Building habits for the life you want
Each of us has only so much energy and time during a given day. If we want to realize our full potential, we need to make the best possible use of our limited resources of time and energy.
This is often call time management. That is a misnomer, because time will pass regardless of what you do. In reality this is self-management.
IMHO one of the greatest books on self-management ever written is The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. The first edition came out in 1989. The most recent edition came out in 2020. Over 40 million copies have been sold.
One core principle is that every day we devote our resources of time and energy to Important activities. Importance in this case has to do with activities that produce results.
Among the more useful concepts presented in the book is a 2 by 2 matrix where all daily activities are arranged on two dimensions: urgency and importance. Urgency means something that requires immediate attention. Importance has to do with producing results.
In each cell of the matrix are the activities that associated with different categories of urgency and importance.
Cell 1: Urgent and Important
In this cell we list the activities that require immediate attention and are important on some dimension. These would include crisis situations (someone must go to the hospital), deadline driven situations (getting this newsletter out on time), and problems that must be managed at once (appointment with your boss).
All of us have a few of these each day unless we work in the Emergency Room at the hospital. Even there the staff performs triage on the cases coming through the door. The super critical cases are admitted at once and the less serious cases sent to the waiting room.
Cell 2: Not Urgent and Important
This is by far the most important group of activities for anyone who want to build an effective and successful life. These are activities that when done regularly over time produce the most important results in our life.
Activities in this area contribute to your life goals, your values and high priority goals.
These activities require regular and routine attention over a long period of time. Included here are such things as physical fitness, building new skills, schooling, building relationships, and carrying out plans.
As those of us who work on our fitness know it is impossible to build in one or two sessions. It takes weeks, months, and years of consistent work according to a solid plan to realize the results we want.
This is where most of the activities occur that can make our life great. The more of your day you spend in this cell, the better your life will be.
Cell 3: Urgent and Not Important
This is where many people spend a huge portion of their time. Urgent but non-important activities can fill up a day and burn up our limited resources of time and energy.
Perhaps the most common urgent and not important activities are phone calls. Some calls can be important, but many are not.
However unimportant these individual activities may be, they require immediate attention and can thus override any inclination to defer them or ignore them.
The less time you can spend here, the better.
Cell 4: Not Urgent and Not Important
This is the cell where hours and hours get burned up doing nothing that contributes to your goals, mission, or priorities. Unfortunately it is also one where we have a great number of opportunities to burn time doing basically useless activities.
Common actions such as surfing the internet, hanging out on Facebook, constantly checking email, or doing any form of busywork.
There are many enjoyable activities in this cell such as watching sports on tv, recreational reading, or going to the movies that we all do. The key in building an effective allocation of your time and energy is to be clear in your own mind that what you are doing is neither urgent nor important.
The less time you spend here, the better for you.
The Optimal Ratio
Neither Steve Covey nor I will try to tell you that there is a magic allocation formula for each of these activity cells. However, it is important to you that you understand how much time and energy you are devoting to each type of activity every day, week, month, etc.
When you go into default mode, the urgent (or immediate) activities tend to dominate. You may intend to only watch a few minutes of a football game and wind-up spending three hours in front of the tv.
Any activity that is strictly entertainment is not going to produce any worthwhile results over the long term. It will burn up time and energy that you cant use for an important activity.
If you want to get a solid grip on how you manage the limited time and energy you have, it is important that you first identify how many unimportant things you do and how much time you spend.
Next, be clear about what you want to accomplish over the long haul then plan to do that. Once the plan is on paper, execute the plan and track your results. Easy to say, very hard for many of us to do.
Becoming and staying physically fit is an important and non-urgent activity. It requires planning and execution that most of you find familiar. If you are already good at this, keep going.
Building other skill sets that demand long term commitment and small bit of progress are also in the important but not urgent cell. Success here demands that you be highly proactive and disciplined.
This is not easy. However, remember what Pavel said:
If you live easy, life is hard. If you live hard, life is easy.