Harnessing the Power of the Quadrant

by UMaineCLASAdvisingCenter

How much time do you spend on tasks that don’t help you reach important goals? How often do you wait until the night before an exam to study? How many times do you let other people’s problems interfere with the things that you need to focus on? Steven Covey’s Quadrant II Time Management System utilizes four quadrants to define specific actions that people take to either further or hinder their success. Understanding these quadrants can help students harness the power of intention as well as organize their time in a purposeful way.

In Covey’s model all actions fall into four categories, depending on their importance and urgency. Actions can be:

  • Important and Urgent
  • Important and Not Urgent
  • Not Important and Urgent
  • Not Important and Not Urgent

Important actions are those which help a student achieve their goals, while urgent actions help to meet deadlines. An action is important if it makes the difference between success and failure. Sometimes things that might appear urgent are not really that important. In order to clarify the differences it will help to have a visual.

Screen shot 2014-03-26 at 12.09.57 PM

Quadrant I represents important and urgent actions that are done at the last minute under the pressure of a deadline. Quadrant II is for important actions done without the pressure of a looming deadline. Quadrant III is for unimportant actions done with a sense of urgency. Quadrant IV actions can waste valuable time, and although these may not necessarily be bad actions, they still do not help achieve goals. Quadrants III and IV are where students who feel they do not have time to study will find the time. Those in Quadrant I are most likely overcommitted in their studies, work, and family time. Quadrant II is where most students should spend their time; this is the most powerful quadrant.

In order to better understand how the quadrants work you can begin by listing specific actions you have taken in the last two days (leave off self-maintenance such as sleeping, eating, drinking, brushing teeth, etc.). For instance:

  • You stayed up into the wee hours studying for an exam the next day
  • You played video games or watched TV
  • You drove your friend to an appointment
  • You talked to your mother on the phone
  • You attended a meeting
  • You went to the gym
  • You began a term paper, etc.

This is how those activities will look in the quadrants:

Screen shot 2014-03-26 at 12.10.46 PM

As you can see the actions in Quadrant II lead to long-term success. While the actions in Quadrant I often lead to anxiety and stress. None of us can always plan ahead, and unexpected things will happen, but the more you focus on those actions which ensure success the easier it will be to free up time to spend with friends or family and even watch an occasional Netflix movie. After all, Quadrant IV might not be the most productive, but it is the most fun.