Habits for a Healthy Lifestyle – 3 Get Your Priorities Right

Zoë Whitby, ZW Coaching, www.zwcoaching.co.uk, www.facebook.com/ZWcoachingpage

“If only I had more time” – is often an excuse used for not fitting in regular exercise or even cooking healthily.  It’s also the reason that many personal dreams stay just that rather than becoming reality.

Ever heard of Parkinson’s law – “Work expands to fill the time available” – this is so true and we can find ourselves frittering away our days on things that have little importance to the life we want to lead.

In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People*, Stephen Covey points out that – “The challenge is not to manage time but to manage ourselves.” – ie the problem is not with time itself but how we use it.  Covey proposes that we increase our effective use of time through consideration of the relative worth of activities in the context of our life purpose.

The typical activities that we get involved in can be mapped into a 2×2 matrix using the dimensions of urgency (the extent to which things demand our immediate attention) and importance (the extent to which the task will deliver results that contribute to our mission and priorities).

The result is four quadrants.  Many of us will find that we spend the majority of our time dealing with things in the two quadrants in the ‘urgent’ column…and the more we focus on activities in these quadrants, the more time we will have to spend there – it’s the catch 22 of perpetual fire fighting and being driven by others; a short-term focus where we react to urgent demands and end up out of control.



Not Urgent







Problem prevention

Relationship building

Long-term planning

Working on new opportunities

Personal growth

You time

Not Important



Some email and calls

Some meetings



Some mail and phone calls

Time wasters

The key quadrant to spend time in is II – making ourselves to do this is at the heart of effective personal management.  People who focus their efforts in this quadrant are opportunity minded, feeding possibilities and starving problems by anticipating them and planning to prevent crises from happening; focusing on things that will move them towards what they want to achieve. By this forward thinking, the ‘urgency’ dominance of quadrant I is diminished.

Sounds good?  I can hear some of you contending that this is all well and good if you have the TIME to do it.  We have to change that paradigm to one where first and foremost we plan the time to do the most important things, gaining time from Quadrants III and IV by saying no to people and putting aside trivial tasks that are not contributing to our results or by delegating tasks to others.  Although delegating initially takes time, if it’s a regular task you will soon reap the benefits.

To make sure you make progress each week towards the important things – schedule time for them in the diary, just as if you were committing to a meeting with someone.  This way you make a commitment to doing something.

And to get over the barrier of very large tasks, break them down into smaller steps…..

Give it a go and notice your results.

* The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen Covey (1989) is published by Franklin Covey Co ISBN 0-684-85839-8

Zoë runs a workshop on managing time as part of the Peak Physique Retreat programme.

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