Discretionary Effort Rerun

by Jean Tower

Schools have a bit of a lull from now until we return on January 2. During this period I will be reposting blog posts from the past. I will pick posts that I think are still relevant or entertain in some way. Enjoy the holidays!


Thanks to Miguel Guhlin for his post about discretionary effort. He says he learned about this concept from Crucial Conversations (coincidentally, I also listened to this – it was recent listening-while-driving book).

I have a poster in my office (my own creation) that looks like this:

It is my reminder to work in all areas of my target goals. By necessity, much of my time is in the center of the bull’s eye, but I don’t feel like I’m making my “20 mile march” (concept from Great by Choice – my current listening-while-driving book) if I get mired in the essential, because so much of it is urgent, but not always important.

Urgent – Important Concept

This graphic shows a matrix with 4 quadrants, with urgency and importance on the axes (thanks to Stephen Covey).

Quadrant 1 denotes tasks BOTH urgent and important – putting out fires, dealing with crises.

Quadrant 4 is for tasks that are NEITHER urgent nor important – some regularly scheduled meetings, or surfing the web, may fall into this quadrant.

Quadrant 3 is what I think of as crises that others want to hand to you – interruptions, the “need for speed” in the form of instant answers, pointless busy-ness.

Quadrant 2 is where meaningful “20 mile march” work gets done.

Stephen Covey says that highly effective people make time for the Q2 activities, and they reduce the time spent in other quadrants.

I have a few strategies for making time for quadrant 2, but I have to admit that on some days I am in constant fire-fighter mode.

The graphic that Miguel wrote about is this:

Miguel says:

My introduction to the term “discretionary effort” came through Crucial Conversations which I’m listening to:

Discretionary effort is a silver bullet and often an underutilized asset. Those who learn how to tap discretionary effort achieve a strategic competitive advantage.


Like Miguel, much of my personal “discretionary effort” time is spent on work-related projects and learning. The rate of change in my profession (technology, technology in education) is so rapid, that I have found investing lots of time outside of the parameters of the “work day” to be absolutely necessary. In the last several years, with social networking, blogging, volunteering in organizations, I have increased the return on my discretionary effort time. Being part of an online community of learners, working with my colleagues around the state and the country, getting to conferences and presenting – these activities enable me to learn quicker – I am fully convinced that we get better together faster than we do learning alone.

Miguel’s post shifts to his efforts of late to commit to regular exercise. He sounds like he has mastered the time management of this commitment – I still struggle. When I have days off (weekends, vacations), I have no problem making time for the elliptical, but on many work days, I end up getting home so late that it’s hard to fit it in. Maybe I would benefit from a community of exercisers the way I do from my community of learners?


Originally posted in December 2011

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Doug Johnson December 29, 2013 at 7:19 pm


I love Covey’s Matrix and use it in management workshops regularly. Anyone who has “discretionary time” needs this understanding. Thanks for the reminder.

I try to keep noon hours sacred so I can walk or go to the weight room at the Y everyday. It works for me!

Happy New Year!


Jean Tower December 30, 2013 at 1:08 pm

Thanks, Doug. I’m trying to establish an early morning exercise routine…we’ll see how that goes! Happy New Year to you, too.

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