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« The Role of Structure | Main | How to Finish Books Once You Start Them »
Thursday
Feb152007

The Four Quadrants (A Different Version)

Those of you who are familiar with my materials will know that one of the subjects that I frequently write about is the resistance principle. This is the principle that the thing you should do first is what you are resisting the most.

I have often contrasted this with Steven Covey’s Quadrant 2 theory (from “First Things First”), in which the principle is to do what is important first.

Covey talks about four quadrants: 1) Important & Urgent, 2) Important & Not Urgent, 3) Urgent & Not Important and 4) Not Urgent & Not Important. According to Covey the problem most people have is with Quadrant 2, the important but not urgent. The reason they have a problem is because the important gets submerged under what is urgent.

Although I can see what Covey means, I have never really felt that his theory reflects how most people actually think when they are working. In my experience there are plenty of people who are just as capable of putting off something that is important and urgent as they are of putting off something that is important but not urgent. Frequently the same people will fill their days with stuff that is neither important nor urgent.

In other words the reason important things get forgotten is not because they get submerged by urgent things – though it may sometimes look like that.

As I have frequently said, prioritising by importance doesn’t work, because the question is not how important something is but whether it should be done at all. If it needs to be done, then it needs to be done and, all other things being equal, it doesn’t particularly matter what order it’s done in as long as it all gets done.

So I was pleased to read a book by Ken Blanchard (of One-Minute Manager fame) in which he says very much the same thing. The book is called The On-time, On-target Manager (One Minute Manager) In it, Blanchard gives a different quadrant from Covey’s. It’s one which in my opinion is much more geared to the way we actually think.

His quadrant is 1) Have to Do, Want to Do 2) Have to Do, Don’t Want to Do 3) Don’t Have to Do, Want to Do 4) Don’t Have to Do, Don’t Want to Do.

People don’t have any problem with Quadrants 1 and 4. If they have to do it and they want to do it, then they just get on with it. If they don’t have to do it and they don’t want to do it, then they just don’t do it. The problem lies with the other two quadrants.

What tends to happen is that people tend to do things in the order Quadrant 1), Quadrant 3) and only then Quadrant 2). The result is that a lot of things that don’t have to be done get done, while a lot of things that do have to be done don’t get done. Sound familiar?

The solution is to change it so that you do them in the order Quadrant 2), Quadrant 1) and forget about the other two quadrants.

To use this simple method of prioritising, write a list of all the things that you feel you must do, should do or could do. Then to the right of the items put two columns HAVE TO DO? and WANT TO DO? Then tick each item in the relevant columns. Challenge yourself fiercely about whether each item really needs to be done or not.

You then do the items which have a tick only in the first column. And only when you’ve finished them do you do the items which have ticks in both columns.

And then go home!

 

[The original version of this article was published in my newsletter in August 2004]

Reader Comments (15)

Actually I have problems with not getting to the #3 area. I want to make some of my #3s to a #1 but it seems everything else is more important "have to do". In my situation, I want to draw and paint everyday but it is not a "have to do" so it gets pushed to the wayside of the other "have to do" items. How to get it to a "have to do" area is what I am working on, moving them from #3 to #1. Any tips? or did I miss your point all together? I ordered your "Do It Tomorrow" book yesterday, hope to see it here on Okinawa in a couple of weeks. Thank you.vjc
February 16, 2007 at 6:44 | Unregistered CommenterVictoria on Okinawa
Hi, Victoria

I think the answer is that "have to's" relate to your goals. If your goal is to draw and paint every day, then it is a "have to". So presumably it would then fall into #1.

Of course it is important that you keep making sure that you only have as many goals as you have time to do properly. This is where you decide what your real life priorities are.

Mark
February 17, 2007 at 11:04 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Thank you Mark, I have read your book and am reading it for a 2nd time. I believe your statement in your comment "Of course it is important that you keep making sure that you only have as many goals as you have time to do properly." is my problem I do have an extreme amount of goals that all seem equally important to me. I have been reading "Refuse to Choose" and "The Reniessance Soul". They have been helpful but I still have an overload of goals. I'll keep researching until I figure it out. Any other tips to limiting goals that all seem equally important?

Thanks,vjc
March 5, 2007 at 2:32 | Unregistered CommenterVictoria on Okinawa
Hi, Victoria

You need to remember the old saying "You can do anything, but you can't do everything". Deciding on your goals is like going into a restaurant and chosing items off the menu. You can't eat the whole menu, so you have to chose what will make a meal you can eat. You can always come back another day and try some of the other dishes.

If all else fails, try chosing between some of your possible goals on a purely random basis. That can help get rid of the feeling that you have to chose the "right" goal. See my recent blog posting "The Random Element".
March 5, 2007 at 17:12 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Thank you Mark, have tried the Random Factor many times but ended up still not getting to the one thing I really wanted to get to. But I have been pondering your "How to Finish Books Once You Started Them" process I'm thinking maybe this is a way to apply it to my goal selecting. Maybe per day or per week not sure yet but do it the same way of not adding anything else to those 3 or 5 goals until I've finished one of the others or decide to let one of the 3 or 5 go and substitute the new goal but to not have anymore than 3 or 5 going at any one time. Still thinking on this but it may be a direction to start with. Thank you again, vjc
March 7, 2007 at 1:05 | Unregistered CommenterVictoria on Okinawa
Hi, Victoria

If you already know what "the one thing I really wanted to get to" is, then why not just do it?

You might also find helpful my latest comment to Alessandro at http://www.markforster.net/display/ShowPost?moduleId=821779&discussionId=15242&postId=193890#post200195 .
March 7, 2007 at 10:02 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Good question Mark, in fact, after I wrote my comment I thought the same thing, why didn't I just do the one thing I wanted to do? It came to me that I had not really alloted time for it, so I did today and so did some of what I really wanted to do. Your advice to Alessandro is interesting too I'll need to study it over and processes it to my mind. A lot of great info is on that post.
Thank, vjc.
March 7, 2007 at 13:49 | Unregistered CommenterVictoria on Okinawa
what are the differant quadrants?
June 21, 2010 at 10:46 | Unregistered Commenterjudy
Mark already described all this above. Here's a semi-graphical attempt to do the same.


1 | 2
--+--
3 | 4

Important
--------------------
Not important


|
|
Urgent | Not Urgent
|
|


Q1: Important and Urgent

Q2: Important but Not Urgent -- for most people, their "real work" is here but you have to be pro-active to deal with it

Q3: Urgent but not important -- the urgency draws our attention but we need to resist it

Q4: Not urgent and not important
June 25, 2010 at 1:09 | Unregistered CommenterSeraphim
The method doesnt belong to covey.
IT comes from eisenhower.
The legend says that he prepared the french liberation with it. I used it years ago i found it nice for big rocks but difficult with tasks. The difficulty is to choose betwwen tasks a,b,c a(urgent and important) is ok urgent but not important is ok too important things are difficult because the help to succed tasks a and they must be done on time blocked.
July 10, 2010 at 16:57 | Unregistered CommenterJupiter
It is an interesting thought.A mobile phone app for the same would help implementing this.The traditional todo apps have the tasks organized by date and simple priority.
October 8, 2011 at 12:25 | Unregistered CommenterSAGAR JHOBALIA
I still prefer these quadrants over Covey's for making decisions about what is important and what is urgent. I wondered if there is some relationship between these quadrants and the newer Super-Focus method? Particularly the "urgent" column 2.
October 9, 2011 at 20:27 | Unregistered Commenterhareline
I'm glad I got around to responding to Sagar on this, because it allowed me go back and read Mark's excellent discussion at the top of this thread. ("... the thing you should do first is what you are resisting the most.")

Also, <<The result is that a lot of things that don’t have to be done get done, while a lot of things that do have to be done don’t get done. Sound familiar?>>

Sagar Jhobalia said:
<<It is an interesting thought. A mobile phone app for the same would help implementing this.The traditional todo apps have the tasks organized by date and simple priority.>>

There is one! It is called Priority Matrix, by Appfluence LLC.

http://www.appfluence.com/support-priority-matrix-itunes

http://itunes.apple.com/au/app/priority-matrix/id364906005?mt=8
March 16, 2012 at 17:31 | Registered CommenterBKK
For the history this method of quadrant was not invented by covey but by Eisenhower during world war 2. it is indeed interesting how covey caught it and popularized it.
March 16, 2012 at 20:41 | Unregistered CommenterJupiter
A critical missing point is that for "urgent but not important", Eisenhower advises *delegation* not deferral. Easy said when you're a 5 star general but if you can take the same approach if you have employees, children, a spouse or the financial means to hire out tasks.
July 7, 2016 at 15:03 | Unregistered CommenterTerry Thorsen

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