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Covey's quadrants vs. GTD workflow model

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  • Covey's quadrants vs. GTD workflow model

    I attended a 7-habits workshop and have trouble putting together Covey’s quadrant of important/urgent stuff with David Allen’s workflow process.

    I agree with Covey’s thought of only considering those things that are in quadrants I and II. At the same time, I like the practical approach offered by GTD on processing items (workflow).

    Can someone please tell me where in GTD’s workflow process can I fit Covey’s quadrant for deciding on items?

    Thanks.

  • #2
    Give me some specific examples of priorities you are struggling with on a typical day.

    My priority items are generally time sensitive and put into various date folders for action in my tickler file which I work as those dates arrive (GTD).

    If I find myself procrastinating on any assignment and advancing it on a daily basis in the tickler file then I will simply schedule it for a specific time and date on my "hardscape" calendar to make sure it gets done at that time (Taylor, Morgenstern, Covey).

    Hope this helps some,

    Danny Hardesty

    www.dannyhardesty.com

    Comment


    • #3
      Here would be an example of how I apply the quadrants: I have two Errands lists - one that needs to be done (groceries, bank, etc.) and one with things that can be done when I have the time, energy, or are nearby a store that carries the item I'm looking for. It works really well for me. When I'm in town, I plan my trip around the first list and then if I have the time/energy and am on the right side of town, I complete items on my second list.

      I use the same system for my other contexts as well. I know he says just to have one list, but I get overwhelmed when I have too many items on my list. Breaking it down this way keeps my lists to a managable length and makes it easier for me to decide what to do next. I don't necessarily require all things on the first list to be completed before I work on the second. I heard DA say once that if you have 8 things to do, you haven't much choice. But if you have 80 things to do and you decide to drink a beer instead of doing one of those things, it's going to be a damn good beer. I allow myself the freedom to move from list to list because I know I am making informed choices about what I am doing.

      Comment


      • #4
        The problem I always had with Covey was that "only do tasks in quadrants I and II" sounds great in theory, but is pretty difficult to do in practice. Where do tasks like "do laundry" or "get car serviced" fit?

        In my own GTD approach, I mostly apply Covey at the upper levels: thinking about long term goals and tying those to short-term action.

        Katherine

        Comment


        • #5
          Under the Covey Model, "Get Car serviced" and "Do Laundry" would clearly be Quad II activities because they are needed maintenance. Covey talks about attaining a P/PC Balance. P= Performance and PC=Performance Capability.
          If I want my car to "perform", I need to maintain it's "Performance Capability" through regular checkups.
          If I want my clothes to last, I need to take care of them through regular cleaning.
          Same holds true for my health, money, relationships etc. Make regular "investments" in my physical health, financial portfolio, close relationships etc, and they will continue to "perform" for me.
          Craig

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by ckennedy
            Under the Covey Model, "Get Car serviced" and "Do Laundry" would clearly be Quad II activities because they are needed maintenance. Covey talks about attaining a P/PC Balance. P= Performance and PC=Performance Capability.
            If I want my car to "perform", I need to maintain it's "Performance Capability" through regular checkups.
            If I want my clothes to last, I need to take care of them through regular cleaning.
            Same holds true for my health, money, relationships etc. Make regular "investments" in my physical health, financial portfolio, close relationships etc, and they will continue to "perform" for me.
            Craig
            I agree! I think that it's actually pretty easy to work the two approaches in tandem. Let's use Quadrant IV for example... I think that across the board, you can eliminate that quadrant entirely w/o causing conflict between "workflow" and Covey. Items like surfing the net, watching TV, etc. (although I agree with DA when he says that "Doing nothing" is sometimes the best thing to do given your energy levels, etc.) can be pretty much eliminated and add to your productivity levels.

            Even items in Quadrant III (Urgent, but not important) can be reduced or eliminated... and I think that DA's workflow process can actually help you sort those items out. If something lands in your inbox, you can determine what quadrant it belongs in pretty quickly and dispatch it through the workflow process (junk mail, toss it.... etc.).

            I think that the workflow diagram keeps you mostly focused on Quadrants I and II by default. For example, let's use DA's famous "tires" scenario. You either need tires or you don't. Off the bat, it starts out as a Quadrant II issue. What distinguishes "tires" between I and II is how badly you need them. When "tires" first pops onto your radar, chances are you don't need to replace them right away (urgent), however, it's still important that you do so because if you don't, you're going to be in trouble when you get a blowout.

            So, right away "replace tires" goes on your project list, and some NA related to it (call garage for prices, get number for garage from Fred, etc.) goes on the appropriate list. If you put that NA off long enough, at some point this is going to cross over into Quadrant I (urgent AND important), because now you're risking the tire blowing out.

            Now, for Quadrants III and IV, something like "aimlessly surf the net" (Quad IV) will never get onto your NA list because there is no real "next action" associated with it. If there is an "next action" associated with it, by default then the action is related to some outcome that you're trying to attain and therefore it will be either a Quad I or II NA.

            I know I rambled a bit, but does the above make sense?

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by jkgrossi
              Now, for Quadrants III and IV, something like "aimlessly surf the net" (Quad IV) will never get onto your NA list because there is no real "next action" associated with it. If there is an "next action" associated with it, by default then the action is related to some outcome that you're trying to attain and therefore it will be either a Quad I or II NA.
              No matter what system they're using, I doubt many people put "aimlessly surf the net" on their action list. Yet plenty of people, regardless of their organizing system, spend plenty of time aimlessly surfing.

              Katherine

              Comment


              • #8
                Fitting in Covey Quadrants (long)

                Originally posted by jdwyre
                I agree with Covey’s thought of only considering those things that are in quadrants I and II. At the same time, I like the practical approach offered by GTD on processing items (workflow).

                Can someone please tell me where in GTD’s workflow process can I fit Covey’s quadrant for deciding on items?
                Covey's quadrant approach does not work for me when applied to next actions. When Agendus (a Palm and Windows program) added the ability to categorize tasks in quadrants (with a very cool and easy interface), I couldn't resist playing with it. My next actions were all in contexts, of course, but I also categorized them by quadrant. Guess what? There wasn't much in QIV (not urgent and not important). There was some stuff in QIII (urgent but not important), but I still had to do it, because it was important to somebody else and it was my responsibility. Most stuff was QII with a few QI items. I have done this exercise of assigning quadrants a few times, and it has never seemed helpful at the level of next actions.

                Let me give you an example: yesterday a graduate student stopped by my office. He was checking on the status of his petition to my department's Graduate Studies Committee, which I chair. For me, the status of his petition is neither urgent (a decision has to be made in, say, the next three weeks) nor important (to me), and thus QIV. Of course, it is very important to him, and my responsibility (20K). The next action is to circulate the petition to the other faculty on the committee. The reason I have not dealt with it yet is that I received the petition shortly before I had surgery for a ruptured Achilles tendon (QI), and have only been back at my office for the last three days. I suppose I could wait a few weeks until QIV became QIII and decide I had to do it. Or I could decide it is QI or QII because my administrative responsibilities are as important as my research and teaching. What did I do? I put the petition on my project list with a reminder that it had some time sensitivity, and put the next action (circulate petition) on my @work list. Once I do that, I will put a next action on my @waiting-for list. I should have done all this when I was unable to complete the task of circulating the petition when I first received it, but I left it half-done and returned it to my in-box. This was less than ideal, but then again, so is rupturing your Achilles tendon.

                Is the quadrant analysis useless? I don't think so. If applied at the GTD levels of 10K (projects), 20K (Focus Areas), and perhaps higher, it can help liberate us from the useless burdens we place on ourselves and on others, and to focus on "what matters most." But I think the quadrant approach is just one tool in top-down review.

                A related example: suppose I am thinking about stepping down as chair of the gradate studies committee, thus changing a focus area/area of responsibility/20K/role over the course of a year or two (30K). In order to do that, and feel good about it, I need to resolve some projects which are important (QI or QII), but can hand over more routine projects, which could perhaps be classified as QIII or even QIV, but do have to be done. So the Covey matrix is a bit helpful, but honestly what's more important is the
                progression
                30K (hand over responsibilities)
                -> 20K (focus area to be eliminated)
                ---> 10K (projects to be completed before hand-off)
                ----->0K (next actions on projects)

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by kewms
                  No matter what system they're using, I doubt many people put "aimlessly surf the net" on their action list. Yet plenty of people, regardless of their organizing system, spend plenty of time aimlessly surfing.

                  Katherine
                  Having a beer probably isn't on the list either, but DA talks about chosing to do one of your items that you need to do or having a beer - you're making an informed choice so if you choose to have the beer, it'll be a "damn good one." You aren't limited solely to "doing things on the list."

                  I think DA has you track the I and II items so that you know what they are and can do them. You can take care of important things before they come urgent because you know what they are. Thus you end up with fewer urgent and important items.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by kewms
                    No matter what system they're using, I doubt many people put "aimlessly surf the net" on their action list. Yet plenty of people, regardless of their organizing system, spend plenty of time aimlessly surfing.

                    Katherine
                    That was my point, exactly. I think that the original question was "Can someone please tell me where in GTD’s workflow process can I fit Covey’s quadrant for deciding on items?"

                    I was trying to point out that the GTD "workflow" process (i.e. the diagram) naturally places items within Covey's quadrants, inherently in Quadrants I and II.

                    Granted, an item like "aimlessly surf the web" will never pass through the workfolw diagram and as such it doesn't put the workflow diagram and Covey's Quadrants at odds.
                    Last edited by jkgrossi; 10-01-2005, 10:32 AM.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by mcogilvie
                      There wasn't much in QIV (not urgent and not important). There was some stuff in QIII (urgent but not important), but I still had to do it, because it was important to somebody else and it was my responsibility. Most stuff was QII with a few QI items. I have done this exercise of assigning quadrants a few times, and it has never seemed helpful at the level of next actions.
                      I actually wonder whether those items were Quadrant III or Quadrant I. Remember, as Covey pointed out, an item that you are doing for someone else is as important as that person is to you.

                      So for example, if your boss comes to you with something urgent that is important to them but not necessarily important to you (Quad III in your world), the fact that your boss is important to you makes this a Quadrant I issue.

                      Jim

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        To me, the most important insight of the Covey quadrants is that you must choose to make time proactively for QI actions that are important but not urgent. You can't just wait for inputs. Calling my mother, writing a note to an old friend, exercising, planning for the future. . .all things that never have to be done today but pay off hugely when I consistently do them over time.

                        I don't have any formal way of using the quadrant priority model, but I have been evaluating potential actions in terms of importance and urgency for so long that this way of thinking just seems natural to me now. It acts as a first-pass filter to make sure that QI items are on my lists, and to keep QIII items out of my lists.

                        QI fits into my GTD-like workflow model: a QI Covey goal such as "Be a good spouse" must be implemented by a series of actions, consistently sustained over time. Covey advocates a focused weekly planning session in which you specifically plan and schedule QI actions -- things that never seem urgent but require initiative to achieve goals. GTD advocates a weekly review/planning session in which you think about everything from the runway on up to 50,000'. GTD assumes you will review important things, urgent or not, while Covey assumes you could easily neglect important, non-urgent things. So Covey gives you a little kick in the pants to think about those specifically. Thinking about everything GTD-style is great -- unless you skimp on it and neglect QI which requires your own initiative.

                        If you spend some time thinking about your long-term goals and figuring out how to translate those into actions to achieve them, that's the essence of Covey IMO.

                        In the past, I had problems with the Covey quadrants because I had an ineffective way of estimating importance. I recently asked myself, Can something be urgent but not important (QIII) and yet I still should choose to do it? My answer was No, if I choose to do it, it must be important somehow. Importance is determined by my commitment, not by whether I self-generated the action or by how I personally feel about it. For example, I have a commitment to attend certain meetings that I personally did not call, that I don't "feel" are important; but they are important simply because I have made a commitment to the people or organization involved. Keeping that commitment is important to my integrity. So despite my feelings about it, the meeting is truly QII. I have plenty of QI and QII things to do; I never want to do any QIII -- life is simply too short. If something is urgent and I have no commitment, I will not do it (for example, going shopping just because there is a sale).

                        The routine maintenance items such as Katherine mentioned also used to trip me up because I always underestimated their importance. When you don't sufficiently maintain the well-being of your physical self and physical things, in the long run the "more" important stuff will suffer. It turns out that doing laundry IS important. Changing the oil in the car IS important. Taking care of my physical body IS important and actually eats up a lot of time, too. This type of action is deceptive because it doesn't seem that important in itself, but is critical to support important goals.

                        In the balance of life, I have also underestimated the importance of QIV activities because they often do contribute to rest and renewal. QI and many QII activites -- the things that are important -- often require a lot of energy. Whether mental or physical, energy must be renewed by periods of rest. I cannot work 16 hours a day on my QI and QII stuff, at least not day in and day out indefinitely. I'm too old for that now! I have in the past broken my health by expending too much energy without renewing it. I must intersperse high-effort tasks with low-effort ones, and this is where QIV fits. (QIII does not because of the stress of urgency, at least for me.)

                        For me, reading and writing posts on this forum is a QIV activity because it is low in importance relative to the stuff in QI and QII and of course low urgency. But I choose to do it because I do benefit from the activity itself, plus get rest from the stress of QI and QII.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by jkgrossi
                          I actually wonder whether those items were Quadrant III or Quadrant I. Remember, as Covey pointed out, an item that you are doing for someone else is as important as that person is to you.

                          So for example, if your boss comes to you with something urgent that is important to them but not necessarily important to you (Quad III in your world), the fact that your boss is important to you makes this a Quadrant I issue.
                          Well, no, actually, I disagree with both these points. My wife is extremely important to me, burt not everything I do for her is equally important. And yes, I am *very* happily married.

                          As for imposed urgencies and importances, most people have discretion, and at the very least can influence their supervisor's priorities. Of course, I'm a university professor, and I think the department chair and the dean work for me.

                          But my point was that the Covey quadrant has absolutely, in multiple experiments, failed for me. If I have to think hard to determine what quadrant a next action falls in, and then that choice doesn't make it easier to get my next actions done, why should I do it? On the other hand, when I have done what DA suggests, it has always worked the way he says it does. I'm not saying that Covey's ideas are worthless. I think I have assimilated quite a bit of it, and I think most of it is only useful at higher levels than the next action. But your mileage may vary.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by mcogilvie
                            But my point was that the Covey quadrant has absolutely, in multiple experiments, failed for me. If I have to think hard to determine what quadrant a next action falls in, and then that choice doesn't make it easier to get my next actions done, why should I do it? On the other hand, when I have done what DA suggests, it has always worked the way he says it does. I'm not saying that Covey's ideas are worthless. I think I have assimilated quite a bit of it, and I think most of it is only useful at higher levels than the next action. But your mileage may vary.
                            As DA puts it, "Your whole life is important"....

                            I agree with what you're saying here 100%. My point was that with DA's workflow methodology, as long as I'm doing one of my NA's by default they're QI and QII... otherwise I wouldn't be doing them.

                            IMHO, the value of Covey's Quadrant model is in say, helping to decide in a moment of descression between doing a NA from one of your list (QI or QII), or aimlessly surfing the web (QIV).

                            For example, I've got 10 minutes before my next meeting... I can "Talk to Fred re: number for garage" (QI or QII NA from my list), or "surf the web" (QIV).

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by andersons
                              In the balance of life, I have also underestimated the importance of QIV activities because they often do contribute to rest and renewal. QI and many QII activites -- the things that are important -- often require a lot of energy. Whether mental or physical, energy must be renewed by periods of rest. I cannot work 16 hours a day on my QI and QII stuff, at least not day in and day out indefinitely. I'm too old for that now! I have in the past broken my health by expending too much energy without renewing it. I must intersperse high-effort tasks with low-effort ones, and this is where QIV fits. (QIII does not because of the stress of urgency, at least for me.)

                              For me, reading and writing posts on this forum is a QIV activity because it is low in importance relative to the stuff in QI and QII and of course low urgency. But I choose to do it because I do benefit from the activity itself, plus get rest from the stress of QI and QII.
                              Ah.... perhaps then they're not truly QIV activities! If activities such as posting on this form is important to your overall mental well-being (i.e. leting your brain "cruise" for a little while), maybe they're truly QII.

                              It's not urgent, but perhaps important.... because w/o that little block of mental down-time you wouldn't be as effective in say, QI.

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