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Quadrant Three—How to Determine What’s Actually Important


Quadrant 3: Quadrant of Deception, Interruptions

Quadrant One

Quadrant Two

Quadrant Three

Quadrant Four


Quadrant Three may be the most difficult quadrant to recognize. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, Quadrant Three feels a lot like Quadrant One. Similar to Quadrant One, if you’re operating in Quadrant Three you feel bombarded with urgent tasks, but unlike Quadrant One, the tasks in Quadrant Three aren’t important to you. They may be important to someone else, but they have very little meaning for you. When you spend the day bouncing from urgent task to urgent task, you start to feel like a hamster on a wheel—exhausted from your efforts with nothing that matters to show for it. Days like that can be terribly frustrating!

The problem with Quadrant Three is that you don’t know what you’re doing next. You lack direction until someone else directs you. It’s easy to see this behavior in children during summer break. They wake up with no schedule, wander around the house, watch TV, and play games on their devices until someone asks them to do their chores. If adults operate with that mindset, they’ll get little done. They also appear rather irresponsible.

If you feel like you are acting more on the whims of others without a lot of inner drive, we have some great suggestions.

Rediscover What Matters Most. Our lives change over time. Our roles change, our hopes and dreams change, our skills and interests change, our physical abilities change. That means that many of the things that matter to you now are not the same things that mattered to you 20 years ago. Have you taken the time to reassess what makes you tick?

The late Fred Rogers said, “You rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices. And hopefully your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are.” We call that “deep sense of who you are,” your governing values. Tasks based on your governing values are your top priorities. They are your most important choices because they matter most to you.

Try The I-Beam Exercise. Open your planner to an empty notes page and list everything you care deeply about—your talents, knowledge, skillset, family members, friends, hobbies, income…all of it. Take your time and make sure you have a complete list.

Now imagine you are standing at the edge of a huge ravine and everything on your list is on the other side. In order to get any one item on your list, you need to cross a 200-foot steel I-beam spanning the gulf. Read over the list you wrote in your planner and ask what you’d be willing to cross the I-beam to save. Some things aren’t worth the risk, but there are other things you’d cross the I-beam for without hesitation. Those are the things that are rooted in your core values—they matter most to you. If your daily tasks are centered on items from that list, you’ll find the motivation to do them.

List Your Core Values. If you’ve done the I-beam exercise you have a list of priorities that are rooted in your core values. Look at each item on your list and ask why it’s important to you. As you do this, you’ll discover the core values that move you.

A single governing value can support many of your top priority items, and sometimes a single priority item has roots in more than one value. In fact, a person can be one of your governing values all by his or herself. Many parents will list each child as a separate governing value. What matters is that you know and understand what moves you, because that list is the driving force of all that matters to you. Make plans that are rooted in your governing values and you’ll always be working on your most important things.

Set Goals. Once you have your list of core values, focus on one value and determine what you’d like to be doing with it by the end of the year. Set a specific goal with a deadline and determine what you need to do to reach it. For example: If you have an interest in art, you might want to create a space in your home where you can paint. That may require cleaning out a room and organizing it into a studio. Whatever your goal may be, break it down into smaller bite-sized bits that you can accomplish throughout the year. Schedule those steps into your weekly and daily plans.

With plans based on your governing values, motivation will come easily. In fact, you’ll find it hard to pull yourself away from your tasks.

Learn How To Say No. Every time you say, “yes” to something, you’re saying “no” to something else. When you are asked to do an urgent task that isn’t related to your goals, or the things that matter most, you’re actually being asked to say no to your priorities.

If the request you’ve been given isn’t a true emergency, kindly express your desire to help, explain that you are busy, and ask if you can schedule it for another time. With your friend’s task scheduled in your planner, you are free to work on more important matters first.

These practices can help you move out of Quadrant Three and into Quadrant Two. Quadrant Two is where you have the most control over the events of your life. Read our Quadrant Two blog to learn how to maintain a Quadrant Two mindset.

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