The Matrix of Self-Management

This is David Allen's Self Management Matrix, which I found very interesting and apparently usable. If you are struggling a bit at this time like me, it may be worthwhile for you to have a look.

Let me explain the two parameters Control and Perspective. There is a great example in the article I picked the matrix up from. [Read it here] It is about an organized kitchen and a great dinner to cook. The control is about having an organized kitchen, with all ingredients in the right boxes and clean utensils ready to be used. The perspective is about knowing what to cook and how to present it.

As you can, it is nice to have both. Only then we can cook a great meal for our guests which will Wow them. However, without one or the other, that won't be possible.

As I looked, I gave these various quadrants names. For example, the optimal one on the Top-Right, which combines great control with abundant perspective, I labelled Leadership quadrant. That's where every great man wants to be. The one below that, bottom-right, which signifies great control but a lack of perspective, is the Blindness quadrant. Being in this one makes everything go right, without the knowledge what one is going for. The one on the top-left, which signifies an abundance of perspective, but a lack of control, is the Up-in-the-Air quadrant. And, the bottom-left quadrant, the one with low control and low perspective, is a Sinking Feeling quadrant.

I used this matrix to analyze my own situation. It was fairly easy. As I look around, my flat is in a mess and I can't find most of my papers. My schedule is up in the air, and I am supposed to be in Poland, Ireland, India, Philippines, Dubai, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka next week. I am supposed to expand our network reach, submit my research proposal, collect our dues, do a business plan for an e-learning operation and talk about starting a business school in Mumbai and a media school in Kolkata, all next week.

You got it right - I am in a low control zone, in Up-in-the-Air quadrant.

However, I know others in other zones too. I can talk about a friend who is perpetually behind all his deadlines, but without committing himself to anything new or innovative. He is surely in the Sinking Feeling quadrant - responding to whatever is thrown at him, perpetually trying to clean his house but without knowing what for. And, of course, I know many people, great people, who are in complete control of their life, but don't know what the next step will be. A great example is a colleague I once worked with - I have never seen a more organized person - but she was moving along the lines set for her without trying to set the agenda. Last time I have spoken to her, she was trying to get out of the Blindness quadrant by taking time off work and thinking through her life's priorities.

The good thing about this matrix these boxes are not prisons to live in. This is about knowing where you are. The goal, if you are ambitious, want to live in your own terms and want to make a difference, will be to move to the Leadership quadrant. If you are not there yet, do not despair - find where you are and this matrix tells you how to get there.

For example, I need to work on Control. So, the first thing I need to do, before any of my travel commitments, organize my papers. Then, cut down on my commitments and see which ones can wait. Also, space out my travel commitments over next 6 to 12 weeks and mark the dates on my diary. Yes, indeed, the first thing I need is my diary, so I shall head out soon to buy a refill for my Filofax.

But, for those in the Blindness quadrant, it is just the opposite. Their diaries are all stitched up already. They actually need to throw away their diaries and take a sabbatical. This is exactly what my very conscious ex-colleague did. Went away. Did various things. Played. Saw places, and people. Introduced a variety to her 8-to-8 office bound life. I am sure she will return a transformed person.

The challenge is, however, in the Sinking Feeling quadrant. I was talking to a new mom recently, who was feeling severely depressed. Because, with a two year old son, she can do little and often her schedule is dictated by her son's fitness and sleeping times. Her perspective has all but disappeared, with the severe pressure on her time commitments and the fact that she had to leave her job and the career she was building up. Or, my friend, who seems to be always behind deadlines. Looking at the matrix, one knows that there are two separate paths to Leadership Quadrant, one through Perspective first, and the other through Control. So, would I suggest that the new mom bring some perspective - start dreaming about things she should do, which will give her energy to do those things? And, a separate solution to my friend, who needs to have control on his life, which can start with taking deadlines seriously?

My thinking, however, is that one needs to follow the Control route, even if that means moving into Blindness quadrant for a while. Yes, even for the new mom, who will be much better off gaining whatever little control she can gain over her daily schedule. This will allow her the space to dream and move up to the Leadership quadrant. The other way, moving up the Perspective ladder, may be dangerous, as with the lack of control, one may quickly fall into the frustration trap.

So, a very useful tool. Try this out for yourself.


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