This was a high-powered team successfully leading a highly valued company. But you’d never know it by their faces. I could see the rings around the blood-shot eyes, hair turning prematurely gray, gray ashen color in their faces. Yet here I was, a smile on my face, full of energy, ready to help them become better leaders. When I looked at those faces I knew this day wasn’t going to turn out well but I didn’t know what else to do. So off I went, talking about leadership models.
Even though they were game to learn, it didn’t take long before one of them said, “Ron, we can’t focus on your leadership model until you can save our lives. We’re spending so many hours working we’re ruining our lives, our families, and our health. Help!
All those wonderful PowerPoint slides I had prepared for this retreat now looked useless and meaningless. This team needed help far beyond what I had prepared for. We needed to talk.
The projector was turned off, the laptop was closed, the phones shut down. What was going on? One person began to talk. He spoke of the excitement, motivation, and dedication he had for the company and its purpose. Others nodded in agreement. But…. he had missed several of his children’s events, hadn’t had an evening meal at home with his family in weeks, didn’t remember the last Saturday he took off or when he had taken his last vacation. He was dying.
I listened to several other stories that were each different but were all the same. They had to get off this treadmill. They were destroying the lives their work and accomplishments were meant to enhance. What could we do?
I remembered Steven Covey’s book Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. Habit three was “Put first things first.” Figure out where your time is going and plot it on the 2X2 grid of Urgent and Important. The four quadrants then become:
- Important and Urgent
- Important and not-Urgent
- Not Important but Urgent
- Not Important and Not Urgent
His observation was that all successful people did indeed work on Quadrant 1, Important and Urgent, but the highly successful people then worked on Quadrant 2 rather than being lured into Quadrant 3, Not Important but Urgent.
Over the next few weeks I had this team record where all their time was being spent (they were averaging over 70 hours per week). After helping each other identify which Quadrant their time had fallen into, the horrible truth was that only about 20% fell into Quadrant 1 and about 80% fell into Quadrant 3. One leader, nearly in tears, said: “Did I spend nearly 60 hours last week working on unimportant items?” Yes.
How do good people fall into this trap?
I recently saw the Covey Time Management Quadrants identified as the Eisenhower Box. Covey may have also credited Eisenhower but the Eisenhower Box added an important element. What should be done with each Quadrant?
- Important and Urgent – DO, Do it Now
- Important and not-Urgent – DECIDE, Schedule it
- Not Important but Urgent – DELEGATE, Pass it on
- Not Important and Not Urgent – DELETE, Eliminate it
I think the reason most people get into this overworked state is they treat Quadrant 3 (Delegate) like it’s Quadrant 1 (Do it). Instead of delegating it, their ego gets in the way. It’s faster to do it themselves than teach someone else to do it (or some similar excuse). They don’t trust others to do it as well (usually called perfectionism). And the excuses go on and on.
Get out of Quadrant 3 (Urgent but Not Important). It’s killing you. It’s killing your family. It’s killing your relationships. It’s killing your company.