urgentimportant A few years ago Stephen Covey developed the time management matrix shown at right. One of its original purposes was to show managers why nothing important ever gets done in business. But it might also be used to explain why the critical issues facing our world get back-burnered as soon as some demagogue or despot does something attention-getting. Here is how you read it:

A business with its priorities straight should deal with issues in Quadrants I, II and III in that order. However, human nature and office politics often dictate that issues in Quadrants I and III often get the lion’s share of attention and resources, and issues in Quadrant II never get addressed at all. Here’s a typical example:

Quadrant I: Collapse in Sales
Quadrant II: Poor Staff Morale
Quadrant III: Latest Computer Virus
Quadrant IV: Office Furniture Repair

Often in business there are no Quadrant I issues at all. Real business crises are not that common, and when they do arise it’s often the result of having neglected Quadrant II issues in favour of Quadrant III issues. And many Quadrant III issues are actually Quadrant IV issues that have been artificially portrayed as urgent by someone with a personal agenda. The process is known as “creating a sense of urgency” and is a legitimate way of competing for scarce business resources like people, money and attention. But the result is completely dysfunctional.

It’s the same in the real world. The issues on the front page of our newspapers are Quadrant I (if there are any) and Quadrant III issues. To detract from their failure on Quadrant II issues, political leaders, often abetted by lazy and pandering media, “create a sense of urgency” around some Quadrant IV issues to escalate them to Quadrant III. By doing so they effectively distract public and media attention indefinitely (or at least until after the next election) from the Quadrant II issues. An even better and scarier strategy is to create mechanisms like “Code Orange” to automatically escalate Quadrant IV items to Quadrant III at will. Here are some current examples “ripped from the headlines” (or in the case of Quadrant II issues, lack thereof):

Quadrant I: None
Quadrant II: Korea, Israel/Palestine Peace, World Poverty, Global Warming, Huge Deficits, the next Enron, Judicial Appointments
Quadrant III: Iraq
Quadrant IV: Almost anything discussed on FoxNews

In business and in real life, if you neglect Quadrant II issues long enough they become Quadrant I items. Often it’s then too late. In business you call in the receivers. In real life, the result is holocaust, massive famine, genocide, nuclear brinksmanship, oppressive debts for future generations, abuse of power, perversion of democracy, and desertification of whole nations.

There are some great blogs about Quadrant II issues. If we only had the time, after reading and posting about the Quadrant III issues, to learn more about the Quadrant II issues and start to proffer solutions to them!  Unfortunately, as the opportunists know too well, we can’t ignore the Quadrant III issues: We need to have the courage and energy to defuse them, put them in perspective, and take back the agenda of our companies and our countries, to focus on what’s really important.

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  1. Tom McMahon says:

    “Quadrant IV: Almost anything discussed on FoxNews”Yeah, CNN with Larry King is MUCH better. ;-)

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