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Which Box Are You In???


Stephen Covey, in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People includes the chart shown on the left to illustrate how everything you do in life gets spent in one of these 4 boxes. How you allocate your time largely determines how successful you will be. This is true in your career, in your family, in your relationships, and in your job search!

In any area of your life, it is very easy to spend great amounts of time in areas that do very little to move your objectives forward. In your job search, it’s particularly easy to spend enormous amounts of time in areas that produce very few results. For most people, the routines, self-disciplines, and time management they have when they’re in a job, completely fall apart when they are unemployed. Getting to all the things they need to do for an effective job search, often falls victim to other “priorities.”

Consider Stephen Covey’s box:

  • Important and Urgent – These are things that are important to get done, and have a deadline. In life it may be knowing that your Taxes need to be filed by April 15th each year. In your career it may be a project deadline. In your marriage it may be remembering to get an anniversary or birthday gift on time. In your job search, it may be showing up for an interview on time. Most people do these because of the ‘deadline’ attached to them. They are important to do, and rarely get missed.


  • Not Important but Urgent – These are things that generally also have a ‘deadline’ to them, but in the scheme of things, are really not all that important. At home, it may be to have your garbage cans put out on the curb every Tuesday night to be picked up by the truck Wednesday morning. In your job, it may be to fill out your weekly expense reports by 3:00 on Friday’s. In your job search, it may be processing all your emails that say ‘Forward this to 10 people before the end of the day and you will be blessed with a $10 million fortune.’ It may also be home projects, or errands that seem important to get done now, but would have been put off if you had been working. Each of these things seem like they have to be done by a certain time, however, if they get missed today you can still do them the next time around without very negative consequences. Too often though, people miss other important tasks to get to these.


  • Not Important and Not Urgent – These are things that suck away your dreams and goals. They might include watching TV, playing solitaire, video games, reading a magazine or a novel, or any other way you might waste time. There is a place for these. I generally need some mindless TV time before going to bed at night for my mind to wind down or else I have trouble falling asleep. However, if you have several hours per day that are spent in this box, you will not be able to achieve your objectives in a timely way.


  • Important but not UrgentThis is the most difficult and most important box! In this box are the things that often make the biggest difference in achieving your goals and since they don’t have a ‘deadline’ they are the easiest to put off. These may be things like working toward a degree, or MBA, or professional certification. They may be working on a project that’s not required or expected of you. It may be setting aside special family time on a weekly basis, or a weekly date night with your spouse. In your job search it may be making networking calls, setting up informational meetings, attending a networking group, calling a contact at a company to follow up on a job posting, making follow up calls after an interview, or customizing your resume for each position you apply to. Proactively spending your time here will produce the biggest dividends and the best results. However, no one is prompting you, there are no deadlines, it’s easy to find other “busy work”, and they are easy to procrastinate.


Where you spend your time is determined ONLY by your effort.

  • Do you have a schedule and a task list for yourself for each day and each week?
  • Do you block out time on your calendar for phone calls, prospecting, and time for planning?
  • Do you write down ideas of other things you could do for your search?
  • Do you have goals of how many people you will contact, and how many meetings each week?
  • Do you keep track of your “wins” so that you can look back and see you’re doing what you need to?

Figure out how to spend more of your time in the Important but not Urgent box and you will make much more progress in your job search… and in life!

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