How to Optimize Your Effectiveness in Today’s VUCA World

Timeless Principles to Optimize Your Effectiveness in Today’s VUCA World

Today we live in an unprecedented Volatile, Uncertain, Complex,  Ambiguous world.  Let’s consider the timely principles regarding how we use our most precious resource–Time–the essence of effectiveness.

The late Peter Drucker, the greatest management thinker ever, and author of The Effective Executive  (2017, 60th Anniversary Edition) made a clear distinction between Effectiveness and Efficiency. Being effective requires us to be focused on doing the right things.

Managing or Leading?

Think of management as the pursuit of efficiency (How well a task must be done). Effectiveness is the domain of Leadership (What must be done and Why). Drucker emphasized that there is no point in doing well that which should not be done at all.

Effectiveness Requires Continuous, Uninterrupted Blocks of Time

Effective executives, defined as anyone who because of their role, knowledge and skills can influence the objectives of the enterprise, know that time is the limiting factor of effectiveness.

Large, Continuous, and Uninterrupted Units of Time

Large, continuous, and uninterrupted units of time are required for the concentration needed for most high-value tasks. Therefore, we must plan how to get the most important tasks done first. As much as possible, resist the pressures to engage in multitasking. Empirical evidence and common practice confirm that multitasking reduces overall effectiveness.

Here are the three steps Drucker taught as the foundation of executive effectiveness:

  1. Recording time use
    Keep a time log for a two-week period to establish a baseline.

2.  Managing how time is used. 
Drucker suggests three ways to improve how we use our time.

First, look for activities and tasks that do not need to be done at all.

Second, identify tasks on your time log that could or should be done by someone else.

Third, stop doing anything that wastes other’s time, including unnecessary meetings.

3. Consolidating time. 
Consolidate blocks of time into large chunks so you can work uninterrupted until the priority task you are working on is completed. This may involve instructing your staff and for you to discipline yourself in the use of cellphones, email, and all the other electronic interrupters.

Three of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

Stephen Covey, author of the best-selling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (1989, 2005), built upon Drucker’s teaching. The Seven Habits are habits of effectiveness.

Here are the first three habits which Covey called the Private Victory:

1. Be Proactive—taking the initiative

2. Begin with the End in Mind – Clearly understanding the outcome

3. Put First Things First – Organizing and executing around priorities

Fourth Generation Time Management

Effective time management is putting first things first. It is leadership that decides what “first things” are and management is discipline, carrying it out. Covey advocates for an emerging fourth generation of time management that goes beyond the previous three generations which focused on efficiently scheduling and controlling time. He concludes that those approaches are counterproductive and time management is a misnomer. The challenge is managing ourselves and not attempting to manage time.

The Time Management Matrix

Covey’s idea of fourth-generation time management led to the creation of the four-quadrant Time Management Matrix (page 151) which illustrates

  • Q I: Important/Urgent,
  • Q II: Important/Not Urgent,
  • Q III: Not Urgent/Not Important,
  • Q IV: Urgent/Not Important.

Covey emphasizes that operating in Quadrant II is the heart of effective personal management. Q2  deals with things that are not urgent but are important, To paraphrase Drucker, effective people are not problem solvers. Instead, they prevent problems.

Becoming a Quadrant II Self-Manager

Basically, we spend time in one of four ways. We define an activity as either urgent (requiring immediate attention) or important. Importance has to do with results, contributing to your mission, your values, and your high priority goals.

Shifting to Quadrant II involves four key activities:

1. Identifying Roles:
The areas you see yourself spending time on in the near term (not the rest of your life)

2. Selecting Goals:
What important results (2 or 3) do you want to achieve in the next 7 days.

3. Scheduling:
With those goals in mind, look at the week ahead and schedule the time to achieve them.

4. Daily Adapting:
Daily planning and prioritizing activities and meaningfully responding to unanticipated events, relationships, and experiences.


Covey emphasizes the importance of operating in Quadrant II.  Quadrant 2 is the heart of effective personal management which deals with things that are not urgent but are important. This means making the shift from problem-solving to problem prevention.

Covey was reiterating what Peter Drucker famously said:

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