There are times when we wish we were somewhere else doing something else. We may think this while we are running around in the middle of a busy day doing so many tasks which we wonder if they’re worth doing in the first place.
Many of us started out our careers aspiring to be artists, scientists, and entrepreneurs. We wanted to enjoy life and change the world. But as we grew older, our eagerness faded as realities took hold. We got into repetitive routines that didn’t bring us any closer to our dreams. We find ourselves doing stuff we’re not sure are important or relevant. We became bored, tired, and resigned.
As much as possible we should only be doing things that are important to getting to our goals. The trouble is we find ourselves with tasks that are not relevant to our personal roadmaps. Many of these tasks somehow would be classified as urgent but not really important to us.
Stephen Covey, via his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, cites the Eisenhower Decision Matrix in his 3rd habit, First Things First.
In his teachings about time management, Stephen Covey says we face tasks that are either urgent, important, both, or neither. To manage time effectively towards our goals, we should be doing tasks that are in Quadrants 1 and 2, in which both are important. We should not be doing stuff in Quadrants 3 and 4, which are tasks that are not important.
The trouble is we usually are pressured to do tasks that are urgent, which are classified under Quadrants 1 or 3. Any task deemed urgent is classified as important if not to us but to someone else. Urgency originates from someone’s insistence to do something immediately. It may not be important to you but it’s important to them.
Urgent tasks often come from people who are important to us. If we are employees, it’s likely our bosses who’d tell us to do things urgent & important for them. Likewise, for those of us who are married; our spouses and children would demand that we do things urgent & important for them. Even friends would come to us to plead to do favours they deem urgent.
The urgent things that land in our laps test our priorities and because we receive them practically every day, we’re forced to evaluate the importance with not much time to spare. And because most of the people who give us these urgent things are those who are important to us, we end up doing them much to the detriment to our personal priorities.
When we get stuck doing mostly urgent but not important stuff, the stuff in the ‘Quadrant 3,’ we get caught in a cycle that gets us to nowhere nearer to our goals. Even when we hustle to do urgent but important stuff, the stuff in Quadrant 1, we would often find ourselves exhausted at the end of the day and likely not making much progress as most of what we did were likely fixes or disruption mitigation.
When we feel stuck doing urgent things for a long time, we become discouraged and that’s when we start to wish we’d rather be doing something else somewhere else.
What then can we do if we want to do more of the important but not urgent stuff, the Quadrant 2 activities, or simply the stuff we want to do?
There are outright some seemingly logical, if not radical, options:
- Reboot. Quit our jobs, move out to another country or town, start a new business or finding an occupation we very much rather like to do;
- Adapt: Look from a new mindset. See the positive side of the present routine. Change what you can and negotiate compromises with superiors & family members. In other words, live with what we got;
- Escape: Do hobbies and join groups we like on our spare times. Travel. Don’t work after office hours. Allocate a “me” time to do the stuff we like and make sure not to read email, answer calls, or scan social media during these personal times;
- Just Say “NO.” Refuse to do favours. Disagree with bosses on assignments. Argue. Stand our ground. Push back. Fight.
Unfortunately, there are repercussions as well as benefits to these aforementioned options. Saying ‘No’ and arguing can lead to harmful conflict, for instance.
To avoid repercussions, Stephen Covey says we should grow our circle of influence in which we become capable of convincing others to see our positions. This requires being proactive in doing things we have power over, or to put it another way, changing what we can change while acknowledging what we can’t. When we change what we can, our accomplishments help expand our influence and we get more things done consistent with our goals. It’s easier said than done, however, especially if we have small circles of influence to start with versus goals that are ambitious.
The Eisenhower Decision Matrix is a tool for how we manage and plan our schedules. The idea is to categorise whatever tasks are on our plates and see how many of each would go into each of the quadrants. It’s a way of knowing how we are choosing to spend our time.
If we’re doing a lot of urgent and important tasks lately, we should review our goals. Maybe they are too ambitious and deadlines are too tight?
If we’re involving ourselves with more urgent and un-important activities, we should ask why we are choosing to do them. Maybe we lack clear goals? Or maybe we really don’t like the goals we had set for ourselves in the first place?
When we wish we were somewhere else doing something else, it’s probably high time we review our schedules. The Eisenhower Decision Matrix that Stephen Covey champions is a good tool to see what we’ve been doing. It may show we may be doing more urgent tasks important for other people than for ourselves and that we may need to reboot, adapt, escape, or just say ‘no.’ We may also need to review our goals; maybe they are too ambitious or we are not really enrolled in them in the first place.
We classify what is urgent based on the insistence and demands of others and we categorise what is important based on our goals. We choose what we do with our time. If we bow more to urgencies, we do so because of choice not force. Whatever the urgency, it always come down to us to choose what our response is. That’s how Stephen Covey defines proactivity. That’s what we should always keep in mind.