I’ve been looking at ways to improve my productivity, especially around how I manage my tasks. So I’ve been reading The 5 Choices and it uses the Covey’s Time Matrix as its foundation.
One of my challenges right now is trying to stay within Quadrant 2 (or Q2 for short). The Quality Time quadrant. This is where your time spent has a multiplier effect on the value returned. Things like learning, planning or spending time with family.
Most of my time is spent in Q1 or Q3. I do spend some time in Q4, but mainly after spending so much time in Q1 and Q3 that my willpower is spent to do something in Q2.
As I was reviewing my annual appraisal, it came to me that we encourage behaviour that puts us in Q1 or Q3.
Think about it for a moment.
People get praised for helping out in crises and emergencies. When someone calls a member of my team for "urgent" (not urgent) issues, and they get help, they are thanked and my team member feels a little good inside.
These actions provide the person with a hit of dopamine, causing the person to want to repeat that action for another hit. And thereby encouraging the behaviour. Instant gratification does its magic.
However, Q2 activities are long, with outcomes that are sometimes uncertain. These are things that may show up in an annual appraisal, which is still a long time away from the "instant" praise they may get for solving someone’s issue on the phone.
One way that you may deal with the Q2 issue is to break down the task with smaller tasks that you can hit regularly. But even this is not so instant unless you can get this down daily or smaller. All the while, you’re still getting bombarded with Q1 and Q3 dopamine hits regularly.
And if you try to dissuade the Q1 and Q3 behaviour? You get hit with "poor customer service" because you’re not answering the phones, or you ask that they call back later when you’re not working on an important task. After all, the customer has also been conditioned for instant gratification too.
The challenge is to change the mindset and reframe the thinking. I could work on this one item that will help this one person, or I could work on this other item that will help a hundred people. Which would you choose?
It’ll still come down to which I will get praised faster.
Damn you instant gratification.