There are four Quadrants of Time Management:
- Crisis Management. When fires crop up, you need to put them out. You can’t ignore them. They won’t go away on their own without leaving significant damage.
- Growth, Actualization, and Renewal. This is where you want to spend as much time as possible. You have time to solve problems creatively and turn them into opportunities. You change things so fewer fires crop up. Your time spent offstage is rejuvenating and energizing, helping you to return to the stage stronger and more skilled.
- Gravel. Some activities don’t contribute to our goals, but they still need to be done. No matter how much you eliminate, automate, or delegate, some of it will still fall to you.
- Waste. We only have 24 precious hours in a day. When we’re in Quadrant 4, we’re wasting our time. We’re avoiding something.
We go to Quadrant 3 because we have to, Quadrant 1 because we have to now, Quadrant 2 because we want to, and Quadrant 4 because we’re trying to get away from 1–3.
Maybe we’re overwhelmed. There’s too much to do, and we don’t know where to start. Or what the next action is. (Thinking about work can be harder than the actual work sometimes.)
Maybe we haven’t planned or prioritized our day, so we aren’t clear on our priorities (what we do first). Or even how much we need to get done today. We might not be able to afford as much down time as we’re taking.
Maybe the things on our task list aren’t even our priorities (what’s important to us). We agreed to do it because we feel we should do it, either because we want to be helpful or because it’s “the right thing to do”. Guilt is a terrible passion to schedule.
Maybe we do care about what’s on our plate, but we don’t think we can do it. We’ve pushed and pushed and pushed and we’re exhausted—physically, mentally, and emotionally. We’ve just got nothing left in the tank.
All of these can be overcome. How we handle it will depend on the reason we’re trying to escape. If we’re stalling because our heart isn’t in it, we should defer, delegate, or drop the task instead of digging ourselves into an even deeper hole by pushing through it.
Here are eight tips for how to be intentional about your time and keep yourself from being sucked into the false refuge of Quadrant 4.
- Schedule the big rocks. The first tactic is to displace Quadrant 4. Schedule the big rocks from Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2. If you leave your calendar wide-open, you’re going to drift into Quadrant 4 because you haven’t made the commitment to do something better.
- Change is as good as a break. If you’re losing steam on a big rock, knock out some gravel for a pomodoro. It is incredibly refreshing to cross off a bunch of tasks when you’re feeling stuck in the mire. You get your footing back and can return to the big rocks with renewed strength and vigor.
- Pace yourself. Productivity is a marathon, not a sprint. Give yourself downtime in your schedule, time where you aren’t doing anything at all. Go offstage. Rest. Do something fun.
- Build margin into your schedule. In addition to pacing yourself, margin also lets you absorb the overflow when tasks, meetings, and traffic take longer than planned. Just don’t let the overflow crowd out your time offstage.
- Reward yourself. Celebrate your accomplishments. Acknowledge that you just got something done. You’re a step closer to your dreams! Pat yourself on the back, unlock an achievement, or schedule yourself some intentional time in Quadrant 4.
- Focus more on the stuff you’re passionate about. There will always be things that we need to do that we don’t want to do. It’s part of being an adult. That doesn’t mean we have to let drudgery dominate our day! Say no to other people’s priorities. Remind yourself why you’re working towards your goals. Restructure your commitments so you can spend more time being excited about your work instead of wishing you were doing something else.
- Front-load your day. Studies have shown that our willpower is limited—there’s only so much we can push ourselves to do before we just run out of steam. Put the hard, disciplined stuff first in the day, while you’re still fresh, and let those early successes carry you.
- Get enough sleep. I’ve been reading Shawn Stevenson’s Sleep Smarter (site, iBooks, Amazon). It’s unbelievable the difference that a good night’s sleep will have on your day.
Think of Quadrant 4 like salt and pepper. A little bit will enhance and bring out the flavor in your day. But it’s just a seasoning. Adding too much will ruin any dish. Over time, we can even ruin our health.
Downtime is good. Breaks are healthy. We can’t (and shouldn’t) schedule our day so rigorously that we’re on stage every minute we’re awake. It simply isn’t sustainable. But if we aren’t intentional, Quadrant 4 will crowd out everything else. The key is to displace Quadrant 4 before it has a chance to take over our day. We’ll still have downtime, but now it will be the true rest and renewal of Quadrant 2.