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  • Writer's picturePatrick Parker

How I Manage Time

Steven Covey’s classic framework for prioritizing your time.

Time management is not just a productivity hack to make more money. It’s a philosophical topic that asks big questions about the long arc of life and career. Without managing our time and energy, we end up having our life sucked up by people-pleasing, external stress, and internal fear.

Just look at the typical day’s stress for so many people in the world. They begin by leaping out of bed, dashing out the door without taking the time to have a decent breakfast, then slog through backlogged rush hour traffic.

Already embattled from the morning commute, they find the will to blast through a long, intense, and urgent workday, often sacrificing breaks and lunch.

Clocking out at the end of the day, they are back in rush hour traffic, unsure of exactly what they spent the day doing.

Finally home, they fulfill the commitments of an overscheduled personal life until late in the evening, just to repeat the frenetic cycle the next day.

In this mode of “gotta go, gotta run, gotta do, do, do,” there is a lack of intentional living.

In order to get out of the rat race, we must go through a reflective process of deciding what is most important to you, and therefore, where to devote your time and energy.

In order to manage your time in a way that builds a life and career you love, you must first be clear on your mission, vision, and values.

I actually created a Skillshare course on that very topic, and you can access a one-month free trial to Skillshare when you take my course.

Photo by Patrick Parker.

Once you’re clear on your mission, vision, and values, you are ready to prioritize your time, energy, and attention for more fun through Steven Covey’s time quadrants from his classic book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

Covey submits that humans spend their time and energy in four realms, as pictured below. Let’s break down each of these quadrants one by one.

Stephen Covey’s “Time Quadrants.”

Many leaders spend their days, and ultimately large portions of their lives, in the urgent and important realm. It is the realm of crises: the water leak in the warehouse, the grant deadline, the last-minute report due for the board.

Photo by Daniel Tausis on Unsplash.

In order to really have fun and enjoy life, it’s imperative to decrease the crises in the first quadrants of urgent importance.

Therefore, what are you willing to let go of in order to access the inner realm and create a more vibrant external life and career?

Some common issues include:

  • bringing work home

  • obsessive news and social media consumption

  • over scheduling

  • unwillingness to delegate

  • ruminating thoughts about work when relaxing

  • lack of hobbies and relationships

  • The fallacy of ‘time is money’ (Seneca said if we think of time as money then we are valuing it too cheaply)

The second most common way people tend to spend their time is the urgent and not important realm. These tasks are the little things that steal away the day through distraction and interruption from your primary purpose.

Photo by No Revisions on Unsplash.

  • Inefficient meetings that could have been an email

  • Multitasking (can reduce productivity by up to 40%)

  • Micromanaging

  • Disorganization

  • Lack of delegation

  • Online/phone distractions

Living life from these first two realms of urgency is common. But it creates a life and career where you’re a busy worker bee without ever knowing why or without stopping to evaluate the outcomes of your efforts or if you even want to be doing those tasks. Eventually, the piper has to be paid in the form of burnout, overwhelm, and mid-life crises.

But all that can be avoided in the non-urgent realms. The non-urgent realms are where intuition, serendipity, creativity, and peace reside.

The important and not urgent realm is where vision happens. It gets away from the urgency of “how,” which is the biggest vision killer there is. This realm is about imagination and dreaming. It takes magical thinking and innocence.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash.

The important and non-urgent realm is where people decide how to be the architect of their life, career, and family and where leaders develop personal and organizational mission, vision, and values.

Photo by Patrick Parker.

On a practical level, it takes big tasks and breaks them down into microsteps. For example, each day, I edit five pages of my forthcoming book.

If I do more than five pages, my concentration slips. But without consistently doing those five pages, the deadline would slip up on me and I’d end up in that dreaded intense and urgent realm!

Photo by lilartsy on Unsplash.

Also, first thing each morning, I exercise for twenty minutes at the gym. I guess I could go just three times a week for a longer period of time, but I find that slow, daily progress toward a healthy body works for me. Also, daily exercise helps me process my emotions and clear my mind for the day ahead.

Finally, the unimportant and not urgent realm is the least understood and appreciated of all the realms. Covey says it is the realm of wasting time. But I say that it is the realm of intuition and serendipity, of deep expansiveness. The timelessness of this realm is directly juxtaposed to material reductionism. The rest and play in this realm create new ways of looking at problems when people are stuck. Many of the great symphonies and scientific breakthroughs came when the innovator was taking a break to walk in nature. This realm is best described by A.A. Milne’s beloved character Winnie the Pooh saying “sometimes doing nothing is the best something of all.”

Photo by Mel Poole on Unsplash.

Why is this? Well according to Matt D’Avella, rest is productive. It helps us recharge, see things from new angles, and in his words, generally be less of an asshole! So, how can you also increase your ability to delve into the unconscious self? By going into the unconscious, you can come out into the external world with new possibilities, insights, skills, tools, to serve others and be more effective. Consider how often do you do structured and competent things that are also pleasurable and relaxing, such as:

  • meditation

  • exercise/yoga

  • puzzles

  • playing with pets or children

  • cooking meals

  • going to concerts or plays

  • walks in nature

  • reading

  • flying a kite

  • organized sports

  • traditions and rituals

  • church and other community groups

These activities may seem beneath you or a waste of time, even boring. But they are important and valuable because they deeply connect us to our humanity.

Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash.

Actively doing nothing leads to insights and breakthroughs because the mind is not focused on the problem completely, yet it is still partially engaged. As a result, connections are forged and synthesized which would not be possible if one only focused on the work task at hand. With that being said:

  • How much downtime do you purposefully schedule?

  • How willing are you to put down work and develop other parts of your life?

  • If you were to try a new activity to develop your relationship with your unconscious mind, which would it be?

The great thing about these four quadrants is they help us figure out what is most valuable to direct our time and energy to. As a result, we tend to more often be in the moment rather than anticipating upcoming tasks or dwelling on past performance.

We respond to demands on our time and energy consciously and effectively rather than reacting in mindless and problematic ways.

And we find intrinsic, sustainable motivation rather than exclusively striving for external rewards.

If you’d like more information on time management, you can check out my video this article was based on at the link below!

My dog Ollie works on commission: he gets a treat each time someone subscribes to my YouTube channel! So help a pup out and hit that magic button!

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