At War with Stephen Covey

Have you ever seen Stephen Covey’s Four Quadrants of time management? I wouldn’t be surprised if you had: Gaia knows they’re everywhere across the Internet, and they’re also featured as a core component of many many management and success seminars.


I’ve cherry-picked a reproduction of the quadrants that makes the point I want. The trick, according to this structure, is to maximize your investment in the “Important but Not Urgent” quadrant, so that important things don’t elevate to “Urgent and Important” (i.e., crisis level). In the meantime, be very wary of the “Urgent but Not Important” category, because this is where the majority of the time sucks and distractors are likely to be housed. (The expectation here is that “Not Urgent/Not Important” things are fairly easy to jettison, while the urgent unimportant things can sometimes be harder to let go of. Fair enough.)

But what if it’s pretty much all urgent and important?

I feel as if I live much of my life by what I have come to call the “bonfire method of project management.”  Which conflagration is burning hottest and brightest, most likely to take down the homestead? Well, throw a little water (effort, time attention) in that direction so it dies down a touch. Now re-assess: which fire is hottest now?

Lather, rinse, repeat. (Yes, I know: I’m mixing my elements along with my metaphors. Bad witch!)

This pattern may be nothing more than an ongoing demonstration at the way I suck at self-motivation and planning ahead. Regardless, I am living a week where pretty much everything feels legitimately Important. And the tension I’m feeling is that the most urgent (time-sensitive) of these important things are all the items driven by external responsibilities — hitting the next work deadline, doing my homework for the retreat weekend, packing for the trip — while the items on the list that are arguably less urgent (i.e., most readily postpone-able) are the tasks and practices I have chosen for myself — journal-writing, ed-reading, JALC.

priorities_despairYes, this is, admittedly, an oversimplification. After all, no one forced me into my wacky non-profit career, and even though the retreat homework and travel is a function of me following someone else’s  direction, the retreat is also an investment in my soul’s growth.

Still, this is another pattern that often runs in my life: putting a higher priority on my responsibilities to others as compared to my responsibility to myself. After all, one of the trickiest parts of Covey’s whole structure is figuring out an answer to this key question: Important to whom?

I was listening to The Jayhawks recently, and there’s a snatch of song lyric that captures this for me:

I don’t expect you to see
But she’s important to me, babe
I guess it’s just one man’s problem


After all, I bet those “Urgent but Not Important” things you’re supposed to be so wary of in your ruthless Covey-an self-management structure are things that are actually legitimately important to someone, if not to you. So that ruthlessly efficient choice setting you up for success could also be the kind of choice that’s screwing some other poor sap over.

Maybe blogging or journal-writing or reading about education all seem like stupid priorities compared to Huge Essential Work projects and Elevated Cutting-Edge Soul Development work. Or, at least, maybe they would seem that way to someone outside my skin, outside my system, outside my soul and aura.

But they feel vitally important to me, babe. One woman’s priorities.

Which is why I continue cheating my sleep these past few days, trying to sprinkle some water on every last one of these important bonfires.

I don’t exactly know how I’m gonna make it to the plane intact at this pace, or, after that, how I’ll have enough gas in the tank to survive the weekend. But I’m just gonna have to figure that out step by step and minute by minute.

Because every bit of this matters.


Image credits:

Covey’s quadrants:



A Test of Spiritual Maturity

So, my next retreat weekend is in two weeks. Yup: very close in time to my return from The Trip, so I’ll admit I’ve been wrestling a bit with the decision of whether to go or not.

On the practical side of the scale against going is the fact that I just got back from a big ol’ trip and I’m not really loving the idea of getting in another plane and missing more workdays so quickly after the big vacation. It’s also true that I’ve come back to the office in time for a couple intense projects, which makes me even more uncomfortable about skipping work. Especially since one of the projects coming to deadline during this fortnight is one that I’m particularly excited and inspired by.

On the practical side of the scale towards going is the value I hold for this work, and the ways I know to my bones that it has helped move my life and my soul’s mission forward.

So, looking rationally, there’s not a super-strong weightiness towards either choice on the should I stay or should I go? see-saw. Which at some level, isn’t surprising. My life at work and at home here in Massachusetts are sufficiently rich that I bet I could always come up with a list of reasons to blow off a particular retreat weekend.

But I don’t ever skip the weekends. Like I said last time around: the weekends are always hard work, but I have never regretted going. In fact, I have always felt the gratitude and benefits of going.

And so, a week or two before The Trip — well after my usual 5-6 weeks ahead of time discipline in buying plane tickets and making travel arrangements — the fact that I hadn’t been able to bring myself to make time off and travel arrangements had me really curious. Some part of me, some strong identity, was really not wanting to go to this particular weekend. And the resistance was stronger than anything I’ve felt before.

I mean, I’ve had times where I contemplated skipping a weekend — there was one right after we moved into the house here, and I remember taking a good long look at whether it made sense to be on a plane so soon after moving. But the temptation to skip was never this strong this far into the game, so I really began to wonder if maybe the soul-centered decisions this time around was to stay in New England after returning home from Europe.

So I was putting a lot of reflection to the question. Like, a spinning myself into a panic level of reflection. After talking to a couple friends and classmates, I realized that, being as the source of my resistance was in the energetic/instinctual/emotional realm — and quite frankly, being that the primary value I hold in the work is similarly energetic and instinctual (though probably energetic/instinctual/spiritual rather than emotional) — this was not a decision I was going to be able to think myself to. I can make all the pros and cons lists I could possibly wish, but that sort of rational tool isn’t going to help me make what is ultimately a soul-based decision.

So I let go of the question and prayed to Spirit for a sign. A nice, clear, brick to the face kind of sign.

Nothing pertinent showed up during The Trip itself. (Not too surprising: there was so much to see and learn on other fronts, what room was there in the days for a message about this particular question?) So, Friday morning, I used my normal journal-writing time to pull cards on the question.

And the cards were as clear as they could possibly be: it is in my best and highest good to go down for the retreat weekend.

spiritual-disciplinesAnd I have enough spiritual discipline and maturity to follow through when the signs are as clear as this one was. So my plane tickets are purchased, and I worked with my teachers and the Center to create a somewhat-modified schedule that will allow me to balance my responsibilities to work and then take the last flight out of Boston Thursday night.

But I’ll say this much: it’s a hell of a lot easier to follow Spirit’s guidance when the cards are telling you to do what you already want to do. In this case, when the the ego-identities and emotional body are still running strong with resistance and rebellion? It is a veritable challenge to hold centered in that.

At some core, mature soul-centered place, I know I’ve made the right choice. (The sign in the cards was that clear. Really and truly.) Now I just need to hold the ego-identitites and fear-selves with a mixture of compassion and discipline. I know you’re scared. I’ll keep comforting you, and I’ll be here the whole time. But we’re going. Together, we’re going.


Image credit:

Gone Fishin

Gone Fishin’

Gone Fishin

Off on an early morning flight to the retreat tomorrow.

Last night and tonight I was/am deep in packing, preparation, and managing domestic tasks to compensate for the abbreviated week. And once I’m at the retreat center, I’m completely off-the-grid till I emerge Sunday evening.

So: no blogging for Sherri this week.

I’m excited. And nervous. And a little stirred up — some of the forces I expect I’ll be processing tomorrow-and-onward have erupted a tiny bit early.* The retreat will be hard work, but it’ll be good work, and work well-worth the doing.


* Which is how it usually goes for me.