Managing Time as a Parent with the Time Management Matrix
Managing time as a parent is tough. It gets particularly tricky with each additional child because they all have their own agendas and have a hard time seeing yours. So as a parent, knowing what your priorities are, and how to spend your time is critical.
In his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey gives leaders a tool to help with time management that also applies to parents. Managing time as a parent becomes a lot easier when you’re familiar with the Time Management Matrix and put it into practice. The matrix looks like this:
The matrix has four quadrants, labeled I-IV. In summary, they are:
- Urgent and important
- Important, but not urgent
- Urgent, but not important
- Not urgent, not important
Living in a Land Full of Crises
As parents, we often find ourselves in the thick of Quadrant I activities. Jimmy has football practice and it overlaps with Julie’s piano recital, but Frank has to work late. Or the baby has a messy diaper and has been crying for the last 10 minutes, but you’re on hold with the doctor’s office trying to figure out why they over billed you. Many parents feel swept up in the “urgent” parts of life, and it makes it difficult to feel like they’ve done anything “important”. This is where changes in how you prioritize your day can go a long way. As Dr. Covey explains,
Quadrant I is both urgent and important. It deals with significant results that require immediate attention. We usually call the activities in Quadran I “crises” or “problems.” We all have some Quadrant I activities in our lives. But Quadrant I consumes many people. They are crisis managers, problem-minded people, deadline-driven producers.
As long as you focus on Quadrant I, it keeps getting bigger and bigger until it dominates you. It’s like the pounding surf. A huge problem comes and knocks you down and you’re wiped out. You struggle back up only to face another one that knocks you down and slams you to the ground.
Some people are literally beaten up by problems all day every day. The only relief they have is in escaping to the not important, not urgent activities of Quadrant IV. So when you look at their total matrix, 90 percent of their time is in Quadrant I and most of the remaining 10 percent is in Quadrant IV, with only negligible attention paid to Quadrants II and III. That’s how people who manage their lives by crisis live.
Sound familiar? There are some parents who live exactly like this because they aren’t able to effectively get in front of the crises to manage their life proactively. Managing time as a parent is about identifying your priorities and spending your time on those things. It doesn’t mean you don’t change diapers – but it does mean you effectively manage other areas of life so those crises are reduced to inconveniences. That’s where you plan to make the phone call to the doctor when baby is napping, instead of flopping on the couch and scrolling Facebook as you slip mindlessly into Quadrant IV. Yes, it takes self-discipline. It’s also what keeps you out of Quadrant I.
Effectively Managing Time as a Parent Means Living in Quadrant II
Fortunately, Dr. Covey gives us the solution:
Effective people stay out of Quadrants III and IV because, urgent or not, they aren’t important. They also shrink Quadrant I down to size by spending more time in Quadrant II.
Quadrant II is the heart of effective personal management. It deals with things that are not urgent, but are important. It deals with things like building relationships, writing a personal mission statement, long-range planning, exercising, preventive maintenance, preparation – all those things we know we need to do, but somehow seldom get around to doing, because they aren’t urgent.
To paraphrase Peter Drucker, effective people are not problem-minded; they’re opportunity-minded. They feed opportunities and starve problems. They think preventively. They have genuine Quadrant I crises and emergencies that require their immediate attention, but the number is comparatively small.
So What’s Really Important?
Managing time as a parent by living in Quadrant II frees you up to do the important stuff. I think that as parents, most of us have a picture in our minds of the kind of parent we would like to be. But the crises from Quadrant I often prevent us from really living in Quadrant II. It’s a bit of a catch-22 because if we spent more time in Quadrant II and starved the crises, then Quadrant I would demand less of our attention. To make that transition you have to really focus on what is actually important to you. Only then will you know where to invest your time.
Your first step in effectively managing time as a parent should be to take 15 minutes and consider what’s truly important to you. Write those things down. If it helps, write why those things are important to you. Then, when you have another 15 minutes, go for a walk and think of what you can do to improve those parts of your life. As Dr. Covey suggests, focus on being “opportunity-minded,” not “problem-minded.” In other words, don’t look at what’s wrong with those things and try to fix them. Rather look at what you want those things to be and consider how to close the gap and achieve your parental vision.
In fact, being “opportunity-minded” may be the most important message from this part of Dr. Covey’s book. The same situation can look very different depending on how you approach it:
“Billy is spending too much time watching TV. He doesn’t get enough outside play time. How can I get him off the TV?” This looks at Billy as a part of a problem, and how you approach Billy will reflect that. He’ll pick up on the undertones in your approach and may feel like he’s doing something wrong.
“Billy is spending too much time watching TV. He doesn’t get enough outside play time. What can we do outside together that he will enjoy?” This changes from focusing on correcting Billy’s behavior to focusing on making something positive. This change in thinking can be huge!
Is Quadrant I Really Quadrant I?
Perhaps one of the biggest errors I suspect that many of us make is in miscategorizing Quadrant III events as Quadrant I events. In other words, the ringing telephone might feel like Quadrant I…but chances are it’s really Quadrant III (urgent, but not important). So whenever you’re starting to feel stressed by something that feels both urgent and important, pause for a brief moment. Take a deep breath. Ask yourself: Is that really, truly important? If it is, then the deep breath will help you deal with it better. If it isn’t, then let it go and focus on what’s actually important.
Another way to look at it is to consider how the Quadrant I activity ties into your 15 minute list of important things. If you can easily make the connection and it feels important, go for it. But if you can’t, it’s OK to let it go.
Managing Time as a Parent is Your Road to Freedom
Aside from the time suck, the main reason Quadrant I is such a burden is because it drains your energy. Quadrant II is the key that allows you to really begin managing time as a parent as a foundation to focusing on energy management. Spending more time in Quadrant II puts you behind the driver’s seat of the car with both hands firmly on the wheel. (Quadrant I feels more like you’re stuck in the trunk of a rally car.) It’s what makes the difference between feeling ragged and feeling like you’ve got a handle on life. Yes, it takes self-discipline – but it’s completely worth it.
So what about you? What is your secret to managing time as a parent? Let me know in the comments, or Contact me to tell me your story.