How many people on their deathbed wish they’d spent more time at the office?”
—Title of chapter one of Stephen Covey’s book “First Things First”
Way back in 1994, Stephen Covey introduced his quadrant concept of time management. The concept appeared in chapter two of his book “First Things First,” and those 11 pages are among the most important ever published on the subject of time management.
If you polled every successful motivational speaker and management guru in the United States, I bet more than 95 percent have read Covey’s quadrant writings. Most of them owe their careers to Covey’s concept, and the ones I have spoken with happily admit it. After reading “First Things First,” you will recognize that most time-management teaching today is a repackaging of a tiny sliver of what Covey introduced in 1994. Covey was the real thing. Everything since then in the field has been a knockoff, a derivation or an attempt to fill in missing pieces within Covey’s framework.
Covey’s writing is as relevant today as it was in 1994, and your life as a solopreneur would be extremely well served by reading at least chapter two from “First Things First”! If you’ve never read the book, or if it’s been a while, I strongly encourage you to dive into it as soon as you can. Check it out from your library, or order through The Solopreneur Life Amazon store. I don’t care how you get your hands on a copy, just get it. You will thank me!
What the Quadrants Contain
So what are the famous Covey Quadrants and why are they so important? Here is what they looked like when “First Things First” was published (noteworthy by their absence are e-mail and the Internet, which had not come onto the scene yet!):
Covey wrote that we spend time in four ways:
Quadrant I: things that are both urgent and important. Covey says this is where we handle an irate client, meet a deadline, undergo heart surgery, help a crying child.
Quadrant II: things that are not urgent but are important. He calls this the Quadrant of Quality. I call it The Money Quadrant, the box where the return on our investment is the highest. This is the box for long-range planning, prevention of problems, empowering others, adding to our skills through professional development, investing in relationships. Covey says that ignoring Quadrant II shrinks Quadrant I.
In other words, spending time in Quadrant II keeps important things from becoming urgent. For example, I find that whenever I spend more time in Quadrant II on client development, it reduces a classic Quadrant I issue: cash-flow problems.
Quadrant III: things that are urgent but not important. Covey says Quadrant III is the Quadrant of Deception. Quadrant III is filled with noise that creates “the illusion of importance.” Quadrant III activities are only important to someone else. E-mail, phone calls and meetings live in Quadrant III. Covey says we spend a lot of time in Quadrant III, thinking we’re in Quadrant I.
Quadrant IV: things that are not urgent and not important. This is Covey’s Quadrant of Waste. He writes: We really shouldn’t be there at all. But we get so battle-scarred from being tossed around in Quadrants I and III that we often escape to Quadrant IV for survival. Quadrant IV includes: reading bad novels, watching mindless TV shows, gossiping about others…Quadrant IV is not survival; it’s deterioration.
O.K., O.K., I will admit it: my fantasy football league is in Quadrant IV. But only some of my time spent on fantasy football is Quadrant; I use my league as a means to maintain some of my most important lifelong friendships!
Covey says that most people spend the majority of their time in Quadrants I and III.
What Would Happen If You Lived In Quadrant II?
Covey asks: What is the one activity that—if you did superbly well and consistently—would have significant positive results in your life? He says the great majority of the answers to that question lie in Quadrant II and fall into seven key areas:
1. Improving communication with people
2. Better preparation
3. Better planning and organizing
4. Taking better care of self
5. Seizing new opportunities
6. Personal development
So why don’t we spend more time in Quadrant II? It’s because Quadrant II actions are not urgent, they’re not pressing, Covey says. Quadrant II actions don’t act on you. You have to act on them.
My most effective years as a solopreneur, husband and dad have occurred when I have been mindful of Covey’s principles. When I stray from the fundamentals described in his quadrants, I have been much less effective, no doubt about it.
Make this promise to your solopreneur life: spend more time in Quadrant II.
Have you ever applied Covey’s advice to your life? How has it worked for you?
Please share your thoughts in the comments.