We are now a week into August, which means that soon school will start back up, and my hectic schedule will calm down to some degree. As a minister who works with teens, my summers are always very busy, but this summer has been even more crammed full of activity than most—really, dating back to about April, I haven’t hardly had time to catch my breath!
In general, I think it’s good to be busy, but there’s also such a thing as being too busy. And the problem with being too busy is that it often leads, at least in my case, to things like burnout, irritability, and neglected relationships (in addition to much less frequent blogging!). I’ve already been thinking about some specific things I can do or not do to ensure that next summer is a little less crazy than this one, but in a general sense, I’ve also been thinking about Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix.
Covey presents his Matrix in his famous book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. As a disclaimer, I haven’t actually read the book, but I have been exposed to this part of it in a couple of different settings and have found it to be quite helpful.
Considering the different activities that occupy our time (and which, added together, constitute our busyness), Covey categorizes all activities according to how urgent and important they are. An urgent task is something that is inherently time-sensitive and must be dealt with quickly, while an important task is basically something that carries lasting value.
When these two qualities are charted, you end up with Covey’s Time Management Matrix (see below), which groups all tasks into one of four quadrants.
(My thoughts on these quadrants are based on Covey’s, but are somewhat different because my observations come from a ministry context rather than a business one.)
Quadrant 1: Important and Urgent– Items in this category are of crucial importance and must be dealt with right away. This would include things like:
- When you get in a car wreck (even a minor one), contacting your insurance company and seeing about repairs becomes a major priority.
- When two teenagers (or adults) are having some sort of conflict which is causing disunity or division within the youth group (or the church congregation as a whole), you deal with the problem sooner rather than later if you know what’s good for you.
- When you have a term paper to write that is worth half of your overall grade and it is due in a week, you budget whatever time you need to get it done in time.
Quadrant 2: Important but Not Urgent– Items in this category are of great importance, but because they are not time-sensitive or attached to deadlines, a lot of times they end up getting neglected:
- Talking to a teenager about problems he is having at home or at school.
- Taking the time to sit down and plan a quality youth group event or church-wide fellowship activity.
- Immersing yourself in the study of the Word of God.
- Spending time with the most precious baby girl in the world.
Quadrant 3: Urgent but Not Important– Tasks in this category are really not important, but they are time-sensitive or somehow attached to a deadline:
- Phone calls are inherently urgent, because the phone rings right now, and it’s hard to leave a phone call unanswered because it might be important. But so many times they are not important at all—“Would your youth group be interested in doing our fundraiser?” “Can I sign you up for a free trial ______?”
- When you are in the middle of studying for a sermon or Bible class, and a church member comes in and interrupts just to shoot the breeze. Invariably the conversation starts with, “I know you’re busy, but…” (To be fair, sometimes church members stop by to talk about things that are actually important instead of just checking in on you out of boredom or curiosity. When church members are giving you important information or are in need of some sort of counsel, that would fall in a different category.)
Quadrant 4: Neither Important nor Urgent– Items in Quadrant 4 are not important, and don’t really have a deadline attached to them either:
- Reading promotional mail about an activity that “maybe I should look into someday.”
- Playing solitaire on the computer.
- Checking Facebook or Twitter a dozen times a day.
- Watching reruns of The King of Queens.
The reason that all of these categories matter is that where you spend the majority of your time determines, in large part, how effective and even how happy you are.
Some people live almost exclusively in Quadrants 3 and 4, spending time on things that are essentially unimportant. Covey says that people who live this way are basically irresponsible. You know people like this—they can’t hold down a job and you cannot rely on them for anything. It isn’t a good way to live.
If we have any feelings of responsibility at all, we have to spend some of our time in Quadrant 1, because there are certain things in life that pop up that you just can’t plan for. However, what happens to a lot of us is that we spend too much time in Quadrant 1, constantly shifting from one crisis or deadline to another. As I have discovered (again) this summer, that is a stressful way to live, and can easily lead to burnout.
And it’s also a vicious cycle—when we spend so much of our time dealing with matters that are urgent and important, that typically leaves us too exhausted to use our remaining time wisely. So, rather than spending that time planning for future events (and thereby preventing those events from becoming frantic, last-minute crises that we have to deal with), we tend to just sit down and watch TV, or doing something else that requires no effort (Quadrant 4).
According to Covey, the key is to spend the majority of your time in Quadrant 2. You deal with Quadrant 1 problems as they emerge, but you minimize the number of those problems by planning ahead (for example, knowing the deadline of your paper several months in advance, you budget your time so you are not working on it at the last minute). You recognize Quadrant 3 and Quadrant 4 activities as being essentially unimportant, so you seek to either delegate or eliminate as many of them as possible.
By spending the majority of your time in Quadrant 2, your relationships with other people are strengthened, important tasks are still tended to, and your stress level goes down.
All that’s left now is to put all that I just wrote into practice. :)