I chose to stay in my dorm writing this editorial instead of going out sledding with friends.
Yes, it was a choice. Yes, it was not necessarily my favorite decision I have ever made. I could have chosen to write this editorial as well as complete other assignments earlier in the week so that I could have wiggle room on the weekend for that which I would really like to do.
Instead, I spent time this week trying to do everything that was due the next day. I kept up with homework, but only barely. I finished papers just in time to turn them in and scrambled to squeeze in 50 pages of reading in the 15 minutes left before class. I never got to the “working ahead” which I have wanted to incorporate into my study skills for so long.
In his book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” Stephen Covey explains a system of Quadrant Thinking, which rates different activities or tasks by what is important or unimportant, urgent or non-urgent. Covey recommends spending most of your time in the quadrant labelled “important but non-urgent.”
If we spend time on what is important to us but not immediately urgent, then we cultivate our skills, talents and strengths. But if we only ever do what is urgent and requires immediate attention, we are never left with enough time to address long-term projects or goals.
Covey strongly discourages wasting too much time on that which is unimportant and non-urgent, such as Netflix-binges and busywork. If it is not productive and does not directly add to your quality of life, why bother with it when there is so much that is worthy of time and commitment?
Even though I know about Quadrant Thinking, I often forget to incorporate its lessons into my daily routines. I sit down to grind out homework and find myself instantly distracted by everything that I could do instead. I dither over deadlines, scroll through social media or hold a prolonged text conversation with a friend, consumed with the “urgent need” of notifications and what I determine requires immediate attention.
And even when not strictly studying, I spend so much of my social time mentally obsessing over an unfinished assignment or even with my laptop in front of me. Oftentimes, leaving a document open on my computer does not mean I actually get substantial work done; it only detracts from the concentration I have on the present and on the friends in my company.
I want to manage my time so as to fully enter into the moments of quality time I am able to spend with friends. Not every interaction or task is of the same importance. Answering a text in the middle of working on an assignment throws off my concentration and working on an assignment during a movie night results in unfinished work and a lack of enjoyment from the movie. I, for one, feel a perpetual state of preoccupation when I worry over phone notifications or deadlines during class, Mass or a social event.
We only have so much time during the day to get something done, so don’t we want to make it count?
So that is why, instead of continuing to ruminate over a half-finished idea while out at dinner, I will begin now, today, to do what I must so as to do what I can tomorrow. At this moment, that means finishing this editorial, so I can be fully present to the editorial staff this week instead of worrying that I still need to finish this. For me, it looks like leaving my phone and laptop outside the common room while I’m spending time with friends and going to a quiet place — note to self: not the JC — to get my work done in a timely manner.
Maybe one day I won’t scramble last minute for everything. For now, I will enter into every moment, activity and task with full concentration.