Urgency And Importance – Quadrant 1
If you were to phone someone, there aren’t many people who would say, “I’ll get to you in 15 minutes; just hold.” But those same people would probably let you wait in an office for at least that long while they completed a telephone conversation with someone else.
Urgent matters are usually visible. They press on us; they insist on action. They’re often popular with others. They’re usually right in front of us. And often they are pleasant, easy, fun to do. But so often they are unimportant!
Importance, on the other hand, has to do with results. If something is important, it contributes to your mission, your values, your high priority goals.
We react to urgent matters. Important matters that are not urgent require more initiative, more proactivity. We must act to seize the opportunity, to make things happen. If we don’t practice COURSE 3, if we don’t have a clear idea of what is important, of the results we desire in our lives, we are easily diverted into responding to the urgent.
Look for a moment at the four quadrants in the Time Management Matrix. Quadrant I is both urgent and important. It deals with significant results that require immediate attention. We usually call the activities in Quadrant I “crises” or “problems.” We all have some Quadrant I activities in our lives. But Quadrant I consumes many people. They are crisis managers, problem-minded people, the deadline-driven producers.
As long as you focus on Quadrant I, it keeps getting bigger and bigger until it dominates you. It’s like the pounding surf. A huge problem comes and knocks you down and you’re wiped out. You struggle back up only to face another one that knocks you down and slams you to the ground.
Some people are literally beaten up by the problems all day every day. The only relief they have is in escaping to the not important, not urgent activities of Quadrant IV. So when you look at their total matrix, 90 percent of their time is in Quadrant I, and most of the remaining 10 percent is in Quadrant IV with only negligible attention paid to Quadrants II and III. That’s how people who manage their lives by crisis live.
There are other people who spend a great deal of time in “urgent, but not important” Quadrant III, thinking they’re in Quadrant I. They spend most of their time reacting to things that are urgent, assuming they are also important. But the reality is that the urgency of these matters is often based on the priorities and expectations of others.
People who spend time almost exclusively in Quadrants III and IV basically lead irresponsible lives. Effective people stay out of Quadrants III and IV because urgent or not, they aren’t important.
They also shrink Quadrant I down to size by spending more time in Quadrant II.
Quadrant II is the heart of effective personal management. It deals with things that are not urgent but are important. It deals with things like building relationships, writing a personal mission statement, long-range planning, exercising, preventive maintenance, preparation — all those things we know we need to do, but somehow seldom get around to doing, because they aren’t urgent.
To paraphrase Peter Drucker, effective people are not problem-minded; they’re opportunity-minded. They feed opportunities and starve problems. They think preventively. They have genuine Quadrant I crises and emergencies that require their immediate attention, but the number is comparatively small. They keep P and PC in balance by focusing on the important, but not the urgent, high-leverage capacity-building activities of Quadrant II.
Whether you are a student at the university, a worker in an assembly line, a homemaker, fashion designer, or president of a company, I believe that if you were to ask what lies in Quadrant II and cultivate the proactivity to go after it, you would find the same results. Your effectiveness would increase dramatically. Your crises and problems would shrink to manageable proportions because you would be thinking ahead, working on the roots, doing the preventive things that keep situations from developing into crises in the first place. In the time management jargon, this is called the Pareto Principle — 80 percent of the results flow out of 20 percent of the activities.
What it Takes to Say “No”
The only place to get time for Quadrant II in the beginning is from Quadrants III and IV. You can’t ignore the urgent and important activities of Quadrant I, although it will shrink in size as you spend more time with prevention and preparation in Quadrant II. But the initial time for Quadrant II has come out of III and IV.
You have to be proactive to work on Quadrant II because Quadrant I and III work on you. To say “yes” to important Quadrant II priorities, you have to learn to say “no” to other activities, sometimes apparently urgent things.
you have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage — pleasantly, smiling, unapologetically — to say “no” to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger “yes” burning inside. The enemy of the “best” is often the “good.”
Keep in mind that you are always saying “no” to something. If it isn’t to the apparent, urgent things in your life, it is probably to the more fundamental, highly important things. Even when the urgent is good, the good can keep you from your best, keep you from your unique contributions, if you let it.
We say “yes” or “no” to things daily, usually many times a day. A center of correct principles and a focus on our personal mission empowers us with wisdom to make those judgments effectively.
Working with different groups, we tell them that the essence of effective time and life management is to organize and execute around balanced priorities. Now the question is: if you were to fault yourself in one of three areas, which would it be: (1) the inability to prioritize; (2) the inability or desire to organize around those priorities; or (3) the lack of discipline to execute around them, to stay with your priorities and organization?
Most people say their main fault is a lack of discipline. On deeper thought, we believe that is not the case. The basic problem is that their priorities have not become deeply planted in their hearts and minds. They haven’t really internalized lesson 3.
There are many people who recognize the value of Quadrant II activities in their lives, whether they identify them as such or not. And they attempt to give priority to those activities and integrate them into their lives through self-discipline alone. But without a principle center and a personal mission statement, they don’t have the necessary foundation to sustain their efforts. They’re working on the leaves, on the attitudes and the behaviors of discipline, without even thinking to examine the roots, the basic paradigms from which their natural attitudes and behaviors flow.
A Quadrant II focus is a paradigm that grows out of a principle center. If you are centered on your spouse, your money, your friends, your pleasure, or any extrinsic factor, you will keep getting thrown back into Quadrants I and III, reacting to the outside forces your life is centered on. Even if you’re centered on yourself, you’ll end up in I and II reacting to the impulse of the moment. Your independent will alone cannot effectively discipline you against your center.
In the words of the architectural maxim, form follows function. Likewise, management follows leadership. The way you spend your time is a result of the way you see your time and the way you really see your priorities. If your priorities grow out of a principle center and a personal mission, if they are deeply planted in your heart and in your mind, you will see Quadrant II as a natural, exciting place to invest your time.
It’s almost impossible to say, “no” to the popularity of Quadrant III or to the pleasure of escape to Quadrant IV if you don’t have a bigger “yes” burning inside. Only when you have the self-awareness to examine your program — and the imagination and conscience to create a new, unique, principle-centered program to which you can say “yes” — only then will you have sufficient independent will power to say “no,” with a genuine smile, to the unimportant.
Moving Into Quadrant II
If Quadrant II activities are clearly the heart of effective personal management — the “first things” we need to put first — then how do we organize and execute around those things.