In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey devoted a chapter to putting first things first and later developed into his book, Putting First Things First. He suggested our activities can be categorized on two dimensions: “urgent—not urgent” and “important—not important,” thus creating a matrix. Using these dimensions, we can classify our activities into one of four areas. So how do we spend our time? How much time do we spend on “not urgent, not important” activities? More importantly, how much do we spend on “important, not urgent." The importance of investing time in the “important but not urgent” is repeated in Clay Christensen’s How Will You Measure Your Life. Both would argue this is the area where our relationships often fall and can be too easily neglected.
My favorite, and I think the best, self-study questions come from Henry Mintzberg, his 1975 Harvard Business Review (July-August) article, “The Manager’s Job: Folklore and Fact.” His questions should be in the desk drawer of every manager. Here is an example from Mintzberg’s self-study questions:
12. Do I spend too much time on current, tangible activities? Am I a slave to the action and excitement of my work, so that I am no longer able to concentrate on issues? Do key problems receive the attention they deserve? Should I spend more time reading and probing deeply into certain issues? Could I be more reflective? Should I be?
Taking the time to reflect on our use of time seems difficult. We are always busy. But it is probably one of the best uses of our time.
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