The first habit of effective people is proactively accepting responsibility for shaping their own lives. The second habit is Personal Leadership to assure they are on the right path (their values) and headed in the right direction (their mission). The third habit, Habit 3: Put First Things First, is Personal Management, to assure they do things right.
Independent willpower gives you the means to make decisions and carry them out. And, once accomplished Personal Management is liberating. And, you experience confidence each day as you “choose” to act rather than be acted on.
This is the fourth article in a series on Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, And, if you haven’t already you are encouraged to start with the first article here ”The 7 Habits’ Powerful and Timeless Lessons.”
How to Live on 24 Hours a Day
Arnold Bennett, in his classic book “How to Live on 24 Hours a Day,” writes about a daily miracle; the equal allotment of time given to each of us every day. Through Personal Management, you govern how to use your time allotment. Because its the only time you get, and for that reason, you don’t want to squander it away.
“Yet it has been said that time is money. That proverb understates the case. Time is a great deal more than money. If you have time you can obtain money-usually. But though you have the wealth…you cannot buy yourself a minute more time than I have, or the cat by the fire has.”
“The supply of time is truly a daily miracle, an affair genuinely astonishing when one examines it. You wake up in the morning…magically filled with twenty-four hours of the unmanufactured tissue of the universe of your life! It is yours. It is the most precious of possessions…showered upon you…”
Time is the “ideal democracy,” there is no aristocracy. No matter what you try or do, you never gain even one extra hour. And, there is no punishment either if you waste precious time. Your supply of time is never withheld.
You can only decide what to do with the present moment. The past is gone and no longer available. Was it used wisely? And, the next hour is always reserved for you. Will you use it wisely?
Most of us go through life, leaving things undone that we wish to do if we had more time. “…the glaring, dazzling truth that you never will have ‘more time,’ since you already have all the time there is…”
The secret to using your daily budget of twenty-four hours effectively is learning how to prioritize.
Put First Things First
Prioritizing what you do every day is the one skill you must master. And, the key is learning to manage ourselves, not our time because you already have all the time you will ever get.
Days can feel overwhelming if everything seems essential, and the To-Do list just keeps growing. After an exhausting day, you wonder did you accomplish anything important.
How can you, if you don’t know what’s most important, the priorities of what needs done?
Prioritizing from Your Values and Mission
A desire to say “yes” to your purpose requires a clear sense of direction. It also makes it possible to say “no” to things not aligned with your mission.
When the priority comes from your values and mission, it is effective. That’s because your will and integrity subordinate those feelings and impulses to those values. We learn to make and keep commitments to ourselves.
In the paper, “The Common Denominator of Success,” E. M. Gray identifies one denominator successful people share:
“The successful person has the habit of doing the things failures don’t like to do. They don’t like doing them either necessarily. But their disliking is subordinated to the strength of their purpose.”
Managing Ourselves, Not Our Time
Over generations, time management evolved to notes, checklists, calendars, time appointments, and a focus on efficiency. These are tools that can help, but in themselves can become too restrictive.
Focusing on things and time falls short of enhancing relationships and accomplishing results. We overcome if we manage ourselves rather than time because it helps preserve the Productive/Productive Capacity balance.
Focusing on things and time falls short of enhancing relationships and accomplishing results. This is overcome if we manage ourselves rather than time because it helps preserve the Productive/Productive Capacity balance.
The Q2 Matrix
You may recognize the Matrix below popularized by President Eisenhower and called the Eisenhower Box or Matrix. It was later reintroduced in the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey and became known as the “Covey Quadrant.”
The Q2 Matrix focuses on the two critical factors that define an activity: importance and urgency. These are two the two criteria use to Put First Things First.
Urgent means immediate attention is required. Important means it contributes to your mission, values, and high priority goals.
It’s a practical tool because every item on your To-Do list fits into one of the quadrants to highlight how relevant it is to you and your mission.
The Four Quadrants of the Q2 Matrix
Quadrant 1 – The Quadrant of Necessity. These are important and urgent items, often with deadlines. They need completing to avoid a setback but do not necessarily move you toward your goals or mission. They are the obligations, duties, and problems we face every day.
Quadrant 2 – The Quadrant of Productivity. These are important items but not urgent. They have high returns, but because they are long term in nature, there is discretion on whether you work on them or not. These include relationships, planning, training, development, and things in alignment with your long term goals.
Quadrant 3 – The Quadrant of Distraction. These are not important but seem urgent at the moment. Minimized or even eliminate the unimportant distractions. Examples include continuously checking emails, phone, and text messages, and unnecessary meetings. They are another person’s emergency due to a lack of planning on their part. But that shouldn’t make it a crisis for you.
Quadrant 4 – The Quadrant of Waste. These are unimportant and without value. They are a waste of time and need eliminating. These include taking excessive breaks (or escapes) from time-pressured activities. The challenge is to distinguish things like breaks required to maintain Productivity belonging in Q2 from excessive breaks that waste time.
Your New Day
A Q2 Matrix is a practical tool that can enhance your To-Do list by maximizing the priority of items aligned with your independent will and mission.
Stephen Covey uses some of Peter Drucker’s concepts of management by objective and self-control that are helpful:
“Effective people are not problem-minded; they’re opportunity minded. Opportunities are fed, and problems starved. They think preventively.
Although they have genuine Quadrant 1 crises and emergencies that require their immediate attention, but the number is comparatively small.
Productive and Productive Capacity is kept in balance by focusing on the important high-leverage capacity-building activities of Quadrant 2.”
Covey also observed that in most cases, people feel a lack of priority, organization, or discipline that keeps them from focusing on Quadrant 2. The root cause, however, is they did not internalize Habit 2, Personal Leadership. A Quadrant 2 focus is a paradigm that grows out of a principled center.
“But without a principle center and a personal mission statement, they don’t have the necessary foundation to sustain their efforts… It’s almost impossible to say, ‘no’ to the popularity of Quadrant 3 or the pleasure of escape to Quadrant 4 if you don’t have a bigger ‘yes’ burning inside.”
How to Set Priorities
Thoughtful prioritization Put First Things First. Start with your mission statement and To-Do list. Re-read your mission statement as a refresher, then try to associate each item on the To-Do list with the appropriate quadrant in the Q2 Matrix.
Effective management of yourself or others through delegation is critical. Q1 activities may be candidates for delegation.
Your goal is to maximize Q2 activities of Productivity, minimize Q1 events of Necessity, and avoid Q3 and Q4 activities of Distraction and Waste. Do you think you can do this?
“If you think you can, or if you think you can’t, you’re right.”
– Henry Ford
Identify the Q2 activities you have neglected. And, pick one that, if done, would have a significant impact either personally or professionally. If needed, break it down into smaller steps and commit to implementing the first step.
Prioritizing the To-Do List
Initially categorizing the To-Do lists takes time until you practice. Although we want to focus on Q2 (Productive) activities you’ll find that the Q1 activities (Necessity) still demand attention. So, we’ll give them attention too:
- Draw the Matrix on a sheet of paper for reference.
- Label each item on the To-Do list by the appropriate quadrant; Q1, Q2, Q3, or Q4.
- Identify one Q2 activity (Productivity) you have neglected.
- Create a new To-Do list and place that one neglected Q2 activity at the top.
- After that one Q2 activity list all the Q1 activities (Necessity).
- Start your day with the one Q2 activity (or a step of it) and complete it before moving on.
It will take time and practice to implement these changes in your new day, but after a while, it becomes second nature.
When it does, you will feel liberated and in control of your life. You will be on the path to becoming all you can be and achieving your True Wealth.
What we Learned:
- Habit 3: Put First Things First is doing things right through Personal Management.
- We must learn how to live on 24 hours because there is no more time to get things done.
- Keep commitments to yourself with priorities quieted by your values and mission, and subordinate feelings and impulses to them.
- The Q2 Matrix is a practical tool to determine how relevant your items on your To-Do List is to your mission.
- Effective people focus on opportunities, not problems. They nourish opportunities and starve problems.
- Prioritize your life by reading your mission statement and To-Do List. Associate each item on your list with the appropriate quadrant in the Q2 Matrix.
- Your goal is to maximize Q2 (Productive) activities, minimize Q1 (Necessity) activities, and avoid Q3 (Distraction) and Q4 (Waste) as much as possible.