I am constantly looking for new strategies to make more effective usage of my limited time. One of the approaches I use is to try to classify any issue according to two dimensions:
- The level of control I have over this issue.
- The importance of this issue’s consequences.
So there are issues for which I have lots of control over their possible outcomes, but for others not. Accordingly, there are issues that may have critical impact on my life, but others may be much less relevant. The combinations in these two dimensions create the four quadrants depicted below:
Let’s examine and discuss each one of them.
Low Control and Minor Consequences
These are the issues we should not be interested in wasting any time with. From one side we have very low control over their outcome, and from the other side they have a negligible influence on our life. For example, this category includes all kinds of events happening on distant countries. It also includes all kinds of gossip, sports, reality shows and stories about celebrities. As a consequence, I stopped completely to watch news on TV and to read newspapers. Since the media is always focused on tragedies, by not spending my time consuming this kind of information I also became a happier person.
High Control and Minor Consequences
This category sounds a bit weird: why would we have lots of control on issues that have minor consequences? But it actually includes many things we don’t really care about the result, even if we could influence the result. For example, this frequently happens when we are making decisions as part of a relationship with other individuals or in a team. So your wife wants to paint the walls beige, but you prefer white? Let her decide. Your colleagues at work want to eat Chinese food but you prefer fish-and-chips? Go eat Chinese with them, you can have your fish another day. Don’t waste your time with issues that have minor impact on your life.
Low Control and Major Consequences
In this case, the best thing we may do is to get prepared for the potential outcomes of events that may have a major impact on our life. This is the reason people make all kinds of insurances: life insurance, health insurance, home insurance. We have low control over accidents or sickness. This is also the reason people save money, have pension funds and invest their time making courses to acquire new professional skills. Even a person who is absolutely happy in his current job should consider the possibility that he/she may need to look for a new position in the future. I personally invest lots of time trying to be ready for the many “possible futures”.
High Control and Major Consequences
This is the category of issues that should get most of our focus and deserve our best efforts: the things for which we can actually control their outcome and that have a great impact on our life. The most obvious example is our work: our professional success depends on our dedication, and our career growth path can be planned and executed. It also includes the investments in relationships with the people who are closer to us: our family and our best friends. But unfortunately most people are not giving enough attention to issues that have important consequences for their lives because they are being constantly distracted by many things that should be totally irrelevant.