Are you in Q2?

In the late 90s I had the opportunity to attend an executive leadership breakfast keynoted by the late (and great) Steven Covey. I’d read several of his books, including the classic, Seven Habits of a Highly Effective  People, as well as First Things First and had had good experience applying them to running my sole proprietorship.  Covey’s talk centered on creating effective teams within an existing structure.  I had primarily been hoping for an injection of positive energy – and Covey certainly provided that. But it also turned out to be an important and very practical turning point for my business.  Although not exactly what Covey was talking about, I was inspired to come up with a new framework for my company.  I was so excited I couldn’t even leave the parking garage.  I sat in my car, sketching out an entirely new team-based structure for O’Brien & Company.  In 2011 I transferred ownership of O’Brien & Company to three employee-principals, and although the framework is more sophisticated, and team definitions have evolved, the team structure is still intact and works well for the company.

The point of this post, however, is not really to discuss team-based structure, but to encourage use of a planning tool Covey promoted in his writing, and that I had adopted by the time the above event occurred.  This was the important/urgent matrix (see below):

URGENT/IMPORTANT MATRIX Based on Steven Covey
Q1 Urgent, Not Important Q2 Urgent, Important
Q3 Not Urgent, Not Important Q4 Not Urgent, Not Important

Spending most of my time in Quadrant 2 (that is handling important matters that were not urgent) became my goal – and it became a mantra around the office…”Are you in Q2?”

New hires quickly picked up on the lingo, and we all learned that practice makes perfect!   Like anyone else I could easily “relapse” into Q1 behavior, but the more I practiced Q2 behavior (you might say “recovery”) the more I was able to practice it, and benefit from it.  What is Q2 behavior? In our office shorthand, it was interpreted as prep and planning. If we were acting on something important (it mattered to our values, our bottom line, our brand) without prep and planning, then we there was a good chance we were in Q1 (or about to be!).

Spending time on personal development (which is one way to interpret my attendance at the Covey event) and then taking advantage of the privacy of my car to sketch out an idea for improving my company’s performance (rather than quickly returning to the office and diving into my in-box) are two examples of Q2 behavior…both of which have had lasting, positive effects.

With practice, it’s become easier and easier to detect when I am on the slippery slope into Q1 (or even Q3). If I feel the least bit agitated, I know it is NOT time to act, but time to PAUSE.  This pause helps me identify whether I am  about to take action on something that matters and whether there is some planning or prep I could be doing to make that action more effective.  So a four-step routine for acting more effectively: 1) Stop the action when agitated, and 2) Ask yourself, “Am I in Q2?” 3) If not, imagine what Q2 behavior would look like in that particular situation (which of course IS Q2 behavior) and 4) Act in accord.  For anyone hoping to take a leadership role, developing this routine is essential to success.