less and this is the crisis management quadrant. Too much time in here and you run the risk of fatigue and/or burn out. There is a reason firefighters work 2 full days a week and then are off the rest of the week. We can’t fight fires all day, everyday. You strive to minimize time spent in here and on these types of activities. One key is to insure you spend adequate time dealing with quadrant 2 activities. Ignored quadrant 2 activities will end up quadrant 1 if not properly managed.
Quadrant 2 is where you want to live. Long range planning, professional and personal development, exercise, and investing in relationships are examples of Q2 activities and Covey writes this is the “heart of effective personal management.” Working on your business as opposed to in it is a key one for all of us. Spending time developing a unique selling and value proposition, know how you will differentiate yourself versus the competition so you avoid Q1 problems down the road…pricing pressure and/or decreasing revenue. Take time from all the other quadrants for more Q2 activity.
Quadrant 3 and 4 we’ll cover together. You want to stay out Q3 and Q4 as much as possible….even altogether if you can. The more time you free up here the more time you have for Q2. Think about TV, idle chit chat, some mail and meetings, or those dreaded time stealers that sneak up on you. Not to say you need to be a robot and can’t just unwind with some good conversation, entertainment, or down time. You can and you should and that can even be more Q2 in nature. The trick is to balance it in terms of your roles and priorities in life.
While there are no links here to go buy the book, you will have no trouble finding it if you want more. The book has sold more than 15,000,000 copies in 38 languages according to Wikipedia and is on Time’s top 25 most influential business management books. Most important, it offers a solid approach to time and life management for busy people who want balance and success.