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Stephen Covey's Four Quadrants and Work-Life Balance


Covey's Four Quadrants
I am fortunate to count Dr. Stephen Covey as one of my early mentors and univeristy professors. Even before he published his wildly successful book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr. Covey was teaching graduate students at Brigham Young University the importance of time management and work-life balance.

The first time I saw the Time Management Matrix (also known as the Four Quadrants) was on a white board in a large classroom at BYU. Dr. Covey drew a box on the board divided by a horizontal line and a vertical line into four quadrants. Across the top, he labeled the two colums "Urgent" and "Not Urgent." Then he labeled the two rows "Important" and "Not Important." Then he labeled the quadrants with the numbers 1 through 4 starting at the top left and ending at the bottom right.

Then he asked the class to help him fill in some activities that fit into each quadrant. The first one was easy - urgent and important. One student said, "Cramming for your tests." He was right; it was urgent and it was important. Dr. Covey then asked, "Where should we put doing the required reading and keeping up with class assignments?" Students responded, "Quadrant 2 - important but not urgent."

We next went to Quadrant 3 - urgent but not important. "A ringing telephone" was one response. "Perhaps," Dr. Covey said, but what if it was the big job offer you had been waiting for?"

"That is for sure a Quadrant 1 call," the student responded.

When he got to Quadrant 4, activities in that quadrant came fast and furious. "Talking with my roommate until 2:00 a.m." one suggested. "Staying for the fourth quarter when BYU is ahead by 24" said another.

Finally, Dr. Covey's graduate assistant passed out a paper with the four quadrants and asked us to estimate how much of the 128 hours in our week was spent in each quadrant. I had to admit that I was spending a lot of time in Quadrants 1 and 4, some in Quadrant 3 and almost none in Quadrant 2.

Dr. Covey then suggested some ways that we could spend more time in Quadrant 2. Careful planning, spiritual renewal, goal setting, spending time on important relationships, journal writing and more were all important but not urgent. No one demanded an accounting for these things. But his counsel was to plan our time so that Quadrant 2 activities came first.

What does living in Quadrant 2 do for a father?

  • With just a little thought, you can see that it could entirely change your life and your relationships by doubling the amount of time spent in Quadrant 2.
  • It is clear that Quadrant 1 items always get done, and that Quadrant 4 activities are a waste of time. So additional focus on Quadrant 2 by eliminating some Quadrant 4 activities is an excellent strategy.
  • Additional investment in personal growth by emphasizing your spiritual focus, reading uplifting materials and considering how to better live your life will pay dividends in all other aspects of life.
  • Setting personal goals, evaluating progress and planning your activities around those goals will give greater focus to your life and help you achieve more with less effort and less time lost.
  • Putting activities that build relationships with your children into Quadrant 2 and into your time schedule will help create more positive and trusting relationships that avoid problems later on.
What are some Quadrant 2 activities that you should program into your life and time schedule?
  • Developing a personal purpose statement
  • Setting personal and family goals
  • Planning your time every week and making time in your schedule for other Quadrant 2 activities
  • Reading scripture, praying and meditating
  • Personal exercise
  • Nutrition planning
  • Date nights with your partner and with the kids
  • Father's interviews
  • Family nights
  • Visualizing, reading and writing affirmations
  • Career planning
  • Journaling
  • Wholesome recreation with the family

As I learned so many years ago, focusing on Quadrant 2 activities, using time found by eliminating Quadrant 4 activities, makes all the difference in what you can accomplish in life. More planning and giving higher priority to the things that matter most will allow a busy father with many demands on his life and time to make better decisions, balance work and life better, and live a more abundant life.

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