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Today, Spend Some Time in Quadrant Two

First published April 17, 2014 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

Last week, I ranted, and it was therapeutic — for me, at least. Some of you agreed that the social media landscape was littered with meaningless crap. Others urged me to “loosen up and take a chill pill,” intimating that I had slipped across the threshold of “grumpy old man-itis.” Guilty, I guess, but there was a point to my rant. We need to spend more time with important stuff, and less time with content that may be popular but trivial.

Hey, I’m the first to admit that I can be tempted into wasting gobs of time with a tweet like: “Prom season sizzles with KFC chicken corsages.” This is courtesy of Guy Kawasaki. Guy’s Twitter feed is a fire hose of enticing trivia. And the man (with the team that supports him) does have a knack of writing tweets with irresistible hooks. Come on. Who could resist checking out a fried chicken corsage?

But here’s the problem. Online is littered with fried chicken corsages. No matter where we turn, we’re bombarded by these tasty little tidbits of brain candy. Publishers have grown quite adept at stringing these together, leading us from trivial link to trivial link. Personally, I’m a sucker for Top Ten lists. But after succumbing to the temptation for “just a second” I find myself, 20 minutes later, having accomplished nothing other than learning what the 10 Biggest Reality Show Blunders were, or where the 10 Most Extravagant Homes in the U.S. happen to be.

Entertaining? Absolutely.

Useful? Doubtful.

Important?  Not a chance.

merrillcoveymatrixWe need to set aside time for important stuff. A few decades ago, I happened to read Stephen Covey’s “First Things First,” which introduced a concept I still try to live by to this day. Covey called it the Urgent/Important matrix. It’s a simple two-by-two matrix with four quadrants:

1 – Urgent and Important – for example, a fire in your kitchen.

2 – Not Urgent but Important – long-term planning.

3 – Urgent but Not Important – interruptions.

4 – Not Important and Not Urgent – time-wasters.

Covey’s Advice? Better balance your time in these quadrants. Quadrant One takes care of itself. We can’t ignore these types of crises. But we should try to minimize the distractions that fall into Quadrant Three and cut down the time we spend in Quadrant Four. Then, we should move as much of this freed-up time as possible into Quadrant Two.

Covey’s Quadrants are more applicable than ever to the online world.  I suspect most of us spend the majority of time in the online equivalents of Quadrant Three (responding to emails or other instant forms of messaging that aren’t really important) or Quadrant Four (online time wasters). We probably don’t spend much time in Quadrant Two (which I’ll abbreviate it to Q2). In fact, in writing this column, I tried to find a quick guide to finding important stuff online. I have a few places I like to go, which I’ll share in a moment, but despite the vast potential of online as a Q2 resource, it doesn’t seem that anyone is it making it easy to filter for “importance.” As I said in my last column, we have filters for popularity and recency, but I couldn’t find anything helping me track down Q2 candidates.

So, here is my contribution to helping you set aside more quality Q2 time:

Amazon Kindle and DevonThink: Reading thought-provoking books is my favorite Q2 activity.  I try to set aside at least an hour a day to read. Anytime someone suggests a book or I find one referenced, I download immediately it from Kindle and add it to the queue. Then, as I read, I use Kindle’s highlight feature to create a summary of the important ideas. After, I copy my highlighted notes into DevonThink, a tool that helps track and archive notes and resources for future reference.

Scientific American & Science Daily: I’m a science geek. I love learning about the latest advances — in particular, new discoveries in the areas of psychology and neuroscience. When I find an interesting article, I again save it to DevonThink.

Google Scholar and Questia: Every so often, I dive into the world of academia to find research done in a particular area, usually related to a blog post or column idea. Google Scholar usually unearths a number of publicly available papers on most topics. And, if you share my predilection for academic research, a subscription to Questia is worth considering.

Big Think, weforum.org and TED: Looking for big ideas — world-changing stuff? These three sites are the place to find them.

HBR, Wired, The Atlantic and The Economist: Another favorite topic of mine is corporate strategy — particularly how organizations have to adapt to a rapidly evolving environment. I find sites like these great for giving me a sense of what’s happening in the world of business.

Hey, it may not be a fried chicken corsage, but these aren’t bad ways to spend an hour or two a day.