Remember the time you said, “Man, I am just too productive right now – I better slow down and be less effective with my time.”
Yeah, me neither. Because no human experiences this. Instead of slowing down, we search for ways to accelerate our productivity. We have to, if we want to keep our heads above water, and manage the ever-growing complexity of modern life.
But, you say… how do I become more productive?
Here’s how, it’s two simple words: Quadrant Two.
Some of you may already be acquainted with this idea. Likely through productivity legend Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In his chef-d’oeuvre, Covey introduces Habit 3, which is “Put First Things First.”
In Covey’s model, he distinguishes work on two axes – the urgency of a task and its importance. We end up with the following visual guide:
All of your most important work lives in Quadrant Two. And your most important work produces the biggest impact, moving the needle and making your other priorities pale in comparison.
But here’s what’s hard about the “Put First Things First” strategy – even if you know it, it’s hard to implement it. Millions of people read about the Quadrants, yet most still struggle with underwhelming effectiveness and productivity.
Well, as I’ve experienced, if I’m going to increase the time and effort spent in Quadrant Two, that energy doesn’t come out of thin air. The vast majority of us expend too much energy in Quadrant Three, or as I call it, our Erroneous Zone (a.k.a. the spinning hamster wheel).
And my first-hand experience tells me that this is where our time disappears. When I’m working in this zone, I think I’m accomplishing important tasks and to-dos, but in reality – I’m serving as a reactionary robot; allowing other people’s priorities to take precedent because they seem urgent to me.
Instead, when committed and focused in Quadrant Two, I see the important actions such as “relationship building,” “continuing professional education,” and “having that hard conversation with a coworker” begin to fill up my calendar.
So, how many routine emails are you going to process today before stepping back and doing that one, big, hard thing that would allow you to close and ignore your email for the rest of the day?