As I prepare for Rosh HaShana I have been giving some thought to how I might better use my time this coming year. I got to thinking about Stephen Covey ’s Four Quadrants. I have found this concept of a time management matrix for prioritizing very helpful. The system asks you to use of four quadrants to determine the tasks you “need” to do and deciding what should be made a priority. For those who are not familiar with it, here’s a picture and a brief overview.
- In Quadrant 1 (top left) we have important, urgent items – items that need to be dealt with immediately.
- In Quadrant 2 (top right) we have important, but not urgent items – items that are important but do not require your immediate attention, and need to be planned for. This quadrant is highlighted because this is the quadrant that we should focus on for long-term achievement of goals
- In Quadrant 3 (bottom left) we have urgent, but unimportant items - items which should be minimized or eliminated. These activities suck a lot of out time.
- In Quadrant 4 (bottom right) we have unimportant and also not urgent items – items that don’t have to be done anytime soon, perhaps add little to no value and also should be minimized or eliminated.
In Covey’s words we should create habits that put “first things first“ to achieve effectiveness. Too often decisions are guided by the “clock” of scheduling and not by the “compass” of purpose and values. In Covey’s words, if people want “to live, to love, to learn, and to leave a legacy” they need to move beyond “urgency” . We need to strive to spend more of our time in the Quadrant 2.
So while preparing for the upcoming Jewish and academic years I get to reading the end of Nitzavim, this week’s Torah portion. There we read:
15 See, I have set before you this day life and good, and death and evil, 16 in that I command you this day to love the Lord your God, to walk in God’s ways, and to keep God’s commandments and God’s statutes and God’s ordinances; then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God shall bless you in the land when you go in to possess it. 17 But if your heart turn away, and you will not hear, but shalt be drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them; 18 I declare to you this day, that you shall surely perish; you shall not prolong your days upon the land, when you pass over the Jordan to go in to possess it. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life, that you may live, you and your seed. (Deuteronomy 30: 15-19)
It is interesting to realize that our lives are on a clock. We have no idea how long we have, but we do know that our time on earth is finite. It is also interesting to realize that the words “good and evil” are charged with meaning in the Bible. I am not sure that there is absolute good and evil after Eden. I would assume that good actually means that something is serving the expressed will of God. So instead of reading this as a simple choice of two paths, I prefer to see our Torah portion in the context of Covey’s Four Quadrants. While we hope to spend the most of our time doing things that are urgent and good, I have to realize that there are many things that take our time and are not mission aligned. I am not sure that they are false gods, but they are clearly a waste of the precious little time I have and de facto bringing me closer to death.
And more importantly, how much of this upcoming year am I going to commit to doing the things that are not urgent, but are good? Spending our time in the 2nd Quadrant is clearly the divine way. There is much I hope to accomplished in my life, what am I doing to do this year to prioritize my time to achieve it? May we all be blessed to have a year in the 2nd Quadrant.
Shanah Tova- Have a wonderfully sweet and mission aligned New Year.