Do 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:
It’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!