One of the biggest things people need to think about, especially young adults and college students, is learning how to prioritize. Dads knowing how to make family time count, being able to create a consistent quiet time with the Lord, knowing how to tackle projects on the job, studying rather than cramming – if you don’t know how to lift these things up in your life, you will always be playing “catch up” and never be fully satisfied because you’ll be giving God half-hearted, last minute glory.
I read something years ago that I have recently revisited and have been extremely refreshed by. There is a common leadership book by John Covey entitled “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” In this book there is a concept that Covey discusses that has come to be known as Covey’s 4 Quadrants, which basically takes a look at your day-to-day tasks – everything that you do in a day and he tries to help you proactively set priorities instead of reactively put out fires.
Basically the breakdown of Covey’s 4 Quadrants goes like this:
Quadrant I: Important & Urgent – this includes crises that come up, fires to put out, pressing problems, or strict deadlines.
Quadrant III: Not Important But Urgent – this covers interruptions, some calls, some meetings, some e-mail, and some reports that are ALL pressing, but if carefully evaluated, just aren’t really important.
Quadrant IV: Not Important & Not Urgent – this describes busy work, time wasters, trivial tasks, some e-mail, some phone calls, and just overall mindless tasks.
The point of this entire graph boils down to Quadrant II: Important But Not Urgent. This includes planning, relationship building, dreaming, some recreation, prevention activities, proactive activities, and thinking about and working through new opportunities. This quadrant is where I want to live. Covey says that highly effective people try to function in Quadrant II rather than always putting out fires or doing things that aren’t really important.
I don’t want to prepare a sermon and get to a point where I say, “Man, I wish I would have had more time for this because I could have done so much more with it!” I don’t want to be a student who confesses, “I’m just not getting all that I can get out of this class because I’m not making time to do all the reading or study the way I should.”
There’s a problem if you don’t try to live in Quadrant II – you lose your spiritual clarity. If most of the things you do are found in Quadrant I, then you are constantly REACTING to life. Your situation is dictating what you must do. You don’t have time to consistently listen to the voice of God. You don’t have time to help others, because you’ve got to knock out your agenda. There’s no time to plan or prepare, because if you don’t do what’s in front of you, people are going to be calling. Quadrant I is important, but if you live there all the time, you’re headed toward burnout or AT LEAST losing spiritual clarity and the voice of God becoming distant to you.
Quadrants III and IV are both like mirages. They seem important; they seem like they matter IN THE MOMENT, but the truth is that most people wouldn’t care if you stopped doing them. Very few would even notice. So an important question to ask yourself is, “What do I do in my life that, if I stopped doing it, it wouldn’t matter at all?” Because when I began to evaluate my life, I found that I spent a surprising amount of time in these two quadrants. What meetings do you have that could turn into a quick email? What newsletters does your organization send out that nobody reads? What board do you serve on that meets about the same things month after month with no results? Either adjust them to make them genuinely important or cut them.
All that I’m explaining here is simply informational until you are able to put it into practice yourself, so I found a blank graph for you to print and begin to fill out. Write down every task that you do – everything that you spend significant time on and place them into quadrants based on the descriptions above…and see what God shows you. This can be incredibly enlightening for you to find which quadrants the majority of your tasks are in. But it’s also going to be helpful for you to let go of things that you haven’t even realized that you’re doing that aren’t important. This has the full potential to free you up to do the very things God has called you to do rather than reacting to what the day throws at you.
There will be days and moments where we have to put out fires. There’s going to be interruptions. All that is fine and good, but let’s try our best to live in Quadrant II, which is so often where the most life-changing stuff happens anyway.