In my last post, Moving From Urgent to Important, I made reference to a concept I first read about in Steven Covey’s book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The concept is represented in the diagram below.
The idea is to live as much as possible in the important-but-not-urgent Quadrant 2 (the shaded box above) where the focus is more on becoming rather than doing. In Moving From Urgent to Important, I addressed the idea of transferring as many activities as possible out of the urgent category into the not-urgent—namely, by overcoming a spirit of procrastination.
In this post, I want to look at the possibility of moving the unimportant activities in the lower two quadrants into the important category. Is it possible to transform web-surfing and chitty-chatty phone calls into activities of “importance”? Methinks maybe (I’ve always wanted to use “methinks” in my writing!).
Let me preface my theory with a little example from the fitness and running fields. To be an optimal runner, not only must you run consistently, but you must also schedule “recovery time” into your running routine. The same principle applies to strength training. You can’t work the same muscles day after day and expect to be your best. Rest time must be built in. All the fitness literature emphasizes this. The amount of recovery/rest time needed varies from individual to individual, but everyone must adhere to this rule of fitness to perform their best and to prevent injury from overuse.
Along these same lines, but more in the mental arena than the physical, I read Relax! You’ll Be More Productive in the New York Times. The author, Tony Schwartz, writes, “…the best way to get more done may be to spend more time doing less. A new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal — including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations — boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.” (This is a really good read with some practical ideas for implementation. I highly recommend!)
Now, having made the point about the necessity for rest and recovery in both the physical and mental arenas, let’s look at some of the items listed in the “unimportant” quadrants of the visual above. I really enjoy watching a good television show, catching up with friends on Facebook, web-surfing (reading my favorite blogs, doing a little research on something I’m thinking of buying, stumbling around on StumbleUpon, etc.), but if I were to start my day—or use my most productive hours—on activities like this, it would be a total waste of time—a real time suck! I so agree with Henry Ward Beecher who said, “The first hour is the rudder of the day.” It is absolutely crucial for me to start my day carefully, wisely, accurately, purposefully (Is that enough adverbs for you? I’m sure you get the point) and to use that start to create a momentum towards true productivity in the “important.”
However, at the end of the day when my brain cells are rebelling, or even in the middle of the day—maybe while I am having lunch by myself—or in those sluggish afternoon hours when I am starting to fade, that is a great time for me to “recover” and do all the ‘unimportant’ activities I noted above. When these items become purposeful—by helping me relax and recover—they are magically shifted from the unimportant to the important quadrants. The secret is to use them as a recovery tool to refresh me and to not let them steal the rest of my day.
Living in the important quadrants doesn’t mean “all work and no play,” because in the right context, at the right times, “play” is important. In fact, fun that is purposeful, is more fun—because it does not come at the sacrifice of those things more important. It’s kind of like having your cake and eating it, too!
It is all about timing. Don’t give the best part of your day (the Bible calls this the “firstfruits”) to mundane, frivolous activities. Save those for recovery time and so REDEEM them into activities that can actually serve a positive purpose.
Your thoughts? Do you agree that some time-sucks can be redeemed into purposeful tools? Do you agree that the first hour is the rudder of the day?