One of my staff members recently shared with me an article published by the Harvard Business Review titled ‘Beware the Busy Manager’. In the article the two authors, Heike Bruch and Sumantra Goshal, state that 90% of managers “squander their time in all sorts of ineffective activities. In other words, a mere 10% of managers spend their time in a committed, purposeful, and reflective manner.” The numbers are staggering but, in my humble opinion, they reflect the whirlwind of activities and experience of what, today, we call life.
Years ago, in my personal study of personal and professional leadership, I came across a similar concept exemplified by Stephen R. Covey as the Time Management Matrix. The Matrix places human activities into four quadrants based on time management: 1) Urgent and Important; 2) Not Urgent and Important; 3) Urgent and Not Important; and 4) Not Urgent and Not Important. He then further identifies the qualifiers for each quadrant. For instance, we all face Quadrant 1 (Urgent and Important) activities such crises, pressing problems, deadlines, ect. almost on a daily basis. And how many times have we engaged in activities in Quadrant 3 (Urgent but Not Important) such as interruptions, some phone calls, some meetings, etc. I certainly hope we do not waste too much time in Quadrant 4 (Not Urgent and Not Important) in activities such as excessive TV, videogame playing, time wasters, etc. because if we do, we are not spending enough time in Quadrant 2.
Quadrant 2 (Not Urgent but Important) is time spent in planning, pondering and reflecting, clarifying values, building relationships, true re-creation, and empowerment. Stephen Covey calls this quadrant the quadrant of renewal. He asserts that we should spend at least 25% of our time in quadrant 2. By doing so, we substantially reduce time spent in a crises mode, not to mention time spent in the not important activities of quadrant 3 and 4. I personally add that the time spent in quadrant 2 is time that will make you feel motivated, energized, and having a purpose.
While this principle of personal renewal is now considered an important part of successful leadership in the corporate and professional world, it is a principle that applies to all life activities and has been the backbone of healthy spiritual and mind teaching by many religions and philosophies since almost the beginning of time.
For instance, Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chodron wrote the following in her book ‘When Things Fall Apart’: “We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen.” In other words, she suggests to take the time to put ourselves outside of the picture and observe the ebb and flow of events and the act of living in order to understand the steps to take to make us happy and fulfilled.
This is also a teaching of traditional Christianity. Both in the Jewish and Christian traditions, time for prayer and meditation is critical to a balanced and fulfilling life. Meditation is considered a form of prayer where we place our thought in commune with the Holy Spirit to understand the truth of all things. In addition, the weekly appointment of the traditional Christian to partaking of the sacrament remembering the events of the Last Supper becomes the epitome of the daily encounter with the Holy Spirit. On this subject, religious leader Melvin J. Ballard stated: “… the sacrament table…is the place for self-investigation, for self-inspection where we may learn to rectify our course…bringing ourselves into harmony…”
I wish to leave these thoughts with a quote that summarizes the principles I have tried to exemplify today: “One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it’s expressed in the choices one makes. In the long run we shape our lives and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.” (Eleanor Roosevelt) So, take the time to push the pause button. You will be glad you did.