Four Quadrants

One of the more intriguing concepts in the book SevenHabitsOfHighlyEffectivePeople is that of the four quadrants of activity management:
                                Not
               Urgent          Urgent
          +---------------+---------------+
          |               |               |
 Important|      I        |     II        |
          |               |               |
          +---------------+---------------+
          |               |               |
 Not      |     III       |     IV        |
 Important|               |               |
          +---------------+---------------+
The separation of urgent from important is something many people don't realize. People tend to focus on urgent activities (QuadrantOne and QuadrantThree), mistaking them as important. The QuadrantThree activities soak up their time, making the QuadrantOne activities into bigger emergencies than they need to be. This is the FireFighting many software companies experience when they are stuck in chaos (CMM level 1). When all the fires are out (temporarily), they relax by spending some time on QuadrantFour activities like surfing the web, watching TV, etc. They tend to neglect QuadrantTwo activities. This AntiPattern of behaviour leads to BurnOut.

StephenCovey advocates allocating time on QuadrantTwo activities. SharpenTheSaw is a perfect example of such an activity. As we replenish and rebuild ourselves with QuadrantTwo activities, we build skills and tools to handle QuadrantOne activities better, which ends up freeing our time for our own pursuits. This pattern of behaviour leads to happy, healthy and fulfilled lives.


QuadrantOne, QuadrantTwo, QuadrantThree, and QuadrantFour as applied to software activities:

Q1: Q2: Q3: Q4:

On the choice of numbering scheme

The quadrants are numbered this way in the book, but the FourQuadrants are a tool for helping to classify TimeSinks and to remind one not to neglect the important. Learning the numbers by rote is not likely to help.

Numbering them makes them easy to reference; rather than talking about "Things that are important but not urgent," you just talk about "QuadrantTwo activities." It's convenient notation more than anything else.


[Break between refactored-into-DocumentMode and ThreadMode here]

I don't like the enumeration of quadrants. Why not use the mathematical standard? Do HighlyEffectivePeople? InventTheWheel? every day? -- OleAndersen

Er, which particular standard are you referring to, can you name it?

The good thing about standards is that there are SoManyToChooseFrom.

OK, so look at it like this: the center is 0,0. Urgent is negative X. Not Important is negative Y.


That's the problem. I believe OleAndersen's point was that if you do consider the picture to be in the standard Cartesian plane as you suggest, the quadrant numbers are wrong. There is a mathematical standard for enumerating the quadrants, and it goes in the order the quadrants are encountered when sweeping through a circle of increasing angular measure starting from 0. In other words, counterclockwise from the upper right; which means that I and II are reversed in the SevenHabitsOfHighlyEffectivePeople scheme.

So it's better not to look at it from the perspective of geometry, but English; the numbers proceed left to right and top down, just as English does on the page. The fact that the labels are numbers does not automatically imply that you have to resort to math. :)

-- MarkReed

English can't just make up it's own quadrant-enumerating standards. How about this slightly unintuitive (but geeky) way of looking at the four quadrants:

              Urgent XOR     Urgent NXOR
              Important       Important
          +---------------+---------------+
          |               |               |
 Important|      II       |      I        |
          |               |               |
          +---------------+---------------+
          |               |               |
 Not      |     III       |     IV        |
 Important|               |               |
          +---------------+---------------+
Read it like this:

 Important + Urgent NXOR Important == Important and Urgent == I
 Important + Urgent XOR Important == Important but not Urgent == II
 Not Important + Urgent XOR Important == Not Important, but Urgent == III
 Not Important + Urgent NXOR Important == Neither Important nor Urgent == IV

You get the benefit of both the mathematical standard while also having the same quadrants as the book, so you don't confuse anyone but yourself, should you get lost in the world of boolean operators. (I mostly wrote the above as a counterpoint to all the talk about enumeration. Maybe it's time for everything from On the choice of numbering scheme and downwards to be deleted?)

-- SunnanFenderson

Just as a guess, I imagine time spent worrying about the nature of the numbering scheme would fall in Quadrant IV Ah, but which Quadrant IV?


The difficulty with this approach is it presupposes only 4 values: urgent, not urgent, important, and not important. In reality, one usually has a continuum of "how urgent" and "how important." This leads to a scattering of points all over the graph with no clear indication of where to draw the dividing axes. This also leads to the issue of how much time one wants to spend determining urgency levels, importance levels, plotting, and deciding what to do next. Ah, but worrying about these things definitely falls into the not urgent/not important quadrant.

some remarks after a long time, if you want to put hands on it instead of just theoretically discuss it: try "Taskspace" http://www.doc.ic.ac.uk/~np2/software/todo.html - just an experiment making use of the "CoveyQuadrant?". Old, but still pretty cool although surprisingly easy.

"In devops we are never panic as much as when we are push out of quadrant 3" - @devops_borat


We use the four quadrants method in a similar way as described above. One interesting peculiarity of our method is that when the 1st quadrant of our Priority Matrix (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priority_Matrix) is empty, we ship a new release. Action items from Q2 are usually broken down into more actionable, concrete items that belong in Q1.

EditText of this page (last edited May 1, 2013) or FindPage with title or text search