Time Management – Why would anyone want to live like that?

Last night I took a break from martial arts and played a video game. Yes, I play video games occasionally. When I was playing, I noticed that a person I had played the game with a few days ago had already finished the game and was almost finished playing through it a third time. The first thought that entered my mind was, “he’s ahead of me” and I (for a very brief moment) wasn’t happy. Then it hit me, why do I even care? I don’t and I’m embarrassed that I did for even a second or two.

In other articles, I’ve talked about time management skills and how people’s lives can be drastically changed if they simply learn how to manage their time. I am a huge fan of Stephen Covey and when I teach time management seminars I incorporate a lot of his ideas. In Covey’s “7 Habits” book he introduced the concept of the 4 quadrants. Everything we do throughout the day can be placed into one of these quadrants. Quadrant 1 contains those things that are urgent and important. Quadrant 2 contains those things that are not urgent but are important. Quadrant 3 contains things that are urgent but not important. Finally, quadrant 4 contains things that are not urgent and not important. People that are able to primarily live in quadrant 2 are much more productive, efficient, have more free time and tend to be much happier due to a lack of stress caused by, “I don’t have enough time in my day to do the things I want to do”. People that live in quadrant 4, however, live in the land of the living dead (I borrowed that expression from my wilderness survival training). They are not productive, not efficient, they might be happy but they contribute nothing to society and they could care less about bettering themselves.

I could spend an entire day lecturing on the 4 quadrants, so needless to say they are beyond the scope of this post. For this article, I specifically want to talk about people who choose to live in quadrant four. Quadrant four, as I already stated, contains activities that are not urgent or important. I am totally dumbfounded at the number of people who spend most of their free time in this quadrant. I should point out that it is ok to spend some time in this quadrant to unwind or simply do an activity you enjoy because that might be something that you “need” mentally. “A break from reality”, so to speak. But, think about it, if you need it then it is important and falls in quadrant 2. The trick is knowing when you really don’t “need” it anymore. After how much time of playing Diablo 3 do I personally shift out of quadrant 2 and into 4? Only I can answer that, but I need to be very honest with myself about what I truly need and not what I might just want.

Now I’m going to go off on a tangent (I tend to do that from time to time) for a second to talk about an average 9-5 person and their week. There are 168 hours in a week. A “typical” person works 5, 8 hour days for a total of 40 hours. That leaves 128 hours of non-work time. That is a lot of time. I know, “I have to sleep”. Ok, if you go by what the doctors say, you need 8 hours of sleep a night (which by the way is ridiculous – I can get anyone down to 5 to 6 hours of sleep a night and they will be as rested as someone who sleeps 8 hours). That is 56 hours (or 35 hours) of sleep per week. That means that there are 72 hours (or 93) left in a typical person’s week. You could work a second full-time job and have time left over. Think about how much you could get done, how many people you could help, how good of shape you could get in if you applied all that time to do activities in quadrant 2. I know what you are thinking, because I’ve heard it all before, you are thinking I have lots of stuff I have to do like chores around the house, shopping for food, taking the kids to soccer, etc. It’s true there are a lot of activities that you have to do in your daily life that will take up a lot of your leftover time. I bet however that you are spending a lot of time doing activities that are not urgent and not important: watching tv, playing video games, reading fiction, etc.  How about this one, what do you do when you are driving? Do you listen to music? The drive itself might be important but listening to music isn’t. Why not listen to an audiobook, and not a fiction book. Here is a suggestion, listen to Covey’s 7 Habits book. It changed my life. I can’t tell you how many people comment to me on a regular basis, “how do you have time to do that?”. I have time because I know how to manage my time, thanks in part to Covey.

Anyway, back to the post topic.  We as a society need to get out of quadrant 4.  I can’t tell you how many students I have lost to activities in this quadrant. I guess it all comes down to what you want out of life. If you want to have “fun” and constantly feed the desire demon then live in quadrant 4. Chances are that if you are one of those people, you are not even reading this post because you are getting your quadrant 4 fix. However, if you want to improve yourself and through that improvement have a lasting beneficial impact on the people around you and society in general, then live in quadrant 2. So how do we do that? Constantly ask yourself, “what quadrant is what I am doing in?”. If your answer is quadrant 4 (not urgent and not important), simply do something else.

If your answer is quadrant 3 (urgent but not important), ask yourself, “is it really urgent to me or just to someone else”. Frequently people who are in quadrant 3 find themselves there because someone else thinks it’s urgent when in reality it is not truly urgent for you. Regardless of the reason, finish up whatever you are doing in quadrant 3 (answering the phone, dealing with someone who walks into your office, etc.) and move out of that quadrant. It is possible, with some planning, to drastically cut down on the amount of time you are forced to spend time in quadrant 3. For example, I give all my statistics students my cell phone number so that they can call me with they need help. In the beginning, they could call me at any time (24/7). I found myself in quadrant 3 on a regular basis (sometimes at 2 am). To partially get out of this quadrant, I set my phone so that it would only let calls from my statistics students through for a few hours each day. I cut my time in quadrant 3 down by 75% simply by making that change. Don’t want people walking in your office without an appointment? Lock the door. I realize that some people, due to the nature of their work, can’t make such drastic implementations but you can in your personal life. Turn your cell phone off. Turn your email program off. Believe it or not, people were able to survive before cell phones and emails. With a little creative thinking anyone, no matter what their job or personal situation, can substantially cut back on the time spent in quadrant 3.

If your answer is quadrant 1, then at least you are doing something that is important, but why is it urgent? It is possible to have something come up that is urgent and important (a sick relative, an unexpected crisis at work, etc.) but a lot of times people find themselves in quadrant 1 instead of quadrant 2 because of procrastination. If there is a task in your future that is important, then get it done before it becomes urgent. That way you will be doing the task in quadrant 2 instead of 1. Why should be care? Where quadrant 4 is the land of the living dead, quadrant 1 is the land of stress and anxiety. Why would you want to live in either land? I wouldn’t and don’t. Make a conscious decision to live in quadrant 2, the land of productivity, creativity, and happiness and watch your life change almost immediately.

Something to think about…..