Summer is the season for self improvement

By Greg Dardis / Guest Editorial

Have you heard of Stephen Covey’s time-management tool?

The late consultant is well known for his 1989 book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” which sold more than 25 million copies and garnered the respect of high-profile people like former president Bill Clinton. In it, Mr. Covey spells out seven habits that guarantee day-to-day and long-term success, how to be more effective at home and in the office.

But my favorite insight from the book is a technique for smarter time management: the four quadrants. All the activities that fill our day, Mr. Covey suggested, can be categorized into one of four quadrants: first, the urgent and important; second, the important but not urgent; third, the urgent but not important; and fourth, the not urgent and not important.

The first quadrant is comprised of life’s exclamation points: a crying baby, a leaking pipe, an imminent deadline on a major work project. These are the pressing issues that demand, for good reason, immediate attention. The second quadrant, meanwhile, consists of worthy efforts that aren’t bound to a deadline, like exercise, career planning, continued education and family bonding.

The third quadrant covers the items that pop up and beg for response even though they aren’t crucial; the ping of a cell phone, an unimportant meeting, the beginning of a TV show, a limited-time sale or special. Lastly, the fourth quadrant is filled with all the things that are neither urgent nor important but still consume our time, such as perusing Facebook or watching “Seinfeld” reruns.

First- and third-quadrant activities are pretty well set. They’re often outside our control. The trick, according to Mr. Covey, is spending less time in the fourth quadrant in order to spend more time in the second. Less web surfing, more yoga. Less TV and chips, more reading and fresh produce. Less Twitter, more family time.

Making this conversion isn’t easy. It requires discipline and resourcefulness. Maybe it means turning off talk radio during your commute in order to tune in to a Rosetta Stone CD; experience a new language rather than the highlights of last night’s “American Idol.”

It begins by identifying your unmet goals. Summer is the perfect time to step back and review them, especially if you’re enjoying a change of scenery, a road trip or a window seat, a wooded hike or a leisurely beach stroll. Where do you hope to be in a year? In five? What do you need to do to get there? This is Mr. Covey’s second habit, beginning with the end in mind. It’ll guide your day-to-day time management if you let it.

The great pleasure of my work in executive training is that it’s all Quadrant Two time. Our clients get to step away from their desks and immerse in the practical instruction that will make them the kind of top-notch professionals they hope to become. You can’t keep doing the same thing, just managing the must-dos, and expect new results. You can’t get ahead by getting by. You must be deliberate about working toward your goals.

While our programs aren’t as urgent as the big Friday meeting, they couldn’t be more important, ensuring a better performance at that meeting and helping land the next promotion. That’s what I explain to the time-strapped businessperson (and aren’t we all?) who is wary of committing to a two-day “Leadership Presentation Skills” seminar or a personal-coaching session. In the first hour, it can be hard to mentally turn off work matters. I can see that in the fidgeting and frequent phone checks. But soon clients find themselves totally engaged in our instruction. They immediately recognize the relevance it’ll have when they return to the office.

And what’s more, they discover it feels good to be a student again, to take notes, ask questions and absorb new information. Learning isn’t meant to end when you receive your diploma. In many ways, that’s when it just begins. So seize these summer days and invest in Quadrant Two. You won’t regret it.


Greg Dardis is founder and president of Dardis Clothiers, located at 805 Second St., Ste. 3, in Coralville. Form more information, visit