Planning Ahead

The trustees of New College in Oxford, England, discovered that the oak roof beams in its centuries-old Great Hall were infested by beetles. The beams had to be replaced, but the college had no extra funds to spare on this expensive project.

The trustees decided to try every source available to find oak at a good price, so they began with the college’s forester and asked whether there were any suitable trees that might be found on college land.

The trustees were surprised and happy to learn that there was a stand of trees that would do. In fact, these trees had been planted in the 1300s expressly for the purpose of one day replacing the oak beams! Though there was no documentation about the stand of trees, every college forester over the centuries had maintained the oral tradition of telling his successor that the trees were not to be touched until beetles had infested the oak beams.

Stephen Covey would call this a Q2 activity. According to his time matrix, activities in quadrant two are important but not urgent. Here we find activities that lead to productivity and balance in our lives. It was important for the foresters to plant those trees, but it certainly wasn’t urgent hundreds of years before they were even needed. Planting the trees was a Q2 activity at the time. Most of us don’t plant our trees before we need them. Rather, we live in Q1, the quadrant of activities that are urgent and important. This is the quadrant where we find activities that are necessary to do. They were probably important (Q2) before they became necessary (Q1), but we procrastinated until we couldn’t wait any longer to do them.

Quadrants 3 & 4 are characterized by activities that are unimportant. Some are urgent but not important (Q3), like answering a ringing phone that turns out to be a wrong number or dealing with an interruption to our work. They look urgent at first; then we realize they weren’t. That’s why Q3 is the quadrant of deception. Others are neither urgent nor important (Q4), like doing things to excess or doing things that are destructive. Often, we do Q4 activities when we are trying to avoid Q1 or Q2 activities that we don’t enjoy doing, and often even good activities (relaxation, reading, exercising…) can become Q4 activities if we do them too much or for the wrong reasons.

While Q1 activities need to be done, the problem with living in this quadrant is that it always costs us more than it would have had we taken care of the activity while it was still in Q2. For example, if we spent some time today on that project that’s due next month (Q2 – important but not urgent), it would cost us a lot less than it will if we wait until the deadline (in stress and quality of our work).

As the proverb goes, the best time to plant a tree was thirty years ago; the next best time is today. Got any trees you need to plant?

(Time Matrix Source – FranklinCovey)


1 Comment

Filed under delayed gratification, importance, Instant Gratification, planning, Prioritize, Priority, urgency

One response to “Planning Ahead

  1. Dan

    If you would like to implement some of Stephen Covey’s best ideas, you can use this web aplication:

    You can use it to manage and prioritize your Goals (in each of your life’s categories), projects and tasks, in an intuitive interface. It has a Checklists section, for the repetitive activities you have to do, important but not urgent (Quadrant II, for example your routines/habits). Also, it features a Schedules section and a Calendar, for scheduling you time, activities and for the weekly review.

    Some features from GTD are also present, like Contexts and Next Actions.

    And it’s available on the mobile phone too, so you can access it wherever you are.

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