After a conversation with the boss-lady this morning about how to avoid getting sucked into the minutiae of the job, I printed off Stephen Covey’s time management matrix and gave her a copy.
“Oh my God,” she said. “I live in Quadrant 3.”
“Don’t we all,” I sighed.
In my personal life, I am much better at staying up in the desired Quadrant 2 where leadership and quality are nourished. I choose to write every night before bed, not because this is pressing (the world will go on if I don’t post on my blog), but because I have decided it matters. The same is true for morning Zumba, the nightly walk, the ongoing tasks associated with the housing search, and immersing myself in human development literature to support my son’s growth. These projects came about not because someone demanded them of me but because I chose to make them priorities. The urgency was not there, so I had to create a sense of urgency. These practices allow meaningful activities to enrich my life. I feel closer to my purpose. Also, new possibilities keep opening up and piquing my curiosity. I feel almost no pull towards the mind-numbing stuff that populates the Quadrant of Waste.
Work looks very little like that. At least, it doesn’t anymore. The first six months at the job, I was focused and directed because I had so much to learn and only 8 hours in which to learn it. Mastery required organization, and so I created it.
Two years later, it is easy to let myself coast. I respond quickly to the immediate but trivial items that fill up a calendar. Like so many of my university’s administrators, I am excellent at managing the little realm of my position and providing a useful service to my 150-ish students and assorted faculty and staff. All of us on this team are resourceful and efficient. We keep things humming.
We live on the left, skipping between 1 and 3, the Quadrants of Necessity and Deception. We feel like we are working hard because we are. Our students, supervisors, and faculty members commend us for doing very well at keeping on top of the complex admistrivia of our programs.
The cost of all this availability is that we fail to cultivate growth and change. When do we craft vision for new ways of operating? When do we turn off the immediacy and dig ourselves down into the deeper projects? We all have those phantom items on our to-do list, those things we know would open up new doors for us in our work and improve the practices in which we engage.
The top 10 items on my wish list include the following:
- Writing a monthly post related to PhD student development on the school’s news website
- Attending an annual conference of my professional organization
- Reaching out to the directors of two other university offices to craft a writing group on our campus for doctoral students (and possibly faculty) to support each other in writing for publication
- Calling up the woman who runs the lifelong learning institute to find out about partnership/teaching opportunities for our students
- Seeking out folks on the main campus who have similar roles in their units in order to begin building a network of graduate student services professionals
- Doing the same as in #5 with folks from the consortium of Washington area colleges and universities
- Teaming up with a faculty member to re-establish the teaching methods workshop series we ran in 2011
- Kick-starting the monthly lunchtime social hour for PhD students and faculty
- Involving myself in the university’s 10-year visioning process
- Cobbling together ideas to enhance wellness offerings for grad students on my campus
This is the first time I have ever written these items down in one coherent format. I am only peripherally aware of this list and am only marginally willing to acknowledge it, even here. It is a little frightening to write into existence the bigness of all we want to create in our professional lives. Considering how much sweat the small items require, who would want to take on more?
Unless that “more” can become both manageable and fun. Having uninterrupted time as an individual or a team to play with some of these projects might even turn them into play. It won’t work unless we know that the other urgent tasks will have our full focus at some pre-determined point later. Then we can relax enough to turn the attention towards grappling with bigger ideas.
It appears that a more systematic approach to the daily schedule is called for.
For me, the first step is tracking — and then letting go of — all the ways I let myself drift into the Quadrant of Waste during a workday.
This afternoon, I gave it a go. I am lucky to have good practices at home to guide me. There, I sit down an hour or so before bed and I simply begin writing. No aimless wandering, no trolling the internet, no pausing to watch a show on TV. Everything else steps aside and I write.
I did the same at the office. I told my boss I was shutting the door.
“Are you calling your realtor?” She asked.
“No! I’m going into Quadrant 2!”
“Oooh,” she grinned. “Good luck!”
And I did it. Two solid hours of reading, research, writing. I left the email for the end of the day when I knew my brain would not be on the bigger tasks anyway. By 4:00, I had completed the following:
- Read two dense scholarly articles on glucocorticoid responses to stress and their effects on learning
- Signed up to participate in the university’s Appreciative Inquiry visioning process next month
- Drafted a post for the department website
- Became a member of NASPA
- Navigated the university’s travel authorization system
- Began the process of registering for a spring conference in Orlando
I’m fired up for all the little seeds now germinating. Tomorrow and after the holiday break, it will be fun to start giving clearer shape to my work day so that I can water and weed as necessary.
Quadrant 2, baby! It’s my new home away from home!
More on Steven Covey’s ideas here.