Time Management is Impossible

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve posted. I’ve gotten completely immersed in the start of Summer. With the pool open and the grill fired up, I just haven’t been able to get myself to sit down in front of a computer and write. But, thanks to my Kindle, I have been able to get a lot of reading done on the topic of leadership. The book I most recently finished is Stephen Covey’s classic The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Of all the concepts and topics this book covers, the one that stands out to me as a habit I need to work on is prioritizing my day. Covey’s quadrant framework for managing your time measures importance and urgency on the axes (pictured above). Right now, I can admit I spend a good amount of my time on Quadrant III activities, or things that are urgent but not important. Importance, of course, is relative. An interruption to a Quadrant II activity for another activity may be important to the person interrupting. But categorically, responding to an issue or urgent request from one individual may not be as important and as good a use of my time as preparation, planning, and prevention. A better use of my time may be to view interruptions as a “big picture” and, rather than respond to each one individually, take the time to plan to prevent an issue or interruption from occurring in the future. As my Dad likes to say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

One of Covey’s challenges to see where you stand on time management is to measure an average day in 15 minute increments and place each 15 minute interval into a quadrant. I did this throughout an entire day (from waking to bedtime, not just a workday) and my breakdown looked like this:

Quadrant I: 25%
Quadrant II: 10%
Quadrant III: 40%
Quadrant IV: 25%

That’s definitely not where I want to be if I want to be effective at using my time. So why is time management impossible? Because you don’t manage time, you manage yourself. You can try to change the passing of time all you want, but at the end of the day the only thing you can change is the way you use it. The ideal mix spends more time on important things, whether they are urgent or not. It’s often easy to put aside very important things if they are not urgent in order to work on things that are urgent, even if they’re not important. Of course, if you push aside important, but not urgent, tasks long enough they will inevitably become urgent and you will have to be reactive when addressing them, without taking the time to plan appropriately and do them right. They’ll consume more of your time than necessary and the result will likely be ineffective as you scramble to try to get them done quickly.

My challenge for myself is going to be to flip my ratios around and try to manage my time more effectively with better planning. My goal is for my time to start looking more like this:

Quadrant I: 30%
Quadrant II: 45%
Quadrant III: 10%
Quadrant IV: 15%

I know the balance looks off with more time being spent in Quadrant IV than III, but keep in mind we’re talking about my full day. I think about 2 hours of “goof off” time at the end of the day is about right, and I’m hopeful that with more focus on Quadrant II that I can prevent some of the fires that creep up and cause so much of my time to be spent on Quadrant III today.

This week, though, a good portion of my time is going to be spent on FUN. On Wednesday night, I’m off to Disney World for a 4-day weekend. I’m not even sure what quadrant to put that in because while vacation might be seen as a time waster, I think there’s a good amount of personal development at play when you’re truly relaxed and in a place you really enjoy. I’m always so impressed with their leadership and innovation, so I’m sure I can already foresee the topic of the next post I’ll write.

“See ya real soon”…


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