What to Do in Quadrants I and II
So what do Quadrant I and II actions look like? In college, Creators
attend class regularly. They take good notes. They do all assignments
to the best of their ability. They schedule conferences with their
instructors. They create study groups. They organize their notes and
study them often. They predict questions on upcoming tests and
carry the answers on 3 × 5 study cards. No external urgency
motivates them to take these purposeful actions. They create their
own urgency by a strong commitment to their valued goals and
By contrast, Victims spend much of their time in Quadrants III and IV,
where they repeat unproductive actions such as complaining,
blaming, excusing, and wasting time. Not surprisingly, they move
farther and farther off course each day.
If you want to know which quadrant you are in at any moment, ask
yourself this question: “Will what I’m doing now positively affect my
life one year from today?” If the answer is “yes,” you are in Quadrant I
or II. If the answer is “no,” you are probably in Quadrant III or IV.
Creators say “no” to Quadrant III and Quadrant IV activities.
Sometimes the choice requires saying “no” to other people: No, I’m
not going to be on your committee this semester. Thank you for asking.
Sometimes this choice requires saying “no” to themselves: No, I’m not
going to sleep late Saturday morning. I’m going to get up early and
study for the math test. Then I can go to the movies with my friends
without getting off course.
When we say “no” to Quadrants III and IV, we free up time to say
“yes” to Quadrants I and II. Imagine if you spent just 30 additional
minutes each day taking purposeful actions. Think how dramatically
that one choice could change the outcome of your life!
In this activity, you will assess the degree to which you are acting on purpose.
Your purpose! As you spend more time in Quadrants I and II, you will notice a
dramatic improvement in the results you are creating.
1. Write a list of 15 or more specific actions you have taken
in the past two days. (The actions are specific if someone could have
recorded you doing them with a video camera.)
2. Using an entire journal page, draw a four-quadrant chart like the
example in the article.
3. Write each action from your list in Step 1 in the appropriate quadrant
on your chart. After each action, put the approximate amount of time you
spent in the activity. For example, Quadrant IV might be filled with actions
such as these:
Watched TV (2 hours)
Phone call to Terry (1 hour)
Watched TV (3 hours)
Went to the mall and wandered around (2 hours)
Hung out in the cafeteria (2 hours)
Played video game (4 hours)
4. Write about what you have learned or relearned concerning your use
of time. And as a result, what will you do that you have not been
doing? Effective writing anticipates questions that a reader may have and
answers these questions clearly. To dive deep in this journal entry,
answer questions such as the following:
What exactly did you discover after analyzing your time?
In which quadrant do you spend the most time?
What specific evidence did you use to draw this conclusion?
If you continue using your time in this way, are you likely to reach your
goals and dreams? Why or why not?
What most often keeps you from taking purposeful actions?
How do you feel about your discoveries?
What different choices, if any, do you intend to make about how you use time?
When I started college as a freshman engineering student, I knew I would have a
little trouble with the transition from high school to college. What I didn’t know
was that my main challenge would come from distractions. There’s a mall only
five minutes from campus, and when my friends wanted to hang out there, I
wouldn’t say no. Other times we’d play video games, or go out to dinner, or
watch television. There was always something to distract me and no one to tell
me to get to work. I was an A/B student in high school, and I was used to things
coming easy to me. In college there’s a lot more work and it’s definitely not work
you can do in five minutes and be done like in high school. I always found some
excuse not to do my work, and then I’d try to do it the day it was due. I remember
waiting until about 30 minutes before my first chemistry test to start studying.
When my grades started dropping, I realized I needed to change, but I wasn’t
That’s when we read about self-management in the On Course book. In class we
did an activity where we divided a paper into four quadrants. Then we put what
we had done the last two days onto those quadrants. I only had a few things in
Quadrants I and II (Important). But Quadrant IV (Unimportant) was full. I
realized I was studying only about 3 hours a week, but I was going to the mall
about 5 hours, watching movies and television about 6 to 10 hours, playing video
games about 20 hours, and surfing the Internet about 30 hours. I had never had a
high-speed connection before, and things like YouTube and Facebook were
consuming a good part of my life.
Now that I had figured out my problem, I needed a solution. I started by hanging
up the quadrants in my room with my wasted time on them. I then put up
another blank quadrant chart next to it. I decided to try new ways to manage my
time over the next week and keep track of how I spent my time every day. I set a
goal to reduce my time in Quadrants III and IV to no more than 20 hours per
week and increase my time in Quadrants I and II up to 30 or 40 hours. At first I
tried to completely cut out everything that was a waste of time, but I found
myself stressed out. I was studying so much I thought my brain would explode,
and I couldn’t remember what I was studying. Then I tried getting all of my work
done before I did anything that could be seen as a waste of time. But, again I was
unable to focus on my work. Then I found the strategy that has helped. I put my
schedule on a dry erase board and I adjust it to what I have going on that week. I
make sure that I put both work and leisure time on the schedule. Also, if I have
something important going on, like a test, I write it on my schedule in bold letters
so I don’t forget. Essentially I have made a reusable planner.
This strategy has helped me out a lot since I put it into effect. When I filled in the
quadrants at the end of the first week, I was about halfway to my goals. Toward
the end of the semester, I tracked my time again, and I reached my goals. My new
system makes me more aware of what I’m choosing to do. I spend less time on
the Internet, and I learned to say no. I remember when a bunch of my friends
wanted to go to the movies the night before I had a math test. They asked me to
go at least 10 times, but I stayed home and studied. I actually did really well on
the test. Probably the best choice I made was taking my video games home. Since
I started writing my important work on the whiteboard, I’ve missed almost no
assignments and my grades have improved in every class. I have found a strategy
that arranges my time so that I can get my important work done and still have
time for fun things. My reusable planner has helped me a lot in my freshman
year, and I plan to keep using it throughout college.
1. How do you currently prioritize and organize your activities?
Does this method enable you to complete the majority of your
tasks at an acceptable level?
2. Take some time to describe the things that typically distract you.
Think about where you study or write research papers. Think about
the people, emotions, or activities that pull you away from your
schoolwork. Now write about the choices you could make to
overcome these distractions. Where else could you study? How
could you develop mutually supportive relationships with the
people around you?
The Rewards of Effective Self-Management
Some people resist using a written self-management system. “These forms
and charts are for the anally retentive,” one student objected. “Everything I need
to do, I keep right here in my head.” I know this argument well, because I used to
make it myself. Then one day, one of my mentors replied, “If you can remember
everything you need to do, I guess you’re not doing very much.” Ouch.
I decided it wouldn’t kill me to experiment with self-management tools. Over
time, I came up with my own combination of the tools we’ve been examining.
And over more time, my tools migrated more and more into my computer and
smartphone. In the process I became aware of how I’d been wasting precious
time. With my old self-management system (mostly depending on my memory,
with an occasional “note to self”), the best I did was remember to do what was
important and urgent. The worst I did was forget something vital. Then I’d waste
time cleaning up the mess I’d made.
With my present self-designed system, I almost always complete my Quadrant I
actions on time. I also spend large chunks of time in Quadrant II, where I take
important actions before they become urgent. I’m better at keeping
commitments to myself and to others. I’m less likely to go off course. Relieved of
remembering every important task I need to do, my mind is free to think more
creatively and boldly. And, most of all, my written self-management system helps
me carry out the persistent, purposeful actions necessary to achieve my goals
If you’re already achieving all of your greatest goals and dreams, then keep using
your present self-management system because it’s working! However, if your
Inner Guide knows you could be more successful than you are now, then maybe
it’s time to implement a new approach to managing your choices. You’ll rarely
meet a successful person who doesn’t use some sort of written self-management
system, whether in the world of work or in college. In fact, researchers at the
University of Georgia found that students’ self-management skills and attitudes
are even better predictors of their grades in college than their Scholastic
Aptitude Test (SAT) scores.
Consistently using a written self-management system is a habit that takes time to
establish. You may begin with great energy, only to find later that a week has
gone by without using it. No need for self-judgment. Instead, simply examine
where you went astray and begin your plan anew. Experiment until you find the
system that works best for your personality and creates the outcomes and
experiences you desire. In time, you will excel at using your personally designed
written self-management system. And then watch how much more you
In this activity, you’ll explore how you could improve your present
self-management system. By using time more effectively and
efficiently, you’ll complete a greater number of important actions and
maximize your chances of attaining your goals and dreams.
1. Write about the system (or lack of system) that you
presently use to decide what you will do each day. There is
no “wrong” answer, so don’t let your Inner Critic or Inner
Defender get involved. Consider questions such as how you
know what homework to do, when to prepare for tests, what
classes to attend, and what instructor conferences to go to.
How do you track what you need to do in other roles, such as
your social or work life? Why do you currently use this
approach? How well is your system working (giving examples
wherever possible)? How do you feel while using this approach
to self-management (e.g., stressed, calm, energized, frantic,
2. Write about how you could use or adapt the selfmanagement tools in this chapter to create a leak-proof selfmanagement system and improve your outcomes and
experiences. Or, if you do not want to use or adapt any of these
tools, explain why. Consider the Weekly Calendar, the Monthly
Calendar, the Next Actions List, the Tracking Form, the Waiting-For
List, and the Project List. How might you use them separately or in
combination? How could you use a smartphone, computer, or other
technology in your self-management system? How might you use
self-management tools not mentioned here that you may know
about? In short, invent your own system for managing your choices
that you think will maximize the quality of your outcomes and
When the fall semester began, I wasn’t sure how I was going to fit everything into
my schedule. In addition to taking three college courses, I was waitressing 24
hours a week, taking dance classes, teaching dance classes to kids, spending time
with my boyfriend, doing housework and errands, hanging out with friends from
three different groups (high school, college, and church), and rehearsing two
evenings a week for an annual December musical at Memorial Auditorium, an
event that draws thousands of people. I’d stay up late to get my homework done,
then wake up exhausted. I was struggling in math, and in my heart I knew I could
be doing better in my other classes. I’d forget to turn in homework, I was
skimping on preparation for my dance classes, I wasn’t calling friends back, and
I’d forget to bring costumes and makeup to rehearsals for the musical. I was sick
all the time with colds and headaches. I was seriously stressed and not doing full
justice to anything.
Before I lost all hope, my Human Career Development class went over selfmanagement tools. I developed my own system and started writing down
everything I needed to do. I keep a big calendar by my bed so I see it in the
morning, and I carry a smaller calendar in my purse. My favorite tool is a list of
everything I have to do put into categories. I make a new list every day and put
important things at the top so it’s okay if I don’t get to the ones on the bottom.
My system helps me see what my priorities are and get them done first so I don’t
feel so scattered.
By doing important things first, I began having more focus, not rushing as much,
and getting more done. Of course I had to let a few lower-priority things go for a
while, like doing housework and spending as much time with some of my friends.
I started getting more sleep, completing my homework, and getting As on all of
my tests while doing everything else that I needed to do. After a while, I began to
accomplish so much more and I realized that I do have enough time to fit all of
the important things into my schedule. In fact, every once in a while now I
actually find myself with a luxury I haven’t had in a long while—free time.
1. Allysa decided that housework and spending a lot of time with
friends were both low-priority activities. How do you decide what
are high-priority activities and what are low-priority?
2. Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the number of activities in
your life? This is a common problem for college students. Write
briefly about your current schedule of coursework and activities.
Take a few moments to think critically about the experiences you
want to have next term. What choices would you have to make for
this vision of the coming semester to be a reality?
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