Reclaim Your Time: It’s a Choice

Have you ever looked back on the day, the week, or even the last month and asked, “Where did the time go?”  I feel so busy all the time and yet if asked, I would be hard-pressed to tell you exactly where my time went.  I set goals at the beginning of the week, feeling optimistic about getting it all done, and yet it somehow doesn’t.

The 5 Choices caught my attention because it claims to be a tool that “increases your productivity and empowers you to make high-impact choices about where to invest your valuable time, attention, and energy.” I’m still reading it, but so far I’ve been able to make some changes, reflecting on how I spend my time and being mindful about how I choose to do so.

According to The 5 Choices, we spend our time in one of 4 quadrants:

Quadrant 1: NECESSITY [Where things are “urgent” and important.  This means that they must be done now or there are serious consequences.]

  • crises, pressing problems, unforeseen events
  • deadlines
  • emergency meetings

Quadrant 3: DISTRACTION [Where things are “urgent” but not actually important. This means we believe it must be done now, but there are no serious consequences if we don’t.]

  • needless interruptions, other people’s minor issues
  • irrelevant meetings
  • unimportant emails, tasks, phone calls, status posts

Quadrant 4: WASTE [Where things are neither “urgent” nor important. This is where we go when we are burned out from being in Q1 and Q3, to escape. Our brains go unconscious and we fill our time with excessive and unproductive relaxation. These activities are OK, in moderation.]

  • excessive television
  • aimless Internet surfing
  • gaming

Quadrant 2: EXTRAORDINARY PRODUCTIVITY [Where things are important but not urgent. This is where we take charge of our own life, doing things that make a real difference in terms of accomplishment and results. This is the only quadrant where you have to consciously choose to be here – the others happen to you.]

  • proactive work, planning, prevention
  • achieving high-impact goals
  • creativity
  • relationship building
  • learning and renewal

So how do we get to Q2 and spend as much time as possible there?  They propose a skill called “PCD” (Pause, Clarify, Decide).  It’s about taking a moment to make conscious choices about your time; to ask yourself which quadrant this would be in and choose to do something that is productive and moves you forward. Relaxation is essential, and is part of Q2, but it’s about being thoughtful about your “rest” time, too.

The 5 Choices is a good read for anyone feeling overly busy and wanting to take charge of our time, in order to achieve our professional and personal goals and become as productive as we can be, both at work and at home.

@adamcaplan @jmedved @gnichols




11 thoughts on “Reclaim Your Time: It’s a Choice

  1. Nice find here Kelly! Always looking for ways to be more productive, and balanced, with time! As I read this, and reflected on your past posts, I could see this “PCD” strategy as a great routine for the last 3mins in class – even as an exit ticket for your students.

    Thanks for a great post – glad you hacked your way back into your account too 🙂

    1. Hi Garth,

      I like your suggestion of using the PCD as an exit ticket at the end of class. I could have students Pause, Clarify and Decide how they feel about the lesson, and what they feel they still need to learn, or what questions they still have. The nice thing is that it would work in French too (Pause, Clarifier, Décider). 🙂

      Happy New Year!

  2. This reminds me of the “Getting Things Done” system by David Allen – I *still* haven’t finished the online course I was taking on it (haha, irony or what??), but it definitely sounds similar in its approach to “pause, clarify, decide” before taking action. Looks like another book to add to my massively growing pile! (Does it have any suggestions for dealing with “to-read” lists? 🙂


    1. Hi Jen,
      I completely understand what you mean by “to-read” lists. I have a pile of books too, from time management to leadership to diversity to history (personal interest). I tend to move between them, depending on my mood and what I’m working on, and have a hard time finishing any of them cover-to-cover. It works for me, for now, but I’d like to get through them all at some point!
      I took a look at David Allen’s GTD; it looks interesting, but seems to require a lot of “To Do” lists, which don’t work for me. 🙂 I recently read an article by Arianna Huffington about a book called “Rest” ( – ha ha another book! But one thing that stayed with me is the idea that we have to be as deliberate about our rest time as we are about our work. So I’m approaching my “free moments” in a more systematic way, setting small goals and making sure that I spend my free time doing things that make me feel happy and creative, and not just escaping into mindless moments that make me feel more drained than ever.
      I’ll let you know if “5 Choices” has tips for our “To Read” lists. 🙂

  3. @kcarlsonI love it when Cohort members do book reviews because I get to learn all about these great resources and how teachers are applying them. Happy new year Kelly! See you on the 20th. It will be here before we know it!

    1. @jmedved Thanks! Just one of many books I’m reading these days! I’m really looking forward to our next F2F, I always feel so inspired and creative! I leave next Wednesday for a 4-day ski trip to Quebec. January is going to be crazy! Good thing I’m working on my time management. 🙂

      See you soon!

  4. This is also so relevant and useful for our students to learn as well. I’ve taught the four quadrants to my students in Gr. 7 and we have divided up all our tasks into the 4 boxes. For students, I’ve found, it’s revelatory to see that they have a choice over what gets done when and how they chose to focus this precious time!

  5. Hi Kelly,
    Thank you for coming upon this gem of a read. I will definitely have to being reading that. I have been finding a difficult time this year trying to balance the demands of work, marking, trying to be an active coach (which I’m not doing so well on) and getting prepared to welcome our first baby into the world. It is amazing how much time ends up in Waste- yet is it actually waste when trying to find the best crib mattress instead of marking assessments, or instead of writing a blog post, reading students papers? When I look at the quadrants, I cant find where that fits in… am I lost soul in productivity? hahah What do you feel takes up the majority of your ‘free time’ during a day? Are you able to find yourself within these 4 quadrants depending on what you are doing during a day or is there a missing quadrant like myself?
    Well perhaps reading the book will help me figure myself out a bit better. I swear I use to be an extraordinary productive person a few years back!

    1. Dear Vanessa,

      I totally understand where you are. I have to say that time management and finding balance between the demands of work and family are challenges that never go away. I want to tell you to be gentle with yourself and know that you’re doing your best, and that your best will be better on some days than on others. As an about-to-be new mom, there are so many things going on in your life right now, and things will be different again when your baby is born. And as teachers, we have so many things pulling at our time and energy, and fulfilling some of our responsibilities comes easier than others (i.e. coaching, I totally understand). We cannot expect to be perfect at all of it.

      As far as the time you are spending looking for a crib mattress, I would put that in “preparing for baby” which is a big deal and should be a happy, joyous thing. Preparation is in Quadrant 2 and, as it makes you happy, a part of the “renewal” piece as well. Don’t feel bad for taking time away from work to do things that make you happy.

      For me personally, since my first baby was born (he’s 9 now and I have a 7-year-old son too), the biggest thing I had to learn was to let go of the things that seem important but aren’t, in the big scheme of things. This means my house was often messy, laundry didn’t always get done, meals were not cordon bleu and I had to put aside my career and academic pursuits for a while.

      I hope this helps! I look forward to seeing you on Friday and would love to connect!



  6. Hey Kelly,
    Thanks for this post! This is definitely a book I need to read – but where do I find the time! 🙂

    Working in boarding, this is an incredibly pertinent topic for staff and students. We all need to take time to recharge and it’s important that we allow ourselves to do so.

    I’m definitely going to set up my quadrant above my desk and better manage my time. Thanks for helping me grow.

    Have you checked out what @aharding has done in the past?

    1. Hi Derek,

      I haven’t read the whole book yet. Like everyone, I have so many things I want to know, reflected in a big pile of books waiting for me. I need to delve deeper! It would be fun to have a book club on it, and talk about our little experiences with our efforts to manage time. I think it seems so overwhelming sometimes but that, really, it starts with small moments and small decisions on how to spend the time we have.

      Looking forward to further discussions,

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