Using Covey’s Quadrants to Be a Happy, More Effective Leader

Mastering the Art of Time Management

Are the best leaders those who are willing to sacrifice their own happiness for the good of their team? Conventional wisdom says they are, but research questions this. When you make a sacrifice, you are left with a sense of loss. Subconsciously, this may cause a leader to resent their people, those they have sacrificed for, especially if they underperform.

The sacrifices you make in your role as a leader can make you unhappy. You’ll start to make others feel unhappy, and unhappy teams underperform. Unhappy employees disengage from their work. 

Rather than making sacrifices, maintain a happy, engaging, and motivating persona by making choices that help you to maintain a healthy work/life balance. Using Covey’s Quadrants will help you do this.

What is making you an unhappy leader?

The most cited reason by managers for their unhappiness is overwork and stress. This affects the way you act and react. It affects your perception of your company’s strategy and its people. It develops into negativity and mistrust. It can harm your ability to be a good leader. 

Your unhappiness affects your team, in a bad way

Research by Gallup shows that as many as 70% of American employees are disengaged with work. The reason? Poor, ineffective managers. If you could reduce your stress and overwork, you could become a happier, more effective manager.

Covey’s Quadrants – your stress buster

If you can break through your stress and reduce the demands of work on your life, your mood will lift. You will develop a more positive environment at work, and you team’s morale will improve. Their productivity will follow suit.

Using Covey’s Quadrants will help you manage your time and tasks more effectively. Your schedule will become more manageable, and you will free up time to spend on more meaningful work. You will be less stressed, and happier. In short, when you self-manage more effectively, you lead more effectively.

Is it urgent? Is it important?

(diagram from creative commons)

Stephen Covey developed these four quadrants as a time and task management system, and their effectiveness has made ‘Covey’s Quadrants’ one of the most popular time management models today. By identifying the degree of importance and urgency of your tasks and activities, you can manage them more effectively. This will reduce your workload and ensure that you spend more time working on what Covey describes as your ‘big rocks’ – your professional and personal goals.

Covey suggests assigning your tasks and activities into four quadrants according to their urgency and importance.

In quadrant one, you place those things that are both urgent and important. These are the activities that require your immediate attention, such as unforeseen emergencies and work that is near its deadline.

Quadrant two is where all the important tasks are compiled. These are important, but not urgent. This may include networking, your strategic tasks, self-development activities, and so on. These are the activities that will help you accomplish your big rocks.

In quadrant three, you place your urgent but unimportant tasks. The things that make little difference to you now, but that must be done – answering emails, arranging meetings, making phone calls, etc. You may also include some interruptions here.

Finally, quadrant four is filled with all the things you do that are not urgent and are unimportant. Your real time wasters. For example, checking your social media account.

Which of Covey’s quadrants is your most active?

Most people spend most of their time in quadrants one and three. You do this because the tasks are urgent, and they must be done. These are the tasks that put you under pressure and cause the stress that make you unhappy.

The problem is that because you spend so much time on these tasks, you spend far less time than you should on achieving the tasks in quadrant two – the very things that will help you achieve your goals and be happier.

So, how do you use Covey’s Quadrants to do less and produce more? As Covey says:

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”

Where you should be focusing your time is in quadrant two. Here’s how to do this:

  • Eliminate quadrant four

Examine the activities in quadrant four. Consider how you can minimize these. For example:

  • Switch off your phone

  • Disconnect from social media

  • Put a ‘Do not disturb’ sign on your office door

  • Log off from your email

Schedule tasks like checking and responding to emails for twice daily, and add an autoresponder to let people know your email schedule.

  • Empty quadrant three

Now, turn your attention to quadrant three. The key with these tasks is to delegate as many as possible. If you can’t delegate, either delay, delete, or do. If a task will take only two minutes and it cannot be delegated, then do it. If it can be deleted, then do so.

  • Maximize delegation in quadrant one

Examining quadrant one, ask what can be delegated and delegate it. Anything that remains, you must do.

  • Over time, focus on quadrant two

As you take the above actions, you should have more time to spend in quadrant two – doing those things that will help you achieve your major goals. As you become a better time manager, fewer of these tasks will flow into quadrant one.

  • Make quadrant one empty, but available

The goal is to maintain an empty quadrant one and three, minimize time spent in quadrant four, and focus your effort on quadrant two. However, you should schedule time into each day in quadrant one. There are always emergencies, and this is where they will fall – but with time available to manage them, those emergencies can be handled swiftly and efficiently.

  • Review your Covey’s Quadrants daily and weekly

Review your Covey’s quadrants at the beginning and end of each day and week. Take pride in what you have achieved, and prepare to achieve more using Covey’s Quadrants tomorrow and next week.

Record how much time you have spent in each quadrant, and monitor your success. Awareness of how you spend your time is essential. It helps you develop the habits and techniques to improve your time management and address your work/life balance.

With more effective time management, you will need to sacrifice less, and you become a happier leader of a happier, more motivated, and more productive team.

Of course, time management is only one of the critical skills that leaders must equip themselves with today. Are your leaders fit to lead? Our leadership assessments will help you determine their strengths and weaknesses and coaching needs.

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