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How Are You Managing Your Time?

Are you always fighting fires that don't really matter?

Procrastination is NOT a time management problem. However, if you're procrastinating, chances are you're managing your time very poorly. Why? It's because you haven't established what's important in your life - your purpose and meaning.

The figure below is Stephen Covey's now quite famous "Time Management Matrix." His "7 habits" book has sold over 15 million copies. I'll bet this is familiar to you.

Of course, academics are typically suspicious of anyone who can simplify things and make a lot of money with their ideas. ☺ It's the academic criticism of the "self-help" genre. That said, Stephen Covey says a lot of important things. He gained me as a fan by revealing his existentialist roots with his reference back to Victor Frankl at the outset of his book. I think his overall focus is clear and right on the mark.

Given how popular his work is, I won't summarize it at length. I'll just begin by noting that his focus on the time-management matrix is part of Habit #3 - Put first things first. In sum, he argues that we need to spend our time and effort with the type of tasks listed in the second quadrant (Important and Not Urgent), as these are truly important to us and are not done, ineffectively, at the last minute.

Most importantly, this habit, as with many "step-like" programs, will only be successful if you first achieve the earlier habits. In this case, both Habit #1 - Be Proactive, and Habit #2 - Begin with the end in mind, must be established.

Habit 1 and Habit 2 build a base of agency and purpose, respectively. First, by acknowledging our responsibility in life to make and own our choices, Habit #1 establishes us as responsible, active agents in the world. With this established, Habit #2 provides the focus for this agentic action. With Habit 2, we answer the question, "What is my purpose?" We establish a mission statement, a vision for our lives.

Habits 1 and 2 establish our active agency in the world and the vision that will guide our goal setting. Once this is done, the Time-Management Matrix is a "no brainer" as they say. With my purpose clearly in mind and my deep commitment to self as an active agent in the world, I know that I must choose to be proactive with the type of activities listed in Quadrant #2.

Is it really this simple? Yes.

Is it really this simple? Yes.

That is, if you have done the hard work of the first two habits that Covey presents. In essence, Covey operates from an existentialist perspective by acknowledging the primacy of our existence. This entails our conscious awareness of our agency and our need to create purpose in our lives through our choices. To the extent that we do this, we will authentically engage in life in a way that simplifies.

It's easy to know when we haven't established Habits 1 & 2. If you look at the matrix and lament the fact that you're always caught up in the activities in the other Quadrants, particularly 3 and 4, you haven't developed your own vision of what's important. And, you're probably not taking responsibility for your choices. You're blaming others when you continue to say yes to "urgent" issues which, often as not, are not even that important.

Everyone in the time-management consulting business will tell you the same thing - "learn to say no." It is very difficult to say no until you have established your own sense of agency and purpose.

Procrastination is NOT about time management. Procrastinating less is not about schedules or time-management matrices. At its heart, it's about conscious awareness of existence as expressed in our agency, choice and purpose.

Do you want to procrastinate less? Spend time working on the first two habits. The rest will flow from this very authentic base of being in the world.

The cartoons below (two from our Carpe Diem series at is a light-hearted perspective on how procrastination is not about time management and scheduling in the traditional sense.

Covey, S.R. (1989). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful lessons in personal change. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Frankl, V. (1985). Man's search for meaning. New York: Pocket Books. (Note: first English translation published in 1959)