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The Purpose Quadrant

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Jay Robinson

August 10, 2020

Hi, welcome to the Purposely Podcast. I'm Jay Robinson, the executive director of In this episode, I'd like to introduce to you what we call the Purpose Quadrant. You can find an image of what we mean by the Purpose Quadrant on our website at 

And by the way, you can click through and read transcripts of all our episodes on our website if you'd rather be a reader than a listener. So if my description of the Purpose Quadrant doesn't make sense, you could take a moment and go to our website and find that image and take a mental snapshot of it.  

You'll see that it's four boxes, you know, numbered Q1, Q2, Q3, and Q4. On the left hand side of the quadrant, you'll see arrows pointing up and down with the words "important" pointing up and "not important" pointing down. At the bottom of the page, you'll see an arrow pointing to the left and right. The arrow to the left says "urgent" and the arrow to the rights as "not urgent." 

So if you'll think about those four terms "important," "not important," "urgent," "not urgent," and how that relates to those four boxes of the quadrant you'll see that quadrant one in the upper left hand is "important-urgent," quadrant two is "important-not urgent," quadrant three is "not important-urgent," and quadrant four is "not important-not urgent." 

This matrix was originally created by general Dwight Eisenhower in World War II. He created it as an organizational guide for him, as a time management tool. If you Google the term, "Eisenhower matrix," you will find this is referred to an enormous amount of times. Tons of other people have built upon this idea of the Eisenhower matrix, and they all do different things with it. Back in the 90s, I first was introduced to it by the author, Stephen Covey, in his book entitled, "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People." So we're all doing different things with it. We're going to do something different with it, but I want to give credit to General Eisenhower and to Stephen Covey. 

What we're doing with the Purpose Quadrant, again, is not using it as a time management tool.  We don't want to try to get into the details of what we're doing in specific moments, but we want to use it as a tool to help us to step back and see the big picture of where our energy is going. 

Think about these four quadrants as four spaces of your life. All of us spend energy in all four of these spaces, all four of these quadrants. 

We want to use this matrix as a tool to help us to step back and see how much energy am I using? What am I really focused on? How big are the different quadrants in my life? 

This is important, because one of the things I hear from my students all the time is a phrase like this, they say, "I feel like I'm working hard, but I'm not really getting anything done." I think that's generally a pretty common feeling. We're working hard, but we're also bouncing around. We're not really focused, so we're having a hard time feeling like we're accomplishing important things. And what's probably happening is that we're focusing on a lot of things simultaneously. Not all of them are important things that we really need to be paying attention to. 

And it's hard for us to separate those. What are the important things that I really need to be focusing on, and what are the non-important things that still keep bouncing in and taking over? 

The Purpose Quadrant is a tool that we're going to use to help us think that through. We're going to use it in several sessions going forward in the Discovery Trail Guide, if you want to take the next steps after this one. 

What I'm going to present right now is a very quick overview. It isn't going to try and touch every base.  But as we go along, we'll be revisiting this and using it in slightly different ways, so I hope you'll find it relevant. 

 To get going, I would actually like to start at the bottom right hand of the quadrant and go backwards and work around clockwise beginning from quadrant four. 

Q4 says "not important-not urgent." 

The best way to think of Q4  is a space of amusement and entertainment. 

Right off the bat, I want to highlight the fact that we're using terms "important-urgent" not "right-wrong." There's nothing necessarily right or wrong about anything that I'm going to be talking about. We're using terms important and urgent. 

And Q4 is "not important-not urgent." 

In our culture, we spend enormous resources. In entertainment and in amusement. This is what drives pop culture and pop media. The Instagram feed that you scroll and never find a bottom. I mean, it just goes on and on and on. There's endless streaming. You could never run out of entertainment opportunities. You would never run out of new games to play. There's always something. It's never ending. 

In American pop culture, entertainment and amusement is bottomless. 

Again, it's not right or wrong, but think about the volume of it. Think about the volume, how much energy we actually spend. 

We binge watch entire seasons of shows. It doesn't even matter if the show's really that good or not. We get hooked on it, and we can't stop. And they go on, and on, and on. When we're done with one, there's always going to be another one waiting behind it. 

Think about the just explosion of YouTube videos over relatively a short period of time. You would never run out of things to watch on YouTube. Of course, you know, YouTube is also a place where Jake Paul is a star. Just stop and think about that for a moment. It's kind of what we mean by "not important" and "not urgent." I think we can live without most of this. A lot of this is nothing about nothing. And yet we're really grabbed by it. We stay hooked on it. We stay connected to it, and it becomes really an integral part of culture. 

I spent a lot of time watching sports. 

In the moment a sporting event seems like it's the most important thing in the world. It feels like it's important. I want my team to win. It feels like it's urgent. I want to watch the event live, or I want to be there. I want to experience it live. So it feels important. It feels urgent. 

But it's transient. It doesn't really matter. It doesn't really affect my life. 

In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't really matter, and it's over very quickly. Whether my team wins or whether my team loses it really doesn't last very long. The elation of winning or the disappointment of losing passes pretty quickly. I can barely remember who won the big game last year, year before last, the one before that. The game that seems so important in the moment--it seems so urgent in the moment, and yet it passes really quickly. 

Remember, it's not right or wrong. We're talking about important or urgent. 

And this Q4 space, this quadrant four of entertainment and amusement is a space that we could probably put it all off. I mean it's okay if we watch the show. It's okay if we play the game, there's nothing wrong with that. And in fact, it might be helpful. It's not wrong. But it's not urgent. I don't have to do it now. And it's not important, which means everything will be fine if I don't do it. 

If I binge watch the next episode of whatever Netflix show I'm watching, I mean, that's fine. But I could do that anytime, or I could do it never, and everything would be fine. 

Again, I just want to give a quick overview to these concepts that we'll be returning to later. Right now let's move clockwise to the left to quadrant three. 

Q3 is the quadrant that says "not important-urgent." 

So, if you wanted to give a title to Q3 , let's put the title "distraction" on it. 

The best way to describe Q3 is the feeling that you have when your phone rings, or buzzes or vibrates. But for the most part, you stop whatever you're doing and you look at it. It has the sense of immediacy, so it definitely feels urgent. My phone buzzed, so I stop whatever I'm doing, and I pay attention to it. And I really ratchet up that sense of urgency. 

Is it important? Probably not. 

So this Q3 space we're identifying the things that are not important, but they feel like they have this high sense of urgency, so it's a place of distraction. 

The phone buzzes. It creates a sense of urgency. We stop whatever we're doing, and we look at it. That notification signifies to us it might be important. We have no idea if it's important or not, it's probably not. But it seems really, really, really urgent. Whether it's important or not, it's well, it's, yeah, it can wait. But urgency means we need to stop what we're doing and look at it. 

There's nothing wrong, of course, with getting messages. There's nothing wrong with notifications. This is not a right or a wrong. But what I'm highlighting is where we spend our focus, and where we are spending our energy. And let's face it, we spend a pretty significant amount of our energy and our focus attending to these random bits of distractions that come across this on a regular basis. I mean, it would be different if we were distracted by our phone, in this example, you know, a couple of times a day. Well, no, it's like every few minutes. 

It's constant. It's the never ending volume of distraction that becomes the issue.

And the devices, the social media sites, they intentionally design their algorithms to push that information in front of our eyeballs so that we will stay in some ways in a constant state of distraction. We are distracted by our phones by design. They are designed to be distraction devices, and the software that we spend our time and energy on are designed to be distracting. You do understand that that's how they make their money by keeping us connected to their platform. In this culture, your attention is currency. 

Corporations make large amounts of money based on your attention. That's their business model. Keeping you hooked. They have every reason to design their interfaces, to design their software, in ways that will keep us coming back, that will keep us paying attention to it. That's how they make their money. 

So while all of this seems generally neutral, just getting a notification, for instance, is a neutral thing. It becomes a really big thing when it's nonstop, when we are so connected to it, when we are so constantly drawn into it, that we can not, not pay attention to it. 

So Q3 is this space of distraction where we are constantly pulled away by things that seem urgent in the moment, but they are not really important. 

Let's move on one more quadrant clockwise to quadrant one. 

Q1 is "important-urgent. 

This is the tough one. This is actually the stressful place. 

This is the test that's due tomorrow. Of course it's important. Of course it's urgent. It's particularly urgent if I didn't start working on it until the night before. The project I've been putting off, the paper that I've known was due, and I really didn't get on it until the last minute. I've known all along that it was important. Of course it's important, but I never quite got to the sense of urgency until the pressure of the last minute, the pressure of I gotta get this done. 

It's that extra sense of pressure that helps us get stuff done sometimes. The deadline helps us get our work finished, but that extra pressure also creates all this extra stress and anxiety. 

There's nothing wrong with quadrant one. Remember, it's important. There are important and there are urgent things in our lives that we need to take care of. Remembering your significant other's birthday is important. It's really urgent if you forgot it. Now you're probably going to, you know, stop whatever you're doing and figure out how to do something about that. 

Well, that's really stressful. 

If we wanted to title quadrant one, we could title it "emergency," "deadlines," "critical things." 

They're all important things. We often put them off, and that sense of urgency makes it stressful. 

A lot of the things that I've put off, I've put them off because I just really didn't want to deal with them at this moment. It becomes what it becomes because we've avoided it. As procrastinators everywhere we'll tell you, we put off getting into Q1 because it's a lot more fun to be down in Q4. 

It's all whole lot more fun, and it's all whole lot easier, to spend my focus on entertainment and amusement. It's all a whole lot easier just being in quadrant three. In fact, I kind of like being distracted in quadrant three, because when I'm distracted, then I can do other things without having to worry about the things that I really needed to work on. 

So what happens is we have to drag ourselves up into quadrant one. 

Quadrants three and four are so dominant, and we spend so much energy in those spaces that it's a weight pulling us down.  And we have to climb to get up into quadrant one to get our important work done. 

And that's really stressful, and it's exhausting. All that extra pressure, that extra urgency, because I've been putting it off, and now I've got to cram to get it finished. The feeling that I'm always behind. The feeling that I'm doing something that I really don't want to do makes q1 really heavy and exhausting. 

And this becomes a trap. 

So we spend all this energy climbing ourselves up into quadrant one, and we get our work done. And it's exhausting. And because we're exhausted, what do we tend to want to do? 

We tend to want to escape. Nobody enjoys being in a stressful environment, so we tend to want to escape, and we probably escape down into quadrants three and four. We're probably escaping down in the bottom right hand, far quadrant of quadrant four. The place where we go to vegetate. The place where we just try to get away, because we feel so exhausted. 

What happens then is we tend to live in this kind of ping pong effect. It takes so much energy to get into quadrant one that when we're done, we're absolutely exhausted. So we retreat down at the bottom right hand quadrant of four and ping pong back and forth between getting our work done in a stressful and urgent place and then vegetating and trying to escape it, and get down to a spot where we can do nothing. 

Then when there are really are urgent things, again, we claw our way back up into quadrant one and this back and forth, back and forth just multiplies our stress and our anxiety, because even when we're hanging out in Q4 ,we know in the back of our minds that there's these other things that we need to do. And the longer that we put that off it just makes quadrant one that much bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and if we're not careful, because we don't enjoy stress, we'll just retreat further and further into quadrant four. So we'll binge watch a series of something as a way not to have to think about all the stuff that we should be doing. 

But that doesn't make it go away. It just increases our stress. 

There's an antidote to that, and the antidote is found in quadrant two. 

Quadrant two is what we call the Purpose Quadrant. Q2 is "important-not urgent." 

When we talk about stepping back from the busy-ness of life, stepping back from the constant striving for things and creating this space where we can in fact refocus where we can experience ongoing renewal, where we can move forward then in new ways, that's what quadrant two is about. 

Because that is absolutely essential work, being able to step back, truly reflect, experience ongoing re-creation, so that we can move forward in new ways and in better ways. It's absolutely important work in our life. 

But it's not urgent. It is absolutely not urgent. That means we can put it off. 

Growing quadrant two is really the antidote to all the extra stress and anxiety that we've experienced in quadrant one. 

In Q2, we focus on acting proactively. In Q2, we embrace the accomplishment of things before they become urgent. And we get into a better place because we focus on things before we have to do them, which means that we're more in control of the process without all the heavy pressure of urgent, urgent, urgent--I've got to get it done, I got to get it done now. 

In that way, Q2 is a kind of preventative maintenance space. 

Think about your car. You don't necessarily have to do maintenance on your car when everything is working fine. I mean, when it's working, you probably don't even think twice about it, all the things that you need to do in order to keep it working well, all the maintenance that you need to do before it breaks down. And that's all very easy to put off, because it's not urgent. You don't have to do it right now. The car is working. 

Then, of course, if the car breaks down, then that's definitely a quadrant one thing. So think about all the stress that comes when your car breaks down, and you have to get it taken care of immediately. 

To take that same analogy in a different direction, think about your own personal health. I don't know of anything that's more important than our own health and our own sense of wellbeing. 

And how often do we put that off? 

We might be feeling fine, you know, right now. Maybe things seem to be going okay right now. So it's not urgent, so we put it off. So we don't even think about all the ways that we should be taking care of ourselves, sometimes until we kind of have to. 

We know our health is important. What could be more important? But because it's not urgent, because I don't have to attend to it right this minute, well then, well, I don't. 

The solution, of course, is to grow this Q2 space. This is intentional space where we focus on important things before they become urgent. 

And the hard part about Q2 is we're the only ones that can get ourselves into this space. Life kind of gets us into the other spaces. Our culture is constantly dragging us into quadrants three and four. Our culture is constantly bombarding us with messages of entertainment and distraction. We do get up into quadrant one. We do know that there are deadlines. We do know that we have to get things done and we do get things done. So life gets us into quadrants one, three, and four. 

But quadrant two is different. It's different because we don't have to be there. And our culture is generally not valuing that space. 

Quadrant two is what we are cultivating in our peer group process. This is the space where we engage in deep, meaningful self-reflection, and we are digging into deep, meaningful things, when we are reflecting on the big picture of life. Q2 is where we engage in longterm planning, longterm reflection, where we focus on longterm goals and outcomes. 

And ultimately we're the only ones that can get us into that space. 

And then that's the problem, because we don't seem to do that particularly well by ourselves. It's just too easy to put it off, because it's not urgent. 

 If we could build that space, this Purpose Quadrant, then so many other things of our lives, including those stressful and anxious things would be more under control. 

The peer group process that we facilitate at focuses on this Q2 space. So I'd invite you to visit us there to learn more about that. And in an upcoming episode of this podcast, we'll have another extended conversation about this topic. So, thanks again for spending this time with us and participating in the conversation.  

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