Since first introduced by Stephen Covey, the four quadrants became so popular. As everyone knows, these four quadrants help us to identify tasks that need attention by tagging them with their importance and urgency. Here are the four quadrants and their significance at a glance:
I (U,I) – Quadrant 1:
This quadrant has Urgent and Important tasks. This is your crucial quadrant and if you do not attend to tasks in this quadrant, the sky will fall on your head. The fact that the tasks in this quadrant are both urgent and important gives them the significance. Not attending to these tasks can lead to a disaster. These tasks are better called true or genuine emergencies.
II (NU,I) – Quadrant II:
This is your second most crucial quadrant where you have silent dwellers who are worth attending to immediately. Although these tasks do no claim your attention, they indeed need attention. So even though it is not necessary that you attend to these tasks right now, you should take care of these tasks then and there in a slow and orderly fashion.
For instance, getting a general health check up, working on your annual appraisal and so on. You either don’t have a deadline for these tasks or you do have a deadline which is quite far. These two aspects make these tasks not urgent but at the same time develops a lethargic attitude inside us in attending to them. In a world where people tend to work only under pressure and in the presence of a strict deadline, these poor tasks never manage to get our attention. But these are the ones that need attention more often and in a regular manner.
III (U,NI) – Quadrant III:
The tasks in these quadrant do tricks to get your attention. They scream at you, but bet you, they are not at all important. An instant message like ‘Do you want a FREE doughnut? Come downstairs and grab it from my desk’ during office hours is an example. Since this message is sent to all your colleagues, you really have to go immediately in order to make sure you get one; that proves the urgency of the task. But you can also survive without that doughnut, it isn’t important.
IV (NU,NI) – Quadrant IV:
When I first read about the four quadrants, and when I finished reading about the third and was about to move over to the fourth, I asked myself the question ‘Are there tasks in our day to day life that are neither important nor urgent? Why did Covey put up such a model?’ But then I sadly realized that most part of people’s life and time are consumed in dealing with quadrant IV tasks. That’s a sad fact.
So these tasks are neither important nor urgent but they keep you busy. All sorts of distractions and time wasters come into this quadrant. The trick is that these tasks give you an impression that you are doing something related to your job or business but actually you are simply wasting your time. At the end of the day these tasks make you tired as if you have worked hard and had been productive, thus covering up the truth that you have not done anything useful.
So here, you know about the four quadrants and the respective tasks of your life/business. You know where to put a task. The next time you write a to-do list, do not write it as a one dimensional list, but make it two dimensional. Create space with four quadrants and put the tasks in the appropriate quadrant. This will give you an idea about how productive you are and will tell you if you do treat the tasks in the way they should be treated.