The Quadrant Experiment: How Stephen Covey Helped Organize My Day

Jon Quadrants

Time—that beautiful, wily, confusing measurement of life of which we never seem to have enough. We’re all given the same amount of time each day, so how is it some are so much better at managing it than others?

In his critically acclaimed book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” Dr. Stephen Covey details a time management tool structured as a four quadrant chart:

• Quadrant I = Urgent and Important tasks
• Quadrant II = Not Urgent and Important
• Quadrant III = Urgent and Not Important
• Quadrant IV = Not Urgent and Not important

As a well-respected authority on time management, I decided to give Covey’s quadrant system a try in an effort to organize this crazy thing they call “life.”

It took playing with my task list a little to fully understand how best to utilize these four quadrants. Preparing for an important meeting I have in a few weeks? Quadrant II. Calling my insurance company about the lovely fender bender I was in? Quadrant I. Within the first two hours, I had hit my stride, keeping the chart next to me and distributing tasks to quadrants as they came up.

Pros & Cons of the Quadrant System
A step above your typical to-do list, this chart provides a visual of what needs get done, organizing  “to-do’s” by importance and timeliness. With just a glance, you see which items are most pressing and require immediate attention. This is just one of the many benefits to the Covey system:

  • Prioritizes Tasks: Quickly and effectively prioritizes and categorizes your to-do list.
  • Ease of Use: This system is simple, and easy to pick up. As a result, you can easily integrate it into your day and are more likely to stick with it.
  • Visual: With its own visual compartments, it’s easy to identify where everything fits versus a long list of items.

The only downside  to the quadrant system I experienced is its lack of portability. As I chose a whiteboard for my quadrants, I can’t easily transfer the system between the office and home. I could use a notepad, but then would have to create the quadrants again each day. If you plan on using this at multiple locations, consider how and where you will be using the system to determine the medium that works best for you.

Want To Try For Yourself? Here’s a Few Tips!

Consider a reusable version. I created my chart using sharpie on a miniature whiteboard at my desk, making the chart permanent but the tasks erasable.

Keep it in sight. Your chart is most effective when it is in a place where it can be easily referenced. My chart is next to me at all times while I work, providing constant reminders.

Start each morning by analyzing your tasks for the day. The quadrants are meant to be flexible, so take time each morning to reevaluate your tasks and think about the appropriate location for new assignments.

Concentrate on Quadrant II: A good rule of thumb is to spend the majority of your time in Quadrant II (Not Urgent and Important). These are the tasks that not only help accomplish present activities, but set you up for future success by focusing on tasks that prepare you for upcoming deadlines.

Through using Covey’s system, I am focusing my time more on what matters, and am investing my time on long-term goals, making me much more productive.

Have you used or are you currently using Covey’s Quadrant system? We’d love to hear your thoughts and best practices in the comments below!

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