Last month, there was an event that caused me to stop what I was doing and think back to 1989. That was the year I purchased The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, a book written by Stephen Covey. The event that caused me to stop and think about Covey’s book was a report on the news that he had passed away. Covey died on July 16, 2012, at the age of 79. At the time of his death, he was a professor at the John Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University.
Although Stephen Covey wrote several books, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was the book he was best known for. It was eventually published in 38 languages, and to date, more than 25 million copies have been sold throughout the world. Here are some of my favorite Stephen Covey quotes:
• “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
• “Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.”
• “I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.”
• “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.”
• “To change ourselves effectively, we first had to change our perceptions.”
• “You can’t talk your way out of a problem you behaved your way into!”
• “We are not human beings on a spiritual journey. We are spiritual beings on a human journey.”
• “Words are like eggs dropped from great heights. You could no more call them back than ignore the mess they left when they fell.”
• “If I really want to improve my situation, I can work on the one thing over which I have control – myself.”
Although Covey was known as an author, businessman, educator, and motivational speaker, he was first and foremost a family man. He believed that the most significant work a person could do in life and in the world was the work that went on within the four walls of the person’s home.
One of the most valuable concepts that Covey came up with was his now-famous Time Management Matrix. He introduced the Time Management Matrix in First Things First, a book he wrote in 1995. An image of the matrix is shown at the beginning of this article.
Covey’s Time Management Matrix consists of four quadrants: (1) the Quadrant of Necessity; (2) the Quadrant of Quality and Personal Leadership; (3) the Quadrant of Deception; and (4) the Quadrant of Waste. Here’s a brief explanation of the types of activities that apply to each of the four quadrants:
Quadrant 1: Important and urgent activities that (a) are either an emergency or have become a crisis; (b) have hard deadlines; or (c) represent problems that need to be dealt with immediately.
Quadrant 2: Important and not urgent activities that are necessary for a person to lead a happy, healthy, and balanced life.
Quadrant 3: Not important but urgent activities that a person feels a need to give attention to but, in reality, can afford to put off for another time.
Quadrant 4: Not important and not urgent activities that a person engages in that are a complete waste of time.
If you were to write down every activity you perform or engage in over the next month, at the end of the month you would find that the majority of your time was spent on activities that fell within quadrants 1, 3, and 4.
While we are naturally drawn toward the performance of urgent activities that scream out to us for attention, we are also drawn toward activities that allow us to escape from responsibility or make us feel as though we are accomplishing something when we’re really not.
Most of us fail to routinely schedule time to engage in activities that are important to our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Why? One reason is there is no urgency attached to those activities. Of course, when a crisis arises, such as a mental breakdown, a cancer diagnosis, or the sudden death of a family member or friend, these types of important activities become urgent.
Covey came up with his Time Management Matrix prior to the invention of cell phone texting, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, activities that fall within quadrants 3 and 4. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that today, in 2012, a large segment of our population spends more of their time than ever before on non-important and wasteful activities. At the same time, there are more people than ever who are spiritually bankrupt, overweight, out of shape, and/or taking drugs for mental and emotional issues.
I have a question for you: If you knew you were going to die sometime within the next 12 months, which of the Time Management Matrix quadrants would you focus on the most in preparing yourself and your loved ones for your death?
It would probably be quadrant 2, the quadrant of quality and personal leadership. From a spiritual standpoint, you could be persuaded to commit to a weekly holy hour in the perpetual adoration chapel, attendance at daily Mass, and maybe even a daily rosary.
The problem we all have is that we don’t know when our time on this earth will be over. We could die tonight, tomorrow, a year from now, or 30 years from now. If we want to spend eternity in heaven, we need to be willing to commit to routinely engaging in quadrant 2 spiritual activities, which should include daily prayer, sacrifice, and the performance of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
There is going to be a day when someone who cares about you stops what he is doing when he hears about your death. Will that person get an opportunity to see you again in eternity? It all depends on what you’re willing to commit to today.