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  • Writer's picturePatrick Parker

How I Manage Time

Steven Covey’s classic framework for prioritizing your time.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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  • 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.

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

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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.

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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.