My plans to retrace Captain Cook's unfinished voyage have been postponed a year while I work on the next Marine Diesel Basics book and get my new boat SV Oceandrifter ready for sea.
I take no credit for the ideas in this post – I’m repeating one of Steven Covey’s seminal teachings in his book, “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People“. You may have read the book yourself and if not, I highly recommend settling down with a copy and a notebook and working through his ideas and strategies. If you want to be more effective in your life, if you want to create the best conditions for you to continue learning and growing as a human being, Covey’s book is a must-read, must-study.
One of the basic building blocks to improve self-awareness and your awareness of society, culture and the people around you, is the square with four boxes. Covey’s square is an important and effective tool for two purposes: 1) diagnosing where your efforts go each day (are you doing the things you say you most want to accomplish, if not, why not?) 2) a major help to creating a paradigm shift so that you can clear the clutter in your life and focus on what is most important to you.
Stephen Covey wrote in his book:
“Your life doesn’t just “happen.” Whether you know it or not, it is carefully designed by you. The choices, after all, are yours. You choose happiness. you choose sadness. you choose decisiveness. You choose ambivalence. You choose success. You choose failure. You choose courage. You choose fear. Just remember that every moment, every situation, provides a new choice. And in doing so, it gives you a perfect opportunity to do things differently to produce more positive results.
Yet how can we make good decisions about what to choose? How can we learn to choose more wisely. Covey’s whole book is essentially an answer to thse questions. And central to his strategies is his simple Square. (Sorry, of course it’s become an oblong in this representation):
1 Urgent, not Important
3 Important, Not Urgent
2 Urgent, Important,
4 Not urgent, Not important
Questions to ask yourself:
1) Which box am I spending most of my time? Doing things that are urgent but not really important (putting out fires) or perhaps ticking things off a to do list that aren’t urgent and aren’t even important (rearranging the books on my shelf again.)
2) Which box should be my highest priority, from a long-term point of view?
You may be surprised that it’s NOT box 2. Doing what’s urgent and important may have to be your top priority in the short term. But it’s a strategy that is short-sighted over the long-term because too often what’s urgent begins to runs us and we gradually come to feel more and more like a hamster on a treadmill.
The most important box – where we need to focus our energies to be effective over a lifetime – is BOX 3. Focusing on what’s important but NOT urgent means taking time:
a) to know ourselves,
b) to better understand the miracle of life,
c) to plan for the future,
d) to learn new skills,
e) to appreciate the beauty of the world
f) to seek wisdom, in all its miriad manifestations.
Of course, easy to say but harder to do, like anything worthwhile in life. I was reminded of Stephen Covey’s seminal book as I was about to write another post, on exponential growth. It’s not a subject that springs to mind when we climb out of bed each morning yet it is probably the single most important factor in deciding how we spend our time and energy each day of our lives. I’ll leave explaining why until I write that post.
But as I was thinking of this, I recognized that few people have time to think about something that is so important yet not, in the scramble of everyday, so urgent. Thinking about exponential growth can wait until tomorrow. How many other influences on our lives do we put off into the future?
At the height of the dot com bubble I was heavily invested in a Canadian company called Nortel. The stocks had gone up and up and up. One Saturday, the Globe and Mail newspaper ran a full page article asking whether the price could go higher and if the sky-high price was justified at all. I saw the article and thought, “I must read that.” But it was a beautiful summer’s afternoon and I wanted to go sailing (urgent and not important), so I promised myself to read the article later. Of course I didn’t until events focused my mind (urgent and important); the Nortel stock was falling like a dead pigeon on the stock market. Fortunately, I was able to sell out on the next mini-rally with only a small percentage loss before the stock dived to less than 3% of its highest price. But I’ve never forgotten the importance of BOX THREE – stay focused on what’s truly important not urgent.
Steven Covey official website of the book with an excellent summary of the main ideas of “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”.