Recently, I finally got around to reading a book I’ve been hearing positive things about for a long time: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey. This book is a staple of many people who are really knowledgeable about productivity and I’m so glad I finally got around to reading it!
I actually read it as an ebook that I borrowed online from my local library, which is a method I highly recommend. Even if you’re away at college, you can borrow ebooks from your library back home using your library card because it’s all done online.
Borrowing The 7 Habits was a great choice for me (and I’d recommend it to anybody who wants to be more productive). The short book is full of incredible advice on how to shift your attitude and perceptions in order to be more successful. While I read the book, I made sure to take some detailed notes. What? Taking notes on a leisure read? I don’t always do this, but when I’m reading an informative book like The 7 Habits, I always take notes because it helps me focus and gives me something to refer back to when I want to review what I’ve learned. In going back over these notes, I discovered one of the 7 habits that stood out the most to me.
“Put first things first”
Habit number 3 in The 7 Habits is called “put first things first” and this is where Covey outlines the quadrant method that we’re discussing in today’s blog post. Covey says that all of life’s activities and responsibilities can be sorted into four quadrants, depicted in the diagram below.
In this chapter of The 7 Habits, Covey talks about prioritizing by placing your activities into these four quadrants and trying to minimize your focus on quadrants 3 and 4 so as to maximize your focus on quadrant 2. By saying no to quadrant 3 and quadrant 4 activities, you can spend more time on quadrant 2 activities (like relationship building, planning, and recreation) and thereby decrease the crisis-management you have to do in quadrant 1.
Some important distinctions: tasks that you denote “not important” may be important to others (such as proofreading a friend’s paper) but they aren’t necessarily important to you. This doesn’t make you a bad person, it just means you have your priorities in place. If you’re prioritizing properly, you can help others out while still remaining focused on your own goals.
Focusing your priorities on quadrant 2 activities help you feel more fulfilled and happier overall because you get to focus on the things that really matter to you rather than on the things you have to do. Quadrant 2 activities move you toward achieving your long-term goals, while activities from the other quadrants keep you busy.
Putting it into practice
1. List out your activities
The first step of putting Covey’s quadrant method into practice is to make a list of your own activities. Include everything you regularly do, from class to work to homework to extracurriculars.
Here’s a sample of my activities in no particular order (many of these are probably on your list too!):
- Going to class
- Doing homework
- Campus newspaper
- Time with my boyfriend
- Time with friends
- Time with family
- Answering emails
- Planning/ goal setting
- Cleaning/ laundry
- Watching TV/Netflix
- Social media
- Reading blog posts
- Responding to phone calls, text messages
2. Sort your list into each quadrant
The next step is to place each activity from your list into one of the four quadrants based on its importance and urgency. This can sometimes be difficult and you might have to be brutal when it comes to determining what’s important and what’s not. “Urgent” is also a relative designation, that I took to mean something closer to “time-sensitive.” I sorted the activities I listed above into quadrants in the image below. Of course, everything can be situational, but generally these are the quadrants these activities fall into.
As you can see, I personally have a lot of quadrant 1 (important and urgent) activities and I think the way I spend my time accurately reflects that. I also have a fairly large number of activities in quadrant 2 (important and non-urgent), but I think I spend considerably more time on the activities in quadrants 3 (urgent and not important) and 4 (non-urgent and not important). In order to maximize my time in quadrant 2, I’m going to have to cut down time spent in 3 and 4.
3. Develop a game plan
This is the hardest step and requires some of your great goal-setting skills (check out my free ebook if you’d like to learn more about setting effective goals). Closely examine your activities and create a detailed flow-chart plan for how you’re going to reduce the time you spend on activities in quadrant 3 and quadrant 4 so that you can focus more of your valuable time on your important and non-urgent activities in quadrant 2.
Figure out what activities you can do faster, what you can delegate, and what you can cut out altogether. Pick one or two quadrant 2 activities to really focus on and try to maximize the time you spend on them first. While your overall goal should be to focus on quadrant 2, picking just a couple of activities at first can help you get started because re-prioritizing all of your activities can be a daunting task.
The key to all of this is balance. There’s no need to completely eliminate any of these activities from your life — sometimes it feels nice to waste some time and that’s okay. It’s just important that you don’t sacrifice your long-term wellbeing in order to answer some emails.
Your time is important and valuable and taking the time to assess and prioritize your activities is well worth it when it can drastically improve your productivity. Living life in quadrant 2 is more fulfilling and helps you feel like you’re making the best possible use of your time because your time is too important to waste.
How are you going to maximize your personal effectiveness and start focusing on quadrant 2? What quadrant 2 activities do you want to start focusing on more? Let me know in the comments!