With the “more is better” paradigm, we’re always trying to fit more activities into the time we have. But what does it matter how much we do if what we’re doing isn’t what matters most?” ~ Stephen Covey, First Things First
Last week, we wrapped up Pillar #8 of “The Year of the Best You” – Connect With Others. Today, we will start on Pillar #9 – Manage Your Time. As before, we will discuss this pillar a bit more below, provide a printable PDF worksheet for the month and then recap how we made out on September 24th.
For many of us, September not only signifies the end of summer, but also the beginning school, activities, transitions and new ventures. I placed the pillar related to time management in September as I believe it ends up being a key component to juggling the demands and stress that come with new beginnings this time of year. One of the foundations of stress management is time management.
My husband Colin is the most organized person and best manager of time that I know, and always has been in the 23 years that I have known him. Organization, alternatively ‘planning’, certainly helps in this life domain, and the good news is, it can be learned. I have learned quite a bit from Colin over the years.
The late Stephen Covey’s Habit 3 from, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, is “put first things first”. This is a direct reflection of why Colin has been so effective in managing his time. He has given a few talks on this topic and they tie in Covey’s concepts that Colin has always incorporated into his own life.
First things first
In Covey’s book, First Things First, he goes into detail about Habit 3 and how it can be implemented into our lives. His time management matrix is an effective illustration of how we spend our time. He uses urgency and importance on the axes where:
• Urgency – “a self-destructive behaviour that temporarily fills the void created by unmet needs”. Some people are drawn to urgent tasks or ideas to maintain a sense of busyness, and ultimately, security.
• Importance – important things in our lives are often overshadowed by what is urgent. What we need to do is tease out what is important versus not important and what is urgent versus not urgent.
Time Management Matrix (with a few modifications from the book)
Looking at the four quadrants of the matrix, Quadrant II, the quadrant of quality, is most desirable as it reduces time spent in quadrant I, the quadrant of urgency. Quadrant I is the least desirable to spend time in, and when too much time is spent here, stress and burnout ensue.
Covey describes Quadrant III as the quadrant of deception. We spend a lot of time here thinking these activities fall into Quadrant I, but in reality, we are often fulfilling other people’s expectations and demands.
Quadrant IV, the quadrant of waste, is where we end up wasting time when our energy is depleted from Quadrants I and III. Covey distinguishes Quadrant IV from recreational activities, which are in Quadrant II, as they can be valuable to our well-being.
Rocks first, sand last
As Covey says, “the key is not to prioritize your schedule, but to schedule your priorities. Marie Forleo’s video, Addicted to Work? Here’s How to Not Miss Your Life, is based on this concept and is a great illustration of this teaching of Covey’s.
To visualize this time management life lesson, consider filling a huge glass jar with rocks. You can imagine filling it to the top with the rocks and considering it full. Then take some pebbles and fill in the spaces around the rocks until you reach the top. Just when you thought the jar was full, take some sand and fill in the spaces around the rocks and pebbles.
Now consider the reverse – take everything out of the jar and then fill it with the sand first. Do you think you can then fill the jar with the same amount of rocks and pebbles you did initially? Universally, the answer in ‘no’ – the jar can no longer accommodate the rocks and pebbles. You have to start with the rocks first to get them all in.
Naming your rocks
As you may have guessed, the ‘big rocks’ coincide with the important things in Quadrant II on the time management matrix. These Quadrant II goals and priorities, represent the most important things in our life, and should be planned around with the pebbles and sand. The pebbles represent things that still matter to us and we must fit in. The sand is the minutiae of life that really has to be last or will take too much of our time.
To name our rocks, we can start with the questions:
• What is most important to me?
• What gives my life meaning?
• What do I want to be and do in my life?
Combining the time management matrix & big rocks
Covey conveys that most of our time is spent in Quadrants I and III, where most of it should be in Quadrant II (i.e. enhancing communication, organizing, self-care, personal development and empowering others), ultimately improving and building upon our ‘big rocks’. In order to spend more time in Quadrant II, we need to set goals, in both small and large chunks once we know our rocks.
Let’s get started with implementing this time management strategy in our own lives so we can spend more time on what matters most, and in turn, lower our stress and feel that we have more time overall.
Please print off the worksheet to join in this month’s activity. I will do the same and we will recap on September 24th.
Covey, S. (2004) The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Free Press: New York.
Covey, S. (2003) First Things First. Free Press: New York.