The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities. ~ Stephen Covey
To change from living a life of urgent to living a life of balance is not easy. If it were then most of us would already be doing it. As busy parents we get caught up in the demands of jobs, schedules, and raising kids and before we know it our lives become one urgent mess. And we eventually end up asking ourselves, “How did it get like this?”
If you have read any of Stephen Covey’s books, you have probably run across the concept of using a time matrix to help you plan your schedule and focus your life around your priorities rather than planning your priorities around your schedule. The Time Matrix looks like this and is divided into four quadrants to illustrate how people spend their time.
Quadrant 1: Important and Urgent – These are our most important priorities and should be done the first thing every day and are things we need to make sure we leave time for in our schedules. They are also those things that happen completely unexpectedly and require immediate attention. Things like your child falling out of a tree, a flat tire, and as in the case of the diagram, a kitchen fire.
Quadrant 2: Important But Not Urgent – These are the priorities that usually get pushed off because we are spending too much time in Quadrants 3 and 4. These are the things that if you don’t take care of, the consequences will eventually catch up with us (i.e. not exercising, not spending time with our kids).
Quadrant 3: Not Important But Urgent – These are the things are that are other people’s priorities and the things on other people’s agendas. They have real value and urgency to our friends, co-workers, and family, but little value or urgency to us.
Quadrant 4: Not Important and Not Urgent – This is where we waste our time. They have no real value in our lives or help us in any way to live more meaningful lives and they have no sense of urgency.
The key to living a more balanced life is to try and spend as much time living in Quadrants 1 and 2 with the emphasis in Quadrant 2. How do you move beyond living in the urgent? It is a question busy parents ask every day and here are some suggestions to help you get started.
Decide to Stop Accepting it as Fact
Other than some professions (i.e. doctors, nurses, police), most of us actually have a lot more control over how we choose to respond to situations and whether or not we give into the urgent or not. Rather than just accepting this is how life is, try asking yourself these questions instead. Is this really urgent to me? How can this be different? What can I do to change the situation? What’s the worst that could happen if I don’t respond? What are my other options?
Know Where You are Going
When you get crystal clear on what you want in life and where you are headed, your ability to know what is important and what is not important gets so much easier. When confronted with an urgent request, you should ask yourself,” How does this help me get where I want to go?”
Get Better at Anticipating
Anticipating requests, projects, and schedule disruptions is as much about experience as it is about planning. The reality is that we cannot anticipate everything in life nor should we try, but we can learn to get better at anticipating some things by paying closer attention to the bigger details, taking more time to better understand each other, and using tools to better plan and manage our schedule (i.e. a planning calendar).
Learn to Say No
Sometimes we let the urgent creep into our lives because we don’t like saying no. Like the time I went out to run one quick errand and came back PTA treasurer….but I will save that story for another time. To get better at saying no, try taking some time to understand why you are always saying yes and resist the urge to respond immediately to every request.
Map Out Your Schedule
Try getting into the habit of mapping out your schedule each week and ensuring that the majority of your schedule is spent in Quadrants 1 and 2. Mapping out your schedule is different than just updating your calendar. It goes beyond appointments and meetings and helps you plan where you actually want to spend your time based on your priorities and goals.