Since the start of the school year, as I have been working in schools, I am hearing a theme emerge from teachers, “there is just not enough time to get everything done,” “I have no time for myself,” “all I do is work and just try to keep my head above water.”
Based on this feedback from educators, I have been rereading First Things First by Stephen Covey, Rodger Merrill and Rebecca Merrill. Stephen Covey is the author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Habit 3 is putting first things first.
In the chapter, First Things First, the authors suggest that our struggle with time is characterized in one of two ways. The clock is the common method for characterizing time. It is represented by our school calendar, class schedules, after school committee work, and extra-curricular activity commitments. A second method by which time is represented is our personal compass. The compass of a person can be represented by individual priorities, standards, values, and goals.
The clock represents what we do with our time or how we actually spend our time. The compass represents what we feel is significant, what we value, and what we believe is important.
The authors offer this advice: in order to live a more balanced life. We must learn to discern and make choices based on what are the most important and meaningful activities and experiences for our life. We have the right to opt out of activities and obligations. We must empower ourselves to “just say no” to issues that drain us of our energy and time---and that have little or no value to us as professionals.
A time management matrix is suggested in order for us to reflect on how we spend on our time.
What does all this mean?
How can this help educators get a handle on their time? Quadrant 1 represents events in our life that are both urgent and important. Quadrant 1 demands our time and draws upon our experience and skills to produce quality representation of our work. Quadrant 1 urgency can be lessened by applying the old adage “proper prior planning prevents poor performance.” If we handle Quadrant 1 tasks in a timely fashion, the urgency is reduced.
Quadrant 2 outlines activities in our lives that are important, but not urgent. This is the quadrant of “excellence.” We focus on professional learning, and on connecting with the resources and individuals around us in order to maximize our impact. Increasing our time in this quadrant strengthens our ability to act and achieve. Additionally, spending more time in Quadrant 2 reduces Quadrant 1…the urgent.
The elements in our lives that are urgent, but not important, fall into Quadrant III. Covey calls this the quadrant of “deception”. The pressure of the urgent creates an impression of importance, when in actuality, the events in this quadrant are of no importance at all. Quadrant III is typically driven by the needs and expectations of others, not by our own priorities.
Not urgent and unimportant items in our lives fall into Quadrant IV. This is the quadrant that drains much of our precious time and energy with no benefits in return. Covey calls Quadrant 4 our “escape” quadrant. Mind-numbing television or frivolous reading, social media, babbling in the teacher’s lounge, with no solution-focused goal, are examples. Don’t let Quadrant 4 be a vacuum of your precious resource of time.
So I’d like to suggest that you reflect back to your last week or even just yesterday…at school, at home, and in your community. Place the items that you spent time on in the quadrants. Be honest. Where are you spending most of your time? How can you manage your time differently to increase productivity, but also to maximize satisfaction? What steps can you take today, so you can move to a “First Things First” lifestyle?