Tuesday, 12 June 2012

My favourite coaching tools: Stephen R Covey's Four Quadrants For Time Usage

Another very simple and effective tool to provide, to teach, yet the power of habit and the interference of self-perception often means that coachees struggle to fully deploy the Four Quadrants and learn from the data they collect about themselves. Practice will be required especially by those who are "too busy" - in fact as a coach you may have to help your coachee capture all the correct details by seating yourself near them if possible.

I first read about this tool in Stephen R Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (UK) (or US) which provides a link to a PDF containing basically the steps below. I believe the tool is actually presented in First Things First (UK) (or US) co-authored by Stephen and A. Roger Merrill which I have not read yet.

Sheet of A4 and a pen
A day in the life of the coachee
Ruler (optional)

Step 1: Help your coachee to create 4 quadrants on the piece of paper. Turn the paper lengthwise and draw a vertical line through the middle as well as a horizontal line also through the middle.

Step 2: Label Column 1: "Urgent" and Column 2: "Not Urgent"

Step 3: Label Row 1: "Important" and Row 2: "Unimportant"

Step 4: Pick a day in the life of the coachee where they will capture all the tasks and activities they engage in, on this matrix. A simple 1 worder should be sufficient.

As a coach with a very busy coachee, you might seat yourself nearby and create the same matrix for your coachee to compare with later.

Step 5: At the end of the day, the coachee should have approximately 30 words. Some might have as few as 5-10 (in which case your own observation version might be required, or simply more practice).

Step 6: Ask the coachee to guesstimate how much time was spent performing each of the tasks and activities noted.

Step 7: Now calculate the percentage of time spent in each of the quadrants

Step 8: Now label the top left quadrant as "I: Burned Out", the top right quadrant as "II: Change Agent", the bottom left quadrant as "III: Bored But Busy" and the bottom right quadrant as "IV: Fired"

You can use Rory Bowman's Public Domain picture to discuss the quadrants further:

Covey Matrix
Covey Matrix

Step 9: Put the date on the sheet of paper and have your coachee either punch holes and file it, or take a photograph and file that safely on email/computer

Step 10: Put a note in the calendar to repeat this exercise in about a month to see if there has been any shift.

Usually the 2nd and 3rd running of the tool by the coachee does result in a small change to the amount of time spent in Quadrant II - where Covey suggests people should be. This is because the coachee is trying to improve themselves, and are now aware of the danger of Quadrant IV "work", as well as, unfortunately, trying to improve/change to impress you as the coach. Make sure to reiterate that coaching is for their benefit and that they're trying to break bad habits and increase good habits to improve their happiness at work, to become more effective, to get promoted even.

Some coachees get quite excited and suggest creating and completing 1 of these every day but I advise against this as it just creates more data, which needs to be interpreted and could result in overload / not seeing the wood for the trees. Sometimes though, I do ask the coachee to put 4 questions on the wall/monitor in front of them at work: "Burn out?", "Bored?", "Fired?" and "Change agent?" which seems to have quite a positive effect for the first few weeks - until the new thought processes are more familiar.

Change is hard, and change takes time and dedication to make happen, especially to/for oneself.

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