More on “I’ve Been Meaning To . . .”

planningDo you have trouble getting around to doing things you really want to do? Do you find yourself saying, “Oh, I’ve been meaning to do that!” when you hear what others are accomplishing (or when you look at your Pinterest boards)?

Since I went public last week, you know I have this problem. As I’ve thought about the things “I’ve been meaning to do” (IBMTD), I’ve remembered a framework for productivity that is helping me think things through. If you’ll bear with me, through this somewhat wordy post, maybe it can help you, too.

Something clicked in my head when another blogger, Sheryl, who writes “A Hundred Years Ago,” commented on my IBMTD challenge for myself, saying, “I think that I do the things that absolutely must be done and the things that I like to do–but I never seem to get around to the things that I ‘want’ to do, but are more difficult for me to do for one reason or another.”

Yes! Exactly! This sparked my memory of a book by Steven Covey and A. Roger and Rebecca R. Merrill, called First Things First. They present a means by which to consider the tasks, goals, and dreams you have before you, and to set priorities.

They use this quadrant to visualize four categories of activities that we spend our time on, in terms of their importance and urgency. Their topics in each quadrant are examples only–we each need to think what we would put in each section:

quadrantsIt’s obvious that we focus a lot of our time in the top-left quadrant, and rightly so. Those things which are urgent AND important need our time and energy.

We can also easily recognize and understand the lower-right quadrant—not important/not urgent. In other words, mindless, though pleasurable, time wasting. Mine is the game Words with Friends.

When we move past these two categories into the other two, things get a little more complicated. Most of us would say we want to move to the things we have deemed most important, even if they aren’t not urgent or pressing. But, really, most of us tend to get caught up in things that feel urgent—things that are making noise or that others are pushing us to do—even when we could see, if we thought about it, that those things are not really very important to us.

This tendency is compounded by the fact that doing those things that seem urgent (even if unimportant) allows us feel productive. We can say, “But I needed shampoo!” and tick it off the list. The things that are truly important may be more difficult to achieve, they may involve hard work or come with baggage of some kind (for example, fear of failure), and those barriers slow us down and focus us back to something that makes us feel productive—the urgent/not important.

Covey and the Merrills say that only by articulating for ourselves just exactly what is really important and committing to it can we make steps toward making time to do those things, whether it’s spending more time with family, finishing a big project, or taking the first steps to begin a new adventure.

I found all of this pretty useful when I was working professionally and balancing that work with a personal life. But when I retired, I just figured I’d have so much time available I could do all the stuff in all the quadrants.

But, it doesn’t work that way! It’s still so easy to find things to do that fill up a lot of time and, only later, do I see that I’ve skipped many of the things that I say are important to me.

So, I’ve gone back to thinking about my goals in terms of the quadrant. It’s more fluid and flexible now that I’m retired—less of the truly urgent—but the approach is still useful.

I’m not telling you all this in preparation for divulging my deepest thoughts about what’s important in my life. Presumably that will come out, to some extent, as I continue you my “IBMTD” challenge. I’m telling you this because it might provide you with a new way of thinking about your goals and how to fit everything in.

What are the most important things in your life that aren’t getting done? What do you always say you want to do, but never get to? Should those things be in that top-right corner?

How do you spend your time when you’ve done everything that’s truly urgent and important, and you still have time left in your day? Are they tasks that, under inspection, belong in those bottom two quadrants? Can you consciously shift the focus to those things you’ve said are really important?

What’s one thing you’ve really been meaning to do?


The perceptive among you will notice that I still haven’t reported on doing anything I’ve been meaning to do! This is one of my issues . . . I get hung up talking about things, rather than doing them. But I’m working on it!

33 thoughts on “More on “I’ve Been Meaning To . . .”

  1. Yes, it is so easy to fill the day doing things and then if one has children, a spouse or partner, time together with them has to be considered too. I think that many women have been “socialized” to put themselves last. I hope that is changing.

  2. Oh Kerry, those are such hard questions! I have done a few things that I considered really important in the past year but not urgent…like sending more postcards to my friends and family. And more important things like taking better care of my health, starting a new volunteer job.
    The one thing, I really have been meaning to do and so far always found ‘excuses’ not to follow up on , is developing my artistic skills ( or should I say talents?? I Hope!) So now, I finally signed up for Art Classes.
    But on a smaller scale: there are still so many nice projects waiting to be finished in my work room..

    • I think a health scare helps clear ones thinking about what’s important! Isn’t it a good feeling when you really do get to the things that are most important? I get all proud of myself! And I know that’s how you will feel when you start those art classes!

  3. I’ve got SO MANY things I’ve been meaning to do… I am always in trouble for putting things off. I think it’s because I want things to be perfect, or think I need to allot extra time to do them so they just get left until ‘that time’. I really need to pull my socks up!

    • I feel the same way so I need to force myself to think about which of all those things really, really is most important to me. Also, for me, starting is the hardest part. Once I take the plunge and START, I’m usually good to go but it can be hard to shake off inertia.

      • Same here. I’ve decided this is an important year for my kids education (they are 15 and 17) so both taking big exams, plus we are moving back to Europe in June and all that goes with that, so I need to focus on home life for a while! Not to mention cutting back on buying beads so I don’t have to transport them halfway across the world!

  4. I always feel like I can’t start the projects I want to do until I finish the projects I need to do. Then when I am ready to start to projects I want to do, I find excuses not to do them (writing is one of those) — I think it’s a fear of failure. Strange.

    • It is strange. I know I’m most productive in the early morning but I choose to do less important, rote chores then and then I’m not mentally ready to start the important, but hard, stuff later. We’re complicated, aren’t we?

  5. Mmmmm….an excellent quadrant but I think I might have trouble deciding what to put in each quadrant eg Words with Friends might go in my important quadrant 😉 on the grounds that it keeps my mind active. Joking aside, I am starting to think I need a plan of some sort if I want to do all that I want to in the next decade.

    • I used that angle to justify Words with Friends, too! It worked up to a point but didn’t cover the amount I play! I just feel like there’s so much to do! And I know time isn’t unlimited . . .

      • 🙂 It was worth trying that angle though, wasn’t it? A friend of mine tries to do one special thing every day. That’s another approach that can work quite well in terms of tackling all the things one wants to do.

        • One special thing a day sounds like a pretty perfect life! I went walking on our frozen lake today–have never done that before and it was so special! I might even blog about it. 🙂

  6. the quadrant is an excellent tool. My sorts of issues with getting the done that I would like to do is that there’s always something that must be done before I can get to them. I have to clean my house before I can start a major sewing project etc. well, by the time you’ve thoroughly cleaned your house, you’re tired or it’s too late to start anything. Hence my putting distractions aside and just going for it! Excellent post Kerry!

    • Thanks! Re: cleaning the house first. When I was in grad school, we all used to talk about the rituals (no other word for them) we went through before we felt we could start writing. They ranged from cleaning the house to locating just the right green Flair pens and yellow legal pads. it was amazing and pretty funny!

  7. A very interesting post. I have learnt to put things for me first as otherwise lots of other things come crashing down as I burn out..I am then no good to anyone! You do have to be single minded sometimes though.

  8. I have lots of accummulated things that I’ve been meaning to get to, but I also hope to not run out of them. Some may linger for years until some random events bring them to the top of the list. Some times in the last decade I picked up a book on Icelandic Sagas at an exhibition at the Smithsonian Museums. Being of Norwegian heritage it seems fitting to have on it the bookshelf. But, this, that, and the other thing distracted me from actually reading it. Then, a cousin announced that she in planning a trip to Iceland later this year. Time to start reading so that I can pass the book on to her.

  9. Pingback: Perceptions of future, perceptions of self: Further thoughts on New Year's resolutions | The Unpackaged Eye

  10. I like the idea of trying to categorize things into quadrants. I’m glad my previous comment got you started down the path that resulted in this thoughtful and thought-provoking post.

  11. Last year I failed to do a few things I really wanted to do. This year I plan to evaluate the urgency of some matters before attending to them. Obviously a sick child or furbaby as well as my customers take precedence over other things! I’ve already cut back on unnecessary calls and I allocate an hour at most mornings and evenings to social media 🙂

    • It sounds like you’ve figured a lot of this out for yourself. Sometimes, I really need to step back and take a new look at how I’m spending my time–I’m always a little shocked at how much of it I spend on significant time-wasters!

  12. Spooky. Been thinking about writing a post along similar lines..I have to be very strict with my time and have worked my own version of the quadrant method for some time now. The difference is I give each task a time limit and set a timer! It goes..move onto the next. It gives me the freedom to be away with the fairies without time/tasks running away.. xxx

  13. One problem I have is there are so many things I want to do and try, I probably need to narrow it down and only try the two or three things at the top of the list. If I can do that, and cut down on all the non-important, non-urgent distractions, I would be well on my way! Thank you for this post. Gives me a lot to think about!

    • I’m the same way–I’ve always been the “Jill of all trades.” I’m confident with arts and with crafty stuff so I can do most of what I try, at least at a basic level. But I don’t stay with anything to really develop serious expertise and a personal vision. There’s still time!

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