The Fourth Generation of Time Management: How To Better Invest Your Time

2 months ago   •   2 min read

By Colton Hicks

Stephen Covey wrote that there are four generations of time management.

From his perspective, the earlier three generations focused on things and time. People who start their time management journey typically focus on notes, checklists, to-do lists, calendars, and appointment books. As their productivity skills evolve, they focus on prioritization, setting goals, and daily planning.

Most of the modern world finds itself here.

These initial phases have been instrumental in helping us get things done and be more efficient with our time. But they carry limitations. We can get tunnel vision and fixate on urgent matters. We then miss opportunities to build fulfilling relationships, meet fundamental human needs, and enjoy spontaneous life experiences.

In Covey's words:

"Many people have become turned off by time management programs and planners that make them feel too scheduled, too restricted, and they 'throw the baby out with the bath water,' reverting to first or second generation techniques to preserve relationships, spontaneity, and quality of life."

Simply put: Instead of using time management to enhance life, it becomes your life.

But there's a fourth generation of time management. It focuses on relationships and results, helping us balance our responsibilities and personal lives in a more fulfilling way.

The 80/20 Is Found In Important and Non-Urgent Activities

We can audit our productivity paradigm by answering this one question: Where do you invest your time?

There are two factors that define an activity: importance and urgency.

Busy professionals largely focus on important and urgent tasks—crisis management, emergencies, and pressing deadlines.

They're successful at solving problems and completing deadline-driven projects. This person has either countless meetings or fixed events scheduled throughout their calendar. And when someone demands their time, they oblige them. However, they seldom invest time in activities that serve their most important goals since they're always reacting to urgent matters.

Everybody must attend to urgent activities.

But it's problematic to focus all your energy there, as there's nothing proactive inside you.

Plus, urgent matters rarely emphasize relationships and results. They involve other people's priorities and expectations, which is why many busy professionals feel stuck in reactivity.

If you primarily invest time in urgent matters, then you’re in the earlier generations of time management.

To get to fourth-generation time management, you'll want to focus on important and non-urgent activities.

Effective professionals invest significant time in relationship building, learning, exploring new opportunities, mission-driven planning, and recreation.  They aim to be proactive, not reactive. They're clear on a vision and their actions reflect it. Covey explains the benefits of this: "Your crisis and problems would shrink to manageable proportions because you would be thinking ahead, working on the roots, doing the preventive things that keep situations from developing into crises in the first place."

Since these activities aren't urgent, we must take the initiative to make things happen. This is tough. And it requires that we hold ourselves to a higher standard.  But it'll make a tremendous positive difference in your life.

And this is where the 80/20 is found.

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