Full disclosure: I did not come up with the time management concept in this post. It was invented by Ike Eisenhower and popularized by Stephen Covey, but here’s the problem with the way they explain it: they’re talking about boring time-management stuff like correspondence and meetings and vocational planning. It’s difficult to take in and even harder to get excited about. So here’s a better way to think about it: zombies.
Imagine, please, that you are in a zombie apocalypse. Perhaps you have sourced a katana from somewhere, or maybe you’ve somehow acquired a crossbow. Either way, you’ve survived the initial bit where nobody knows what’s going on, and you’re into the new reality: there are zombies, they want to eat you, and you are going to have to deal with that. So now, the important question:
How do you spend your time?
Killing zombies, while appealing, is a maniac’s answer. There are millions of them, and they’ll never stop coming. Yes, occasionally you need to kill a whole bunch of them, but the better you get at managing time and resources, the more you realise that zombie-killing is an unavoidable and occasional necessity. Short-term, what you need to do is source food, water and medical supplies. If you’re a bit more long-sighted, you’ll realise that what you eventually need is a place to settle down (a walled-off town, maybe, or a disused prison) where you can safely camp out while you reassemble some sort of society and teach your kids to field-strip a Glock. Recreational activities, playing the guitar and making pasta all come a distant, distant last.
Here’s how all this looks in a grid.
Please take a moment to enjoy that graphic. And let’s just say it again: Q3, killing zombies, is the second-least important bit. Ideally, you’d eliminate it entirely. At best, it’s a distraction.
Here’s the insane part, though: when you’re watching The Walking Dead, you understand this. When Abraham goes off-mission to bust up some zombies that don’t really need smashing, you’re yelling at him to get back on the programme and start shoring up the walls. When Rick starts teaching the townsfolk to machete-fight, you nod approvingly. And when some lady starts talking about pasta makers, you pray for her to get eaten by zombies and then feel kind of guilty when she dies.
But are you doing it with your own life? Maybe, maybe not. Here’s how it breaks down:
Q1: Is the daily fire-fighting that goes with your job/life. It has to be done, but you should delegate it where you can, and put steps in place to streamline the process (like you’d start growing crops instead of going on potentially lethal food-runs if you lived in Alexandria).
Q2: Is the long-term stuff you should focus on for a better quality of life. It will never seem urgent, but without it you are limited to working with the skills and opportunities you have now (or living in a tent and fighting zombies whenever they come out of the woods). It’s also important to ensure your survival in the long-term: at some point, your current skills/setup might not be enough, and at that point you’ll regret not having made contingency plans, however urgent all that other shit seemed at the time. People don’t always mention ‘family’ being part of this quadrant, but it definitely is: you can always put off family commitments, they are never urgent, but one day the chance will be gone and it won’t come back.
Q3: Is the stuff that seems urgent but is not important: nonsense meetings, pointless emails, engaging with people you don’t have to, getting in a zombie-fight when you could just run off. It will always be there and it will take over your life if you let it.
Q4: Is the stuff that it’s nice to kick back with when everything else is sorted: stress relief and a time to recharge. It’s not urgent or important, but it’s still easy to get obsessed over.
Again: you know this already. You know it when zombies are involved, and it is the same in your everyday life. One more time:
The Zombies Will Always Be There
But there is stuff that is way, way more important.
HOMEWORK: Work out what your Quadrant 2 activities should be, and spend this week focusing on ways to make more time for them. And call your mum.