Research Paper By Sandhya Reddy
(Leadership and Transformation Coach, INDIA)
Many times we realise that we have too many things to do, the ‘to do’ list is endless as new things keep getting added to it. We are in a constant race to do more in lesser time. With the new age hand held devices, we have connected 24×7 and have access to all the information we need to deliver on work commitments.
As coaches, we would meet clients with work management and specifically time management challenges. They may report that they have way too many things to do, and there is too less time and that they are overwhelmed with the responsibilities, personal and professional. In short, they seem to be doing a lot of things, many of them random and mundane and looks like the important things are not getting done. There are too many run rate activities that need focus, and hence the strategic activities are left out. Hence, despite all the hard work and long hours, productivity is less and results are unsatisfactory.
Clients who complain of low productivity at work report the following:
- They feel they are overwhelmed with the number of incomplete tasks
- They feel burdened with the incomplete tasks
- They seem un-prepared for meetings and presentations
- They have too many run rate, routine tasks to complete and hence they are unable to focus on the strategic tasks
- They have too many meetings, too many coffee table conversations, lot of chats with colleagues in the corridors
- There is no control on the way work comes in, how peers, superiors and subordinates deliver on what is expected from them
- They are overwhelmed by email and their work flow in the day is decided by the nature of the email that comes in
They feel and experience the following:
- They feel tired and experience fatigue
- They experience work stress, poor work life balance and feel inadequate at work and in their personal life
- Some experience insomnia. Some may be on anti-stress medication and relaxants.
As practicing coaches we can help our clients improve their productivity at work. We can help them focus on important things and cut out activities that are not aligned to the goals. We can focus on 3 areas to ensure client’s productivity improves.
- Time management
- Changes in work place environment
- Managing expectations from superiors, peers and teams
Effective time management can help our clients become more productive. Through coaching, we can help our clients create action plans to address each of the above three areas.
Stephen Covey’s Best seller ‘7 habits of highly effective people’.
Stephen Covey in his book ‘The seven habits of highly effective people’ gives powerful lessons in personal change. The seven habits that he covers include habits in two aspects of life – habits that enable private victory and those that enable public victory.
Habits that enable private victory are:
- Be proactive: Principles of personal vision
- Begin with the end in mind: Principles of personal leadership
- Put first things first: Principles of personal management
Habits that enable public victory are:
- Think win/win: Principal of interpersonal leadership
- Seek first to understand, then to be understood: Principles of empathetic communication
- Synergize: Principles of creative co-operation
The 7th habit refers to skill development and renewal
- Sharpen the saw: Principles of balanced self-renewal
All the habits are important and as coaches can help our clients work on each of these areas. However, in this paper, I am going to focus on Habit 3 – time management or personal management as being the key aspect. Habit 3 is the practical fulfilment of habit 1 and 2.
Habit 1 – ‘Be proactive’, drives home the fact that each one of us are in charge of our lives. It is based on the four human faculties: imagination, conscience, independent will and self-awareness. Being proactive enables us to give up ‘unhealthy programs’ that we have got used to since childhood and say to ourselves, ‘I don’t like what’s happening and I am going to change it’.
Habit 2 – ‘Begin with the end in mind’, is based on our ability to envision the future, to see our potential and decide for ourselves what goals we can set for ourselves, which on fulfilment will give us immense happiness and a sense of accomplishment.
Habit 3 – ‘Put first things first’, implies that once goal is set, we need to ensure that we live up to it. We manage ourselves, our time to ensure that we live the goal day-in and day-out, moment-by-moment doing it.
Habit 3 is easier said than done. If we all were able to prioritize and did the right things as per the goals, all of us would have kept up with our new year resolutions, everyone would have quit smoking, all would be in perfect shape, all of us would be going to gym every day and all of us would be eating only the most healthy food. But, this seldom is a reality.
The Four generations of time management.
Time management or personal management has evolved over time. The first generation of time management includes making a ‘to-do’ list at the beginning of the day and checking things out on completion.
The second generation was about maintaining calendars and diaries, in addition to a to-do list.Each generation draws from the previous and there are new things added.
The third generation has prioritization included in the to-do list along with calendars and other applications available on smart phones. In addition, it focuses on setting goals – short term, medium term and long term.
People have now realised that using calendars and deadlines alone is counter-productive.
Hence, the fourth generation, rather than focusing on things to do and timing, the focus is on preserving and accomplishing relationships and on accomplishing results.
The focus of the fourth generation of management has been captured in Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix. It shows how we spend our time. Most of us spend our time in four different ways, and they are represented in the 4 quadrants.
Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix
(from Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of highly effective people)
As you can see from the matrix, the two factors that distinguish each activity are Urgency and Importance of the activity.
Urgent means it requires immediate action. Its ‘Now’. Urgent things act on us. A ringing phone is urgent. We could have done a lot of planning and may have a lot of things to do, but, when the phone rings, it has to be attended to right away. Urgent matters press on us, they insist on action, They are often pleasant, easy, fun to do. But so often they are unimportant.
Important, on the other hand, has to do with results. If something is important, it contributes to your mission, your values, and your high priority goals.
We reach to urgent matters. But, for important matters, we need thinking, initiative, proactiveness and planning. We need to act to seize the opportunity to make things happen for us through our proactiveness. If we don’t practice habit 2, and don’t set goals, then we can easily slip into doing urgent things and not focus on things important to us.
Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix with Results
(from Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of highly effective people)
Quadrant 1 is both important and urgent. It deals with activities with significant results that requires immediate attention. These are usually ‘crisis’ or ‘problems’. If not attended to right away, it can snow ball into something nasty that cannot be dealt with in future. If one has too many items in Quadrant 1, it means that this person has not been proactive and has always kept important things for the last minute.
There are people who spend a lot of time in ‘Urgent, not important’ Quadrant 3 activities, thinking they are in Quadrant 1. They spend most of their time reacting to urgent activities, even though they may not be important. The fact that they are urgent, makes them important for the moment. These are usually commitments to others, where others benefit. These are activities where others expectations are to be met, not of the self.
Effective people and good time managers stay out of Quadrant 3 and 4. Urgent or not, they are not important. They also work best to reduce Quadrant 1 down to size by spending more time on Quadrant 2.
Quadrant 2 is the crux of effective personal management. It deals with things that are not urgent, but, important. It comprises of things like building relationships, writing a personal mission statement, long-range planning, exercising, preventive maintenance, preparation – all those things that we have to do, but seldom do as these are not urgent.
Stephen Covey’s approach to time management is to create time to focus on important things before they become urgent. Sometimes this just means doing things earlier. The real skill is to commit time to processes that enable you to do things more quickly or more easily, or ensure that they get done automatically. Examples would be creating a daily to do list, purchasing new apps from time to time that are more efficient, etc.
Effective people are not problem minded, they are opportunity minded, and focus on what needs to be done. In their time management matrix they do have Urgent things to do, but the list is small. They have a lot of activities in the 2nd quadrant. Such a person is proactive, is preventive and hence is more effective.
The all important question to consider for coaching anyone for effectiveness is this. What one thing if you did in your personal life and professional life, that if you did on a regular basis, would have a tremendous positive difference in your life? Quadrant 2 activities and initiatives have those impact. Our effectiveness takes quantum leaps when we do them.
How does one avoid or reduce the activities in Quadrant 3 and 4. These are activities Not important, be it urgent or not urgent. These tasks are those that do not impact your goals in anyway, if they did, they would be in Quadrant 1 or 2. It means that these are activities that impact someone else’s deliverables. The right way to do with this list is to analyse the activity and priorities them. Check if they really have an impact in your work or life. If the impact is nil, then, one must refrain from spending time on them. The other art one must master is the ability to say ‘No’ to others tasks that can take away your time and impact your productivity.
Making the shift
Most of us today manage our time and activities with the ‘go with the flow’ attitude. There is no concept of assigning priorities. So, lot of things get done, but, many times the key activities like planning for the future, strategizing, mission statement kind of activities get left out, as they are not pressing activities.
This results in over-scheduling for one day, where you can get frustrated. This will make us stay busy all the time, while a lot of core ‘life purpose’ kind of activities are neglected.
Developing a Quadrant 2 perspective
The crux of Quadrant 2 life style is effective time management – with a knowledge of our personal mission, with a focus on important as well as urgent things, and within the framework of maintaining a balance between increasing our production and increasing our production capability.
This is an ambitious project for those caught in Quadrant 3 and 4. But, striving to transition to Quadrant 2 will create significant impact on personal effectiveness.
Becoming a quadrant 2 person means that you know what you are doing. You need to chalk down your mission statement and goals for professional life and personal life for all parameters or aspects that are important for you.
In personal life, the key aspects of life could be Health and fitness, financial security, relationships, personal development, spirituality and over all wellbeing. For each of these aspects, one must have annual goals, and must be Living it up every day. It is often the personal goals that are neglected, as the professional life is monitored through the performance appraisal system and review mechanisms that exists in organizations.
If the personal goals are set for each aspect of life, one can go on to creating quarterly plans and identify what steps need to be taken to achieve them. We could monitor each week on what we have done that week to achieve the goal. And, at the larger level, like seems purposeful.
If we develop a Quadrant 2 focus in life, we will develop the ability to organize and execute every week of your life around your deepest priorities and to walk your talk. You will not be dependent on any other person or thing for the effective management of life.
Interesting, a quadrant 2 person practices all the 7 effectiveness habits. Every habit deals with important things that, if done on a regular basis, would make a tremendous positive difference in our lives.
Become a Quadrant 2 practitioner in your life
Identify a quadrant 2 activity that you have been putting off for a very long time. For eg. Visiting a doctor to get a health check up. This activity in reality is just one of the activities and is part of an overall fitness and health goal that you may have for yourself.
Getting a medical check up may be the first step towards making a health assessment.
Here are somethings that you can do to achieve great health, if that is one of your goals.
- Write down a health mission statement or goal: ‘Will achieve the fittest version of self in 1 year, lose 10 pounds’
- Create quarterly plans to achieve the annual goal. Create milestones that you can measure your progress against. Include rewards for successful achievement of milestones.
- Schedule a complete health check-up that will include a meeting with a dietician & other consultants
- Create a list of things that you will do to achieve your fitness goals
- Create a list of things that you will stop doing that will help you achieve your fitness goals
- Create a weekly workable plan that will be easy to follow
- Take support from friends or relatives to ensure that you are taking the right initiatives to start executing on the plan
- Begin executing plan
- Keep track of your initiatives & measure against targets set
- Perform regular reviews to check if you are on target. Identify corrections you need to make to achieve target
- If you are on track, reward yourself. Keep going.
- If you are not on track, get a coach.
7 Habits of highly effective people by Stephen Covey