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Busy does not equal productive


It’s no secret that we sometimes slack off more than we should.

“Time to get busy!”, we say.

But every once in a while, I hear someone stand tall and proud, gloating about how busy he is.

I mean, sure… busy is better than not busy.

But busy does not equal productive.

You are busy when you have your time occupied.

You are productive when your efforts translate into results.

How often have you heard someone complain they want to do something new (workout, take up a class, write, paint, etc.) but they just don’t have the time?

We all have the same 1440 minutes a day. Why do some people manage to get things done and others don’t?


Covey’s Important vs. Urgent Matrix

In the book 7 habits of highly effective people, Stephen Covey proposes that activities can be broken down into two variables: urgency and importance.

Activities are urgent if they compel a person to act immediately. They are not urgent if they can be postponed. A phone ringing is urgent, because if we do not answer it, we miss the call. So is a fire, because ignoring it might lead it to spreading out and burning down the house.

Activities are important if they are meaningful to a person or have a long-lasting impact on their lives. For example, completing a deadline at work might be important if we want to keep our jobs. Spending time with our family might also be important to us because we care about our relationship with them.

These two variables intersect, forming 4 distinct boxes (or quadrants) into which activities fall into:


Stephen Covey’s Urgent-Important Matrix


The first quadrant includes activities which are both urgent and important. A fire breaking out, facing foreclosure, an imminent threat to our well-being, a deadline at work, all fall into this category.

The second quadrant includes activities which are not urgent but are important. Visiting a relative you haven’t seen in a while or exercising are examples of this quadrant. The activities here are meaningful to us, but we have nothing compelling us to act right away.

The third quadrant includes activities which are urgent but are not important. Some phone calls, some emails, and other activities which are time-defined, but are not deeply meaningful to us fit this category.

The fourth quadrant includes activities which are neither urgent nor important. Most leisurely activities fit this category.


Effective time management

Just to clarify, there are no evil quadrants. You are free to enjoy any activities that you like. Just make sure that you are conscious about where your time is going, because you never get it back.

You might have noticed by now that the first and third quadrants are reactive. Urgent matters make us react, they more or less trap us into dealing with them. Just make sure that the matters you are reacting to are the ones that truly matter, the ones that belong in the first quadrant (i.e., are important). Some phone calls can go unanswered, some texts can be dealt with later. Sometimes, the world will go on without your intervention.

The second quadrant is the most interesting. It includes all the activities we hold dear, yet we are not pressed by time to pursue them. Yet all improvement occurs in this quadrant. Want that better body? Working out is second quadrant material. Want to start a business? No one is going to push you to do it (you know, unless you are starving, unemployed, and starting a business is your only option). This quadrant requires us becoming proactive.

Thus, the next time you find yourself saying “I’m too busy”, take a good look, and make sure your busy is not just reactionary.

Netflix can wait.

That group chat can wait.

That second quadrant is waiting for you. All your goals and dreams are there.

Don’t keep them waiting.