Three years ago, if I had come across my own website, I would have read it for about a day and then forgotten about it. Reading it wouldn’t have been a priority for me even if I thought it was the most interesting, informative, wonderful site in the world :). The reason I would move on to something else is because the site may have been important for my future but it was certainly not urgent. There were no immediate deadlines to improve my motivation; there was no swinging pendulum coming down toward me. Sure, putting effort into improving my time management and my writing abilities would have helped me become a better writer, but who can find the time in this crazy, fast-moving world?
By completing all my daily tasks I was doing an average job as a creative person. Half the people were doing more than me, and half of the people were doing less than me. I was not being successful or unsuccessful. I was just being. All I was doing was getting by.
What I didn’t realize at the time though is that taking care of those important but less urgent tasks is what makes a person exceptional.
In Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey talks about the difference between Production (P) and Production Capability (PC). He uses the tale of the Golden Goose.
A farmer finds a goose among his livestock that produces golden eggs. Every day it lays another pure golden egg. This is the production. The goose lays golden eggs for a good long time and the farmer becomes extremely wealthy. After a while, the farmer gets greedy and impatient. He kills the goose to open it up and get all of the eggs at once. There are no eggs inside. He has killed his source of gold. He has killed his production capability and now he will have zero production to show for it.
The moral of the story is that without taking care of your production capability, production will suffer.
If you don’t write for three years, and then decide you want to pen a novel, chances are it will be much more difficult than if you had been doing writing exercises once a week during that time. Your P will be slow because you did not care for your PC. This, of course, frustrates you and makes you think all sorts of crazy thoughts like you weren’t meant to write or that you aren’t any good. But really, you’re only out of practice.
Covey uses this concept of P/PC as he describes four different types (quadrants) of tasks people do throughout the day in an attempt to manage their lives. Today, I will only discuss Quadrants I and II.
Quadrant I tasks are those that are urgent and important. These are the ones with deadlines and the pendulum. The reason I didn’t take time to develop my long term skills of motivation and productivity was because I was too busy on my daily Quadrant I activities: my production.
Quadrant II tasks are those that are important but are not urgent. These are the long-term development tasks. These activities are the PC, the production capability. If you are a baker, Quadrant II tasks could include learning new recipes, trying a new mixing technique, or deep cleaning your oven. A teacher’s Quadrant II might involve updating lesson plans, learning new ways to reach students, and consulting the old teachers of your students to get suggestions of how to help them.
If you are a writer, some Quadrant II goals might be to experiment with different genres, to learn how to market yourself for publishing, and to improve your daily writing productivity.
Covey believes that to be a “highly effective" person, you need to move Quadrant II activities to the top of your priority list.
Now, how do you do this if you are a destitute writer who is balancing seven hundred things at once? The counter question: Do you want to be an amazing writer or just one who gets by?
Drop a few hundred tasks. More often than not, very few of those many, many (probably not actually seven hundred :) ) tasks will actually help you advance in your career. Work some Quadrant II tasks into your life. If you could learn one skill that would help you as a writer and help your career, what would it be? Learn that skill. Or work your way up to learning that skill.
I still have plenty of Quadrant I tasks in my life, but one of my current goals is to primarily focus on Quadrant II tasks in 2009. I don’t expect to rid myself of all these urgent, important tasks. Unless you are a multi-millionaire with a large staff, you probably can’t get rid of Quadrant I entirely. But I know that if I continue to work on my development as a writer, my production capability, I will become better.
Start adding Quadrant II to your daily to-do lists. Find a way to focus on your capacity for writing and improving your abilities at least some of the time. Fifty two weeks of consistent development will make you a much stronger writer than one who finishes his standstill tasks every day of his life.
Bryan Cohen is the author of more than 30 books, many of which focus on creative writing and blasting through that pesky writer's block. His books have sold more than 20,000 copies. You can find him on Google+ and Facebook.