Stephen Covey’s Four Quadrants

I’m a huge fan of Stephen Covey, and find his infamous work The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People a really useful and practical guide to being more effective in work, personal and family life. I love the emotional bank account concept that he talks about. The fact that we can make credits to and withdrawals from the emotional bank accounts of others, and how this affects our relationships is a very powerful message. But, I will discuss that in another blog post. Today, I want to discuss another one of his ideas from his book which is the ‘quadrants of time’. The Four Quadrants is a time management matrix that asks us to assess how we spend our time so that we can identify ways to be more proactive and productive.

Quadrant 1 – Pressing, problems

Quadrant 1 activities are those things that could not have been foreseen and things that could have, if they were planned for. These activities require your immediate attention such as emergencies and pressing deadlines.

Spending time firefighting dealing with problems and crises can bring higher levels of stress and burnout.

Quadrant 2 – Planning, preparation, prevention

Quadrant 2 comprises of things that are not urgent right now but important.  Spending time in this quadrant will help avoid the problems and crises from quadrant 1. Being able to spend time planning, preparing, building relationships, getting some training for personal development can all help reduce the stress.

These activities are the ones that will really make the difference to your life and help you accomplish a lot more of what you want. This is where highly effective people focus the most.

Quadrant 3 – Proximate, popular

Quadrant 3 contains activities that seem to be urgent but are ultimately not that important. These are those things that pop up and get up in your face or tasks that you might quite like to do. This would be stuff like interruptions, some meetings and phone calls.

Quadrant 3 activities could be delegated, or you assertively say no!

Quadrant 4 – Pleasant

Quadrant 4 activities are basically those times when we are surfing the net or hanging out on social media generally procrastinating over something more important. We’ve all been there, and we know this is not the place to be spending our time if we want to be more productive.

We all need some down-time to enable us to recharge and continue with our core activities. Just make sure it doesn’t take over!

So why did I want to write about this now? Well, along with many of us I am sure, I have been musing over the extra time at home and possible extra working hours where the interruptions, calls, office chats etc don’t take place. This could mean therefore that we all have a bit more quadrant 2 time to plan and prepare. Awesome! Or, it could mean we all get distracted and end up watching Holly and Phil on This Morning! Both ideas work depending on your perspective and what your needs are right now.

Just think of the quadrant 2 time like you would organising your kitchen cupboards. The chaos when you open a door and all the Tupperware falls out; never knowing how many tins of chickpeas you have and whether you can actually pull together a meal with what’s in your cupboards. Never being able to find the garlic press when you want it and then complaining about your stinky garlic fingers afterwards. So now imagine that you have a spare afternoon and you intend to tackle the kitchen chaos. You are about to enter the world of Quadrant 2 – planning, preparation and prevention! Everything gets taken out, the cupboards cleaned, and everything assessed for its usefulness. Will I ever use that potato ricer, or will the masher do? Do I really need 5 bottles of polish when I never actually do any dusting? Then, in an orderly fashion I pop it all back, neat and tidy, knowing where everything is and what I’ve got. I’ve even got a spare shelf!  I have an inventory list of all the food in the cupboards and now I can plan my meals effectively. I am winning at life. Oh yes!

So now, transfer that to your work life. Easy, right? What are your work Tupperware moments? What will you put on your spare work shelf? Use this time to think about how you want to return to work. How organised does your ‘kitchen’ need to be to avoid slipping into crisis mode. What can you be doing now to help plan and prepare for the future? Have you had an idea simmering away at the back of your mind? Now is the time to do something with it.

When running time management and personal effectiveness courses one of the most common comments I get when discussing this concept is that, ‘I’m too busy dealing with all the problems that I just don’t get the luxury of being able to sit down and quietly and methodically plan and prepare for the future’. One reply to that would be to assess whether you are the right person to be dealing with all these ‘problems’. Could you be delegating? Also, I would get people to visualise 2 paths ahead of them – the left one is a relatively easy downhill path – work life carries on as normal with no quadrant 2 time and constantly dealing with the problems – move forward 6 months – What does your day and week look like? How do you feel at the beginning and end of each day? Have you achieved what you wanted to? Now take the path on the right – this is more uphill, a little bumpy and challenging – you now afford yourself the time to stop and assess where you are and what you need to achieve and make changes to affect your future – move forward 6 months – Now what does your day and week look like? How are you feeling? What have you achieved? Which path do you want to take?

If you find that you like Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People then you may want to look at some of his other work. If you have children he does a great version aimed at families. There is the Principle Centered Leadership, The 8th Habit and Putting First Things First to name but a few. I have always found his work to be enlightening, thought-provoking and inspirational. However, it can come across as being a little too perfect. I certainly cannot live up to being 100% effective all the time and certainly not during this current lockdown situation. I’m definitely spending far more time in quadrant 4 watching Marvel films on the Disney+ channel than I would ideally like. But, I ‘m just going with what feels right. Today, I aim to spend some time putting together my plan of work for next week and get some good quadrant 2 time in.

Whatever kind of day you are having; whether its to binge watch a box set or to set the world to rights, I hope that it is a good one!

Scroll to top
Call Now Button