The Modern Juggler

Do you know anyone who feels like they have an abundance of free time and no idea what to do with it?  Most working adults, perhaps particularly those integrating professional and family obligations, are having the opposite experience.  Tasks and to-do’s are a constant source of stress and triage, correspondence is ongoing, and oh by the way, someone has to do the laundry, clean the dishes, prepare the taxes, get an oil change for the car, take the kids to the dentist…

Believe it or not, modern adults in the United States have less leisure time than your average hunter-gatherer in sub-Saharan Africa.  For all our vaunted technological prowess and knowledge about the universe, in this dimension at least we have gone backwards since shifting our source of subsistence to agriculture.  While it is possible to make good cases for all kind of cultural subsistence systems, what is hard to argue against is the negative impact of constant stress on our brains, mediated by the hormone cortisol.  Basically, our brains are subjected to extended periods of high stress in ways for which they were not designed – the fight or flight reaction is supposed to short and relatively infrequent.  The impact of all that cortisol on our minds is quite destructive, and quickly leads to anxiety and depression at clinical levels.

What is the impact of all this on our relationships with friends, family, community, and spirituality?  Not so good.  Most of us spend an enormous amount of time on items that, if we were able to step back and consider what really matters, we might shift lower on our lists.  So this week, I am pleased to share the following mechanism for doing just that!  Popularized by Stephen Covey (7 Habits of Highly Effective People), President Dwight Eisenhower’s Urgent-Important Matrix is a simple and powerful tool that, when used regularly and thoughtfully, can improve your entire time management paradigm.



The first step is to dump everything out of your brain into the matrix.  Many of us spend a lot of our time in Quadrants 1 and 3, and the goal is to get at least some of your time into Quadrant 2 – that is where you get to do visioning, proactive planning, and strategic items that will actually improve your life, rather than simply spending your time putting out fires.

My additional trick is to use this tool for leisure or interpersonal items, not just work.  Try to include at least a few of the following in Quadrant 1, so that each day isn’t exclusively “live to work,” and some are “work to live”:

  • Call an old friend and reconnect
  • Spend 1-on-1 time with a family member
  • take a walk or exercise
  • spend time listing things you are grateful for
  • go to therapy
  • read for pleasure
  • play or listen to a piece of music you enjoy

I’m sure you have plenty of other items that should end up in Quadrant 1, where your highest priority items land, and of course we all have to earn a living.  This Shabbat, the regular break Jews take weekly to reconnect with what really matters, try shifting something that makes you happy higher on your list of to-do’s!

Shabbat Shalom,