For the 90% of the world population in the Northern Hemisphere, fall is the time we naturally think of organizing and making fresh starts with summer now behind us.

In this spirit I came up with the following three steps to organize, focus, and more wisely manage time this fall and beyond, resulting in a higher level of accomplishment and satisfaction as the months unfold.

First, allot some quiet time to strategize what you want to accomplish by the end of 2013.

However, do NOT make a to-do list. Instead, using a sheet of unlined paper, draw Covey’s Important (I) vs. Urgent (U) grid (refer to table below). As you think of each item that is either currently on your plate or that you want to accomplish in the next few months, assess its relative priority using the grid and place the item in the appropriate quadrant.

Stephen Covey Matrix

As you do this, keep in mind that Covey created the grid as he saw that most time-management tools focused on prioritizing and accomplishing the urgent activities of the two left quadrants and believed these tools “helped people become more efficient but not more effective.”

He saw the activities of the left two quadrants as being driven by an “urgency addiction” that many companies operate under that “ultimately destroys relationships” and undermines the very fabric of the culture itself (if left unchecked). Covey felt strongly that 60 – 65% of time be spent on important but not urgent items, or what he referred to as “Quadrant II Time” in order to achieve maximum effectiveness and long term success.

Second, apply the following two caveats as you complete the first step:

  1. your primary focus should be on identifying important and not urgent items to place in Quadrant II while at the same time taking a close look at items that fit into the other 3 quadrants and,
  2. that 10% of the items you list be in support of helping others on important tasks they have to get done (i.e. much like the practice of tithing). A recent Harvard Business Review “Daily Stat” put it this way…

“It can be irritating to hear someone else whine about being busy, especially if you’re busy too. But instead of competing with your own sob story, offer to help. Start by empathizing. Tell her that you understand, and paraphrase her complaint back to her. Then offer to help in a specific way: Tell her you’ll grab her lunch or look over her work. Chances are she’ll take you up on the offer and feel appreciative. This act of generosity will make you feel better and more productive. You’ll likely see that if you have time to help someone else, you have enough bandwidth to do your own work.”

Third, once you have completed populating your grid (with special focus on the Quadrant II), start with the urgent and important and dedicate time in your schedule to complete each item. Break larger projects up into manageable steps and schedule the steps on your calendar to meet the project timeline. Make sure you allow for time cushions to accommodate unexpected events/ circumstances that are sure to arise.

Once you have allotted time for the urgent and important items, move to placing the important but not urgent items on your calendar. Again, allow for gaps in your schedule to accommodate unexpected assignments and urgent and not important items on the grid that you assess must be accomplished. Be diligent as you move to and consider urgent and not important items and especially not urgent or important items as a majority of these will ultimately fall off your plate as your schedule and your time get consumed with more important, less urgent priorities.

After you’ve completed filling in your schedule using the process described above, then following through on the plans you’ve identified for each workday becomes key to the success of the process. As Stephen Covey was fond of saying; “execute around priorities”. Another slogan commonly used to illustrate the importance of planning and follow-through is “plan your work and work your plan”. By doing so you’ll find that you’ll be able to accomplish a great deal more of your priorities, contribute more to your organization, feel a deeper sense of satisfaction and overall be more successful in your chosen career.

I wish you the best as we move into a more productive and rewarding fall!

Dave Fleck