Stop All or Nothing Thinking In The Face of Anxious Uncertainty

When things feel anxious and uncertain it can be hard to know where to focus our time and energy. Which I know is the experience for many of us right now. At times like this we might find ourselves clinging to all or nothing thinking.

Some of us instinctively withdraw. We want to ‘wait it out’ until everything goes back to how it was.

Whereas some of us feel the urge to act. To just do something. So we make quick decisions, follow what others are doing, and hope it leads us somewhere better.

Neither option is great for us. They are both underpinned by a sense of anxious drift, putting us at risk of ending up somewhere we wouldn’t otherwise choose to be.

But how can we tell if we’re defaulting to one of these approaches?

I find the basic premise of Stephen Covey’s ‘Time Management Matrix’ (though I find the name a little stiff), a really helpful awareness-raising tool. It provides a solid foothold to help us get a clearer picture of where we find ourselves.

It has helped me notice the impact of this current season on my energy levels. And I’ve been able to see how this has affected my focus and commitment to the stuff that gives me a sense of peace and purpose.

Quadrant 1 – Urgent and Important

If we’re not aware and intentionally switched on we can find ourselves constantly operating from a place of urgency. Reacting to things that crop up and require immediate action.

This is the personal crisis zone. Where important things require attention and everything else must be placed on hold until they’re done.

Many of us set up life around this place. Bouncing from one emergency to the next, wishing that things would settle down. Believing that once they do we can finally turn attention to the important stuff.

The more time we spend here the more our life (and the wider world) is shaped here. We build everything on urgency, immediacy, scarcity, and panic.

Quadrant 3 – Urgent but Not Important

Forces beyond our control tend to make their problems our emergencies. Many of us hang out in this space quite a lot. This is why I always struggled with unsolicited phone calls.

As the world re-opens and everyone tends to their urgent and important stuff, this doesn’t just stay in-house. It spreads. Everything feels pressing and urgent. It demands that we care, react strongly, and ‘act now’, even though it shouldn’t really be us doing it.

Quadrant 4 – Not Urgent and Not Important

These are the time wasters, busy work, and numbing activities. And UNHELPFUL procrastination on things that don’t give us any sense of joy or meaning. Doom scrolling, social media refreshing, and unhelpful procrastination (doing nothing in a busy way).

It’s the stuff that usually has an adverse impact on our energy levels. Those activities that make you feel worse afterwards.

Quadrant 2 – Not Urgent but Important

I left this one until last because it’s the one that gets left behind.


Maybe because it’s where the good stuff happens. It’s where we nurture things that have a longer term positive impact on areas of life that matter to us.

But because there is nothing saying ‘do this now!’ it can quickly get pushed to the bottom of the pile.

A bunch of people spent more time in this area during lockdown. Many of the usual Q1 and Q3 demands were no longer there in the same way, and even Q4 activities dried up at times.

Calibrating in the Confusion

Maybe you explored some different things over the past 18 months. Maybe you invested some more time in family, creative projects, relationships, thinking about the future, health, hobbies, meditation, learning, etc.

But what about now?

As things begin moving and the pace picks up, it might feel difficult to recalibrate. The non-urgent important stuff that brought a sense of peace and joy loses its place again. And through the overwhelm of noise, confusion, and polarising opinions, many of us have retreated back into the urgent or numbing zones (all or nothing). Where we just do something or we just wait for things to sort themselves out.

But this is an exhausting way to live.

What if we didn’t need to keep beating ourselves up like this?

It Starts With Clarity

When we allow ourselves to drift back to the world, it sets the agenda for us to unconsciously follow. Or we stay hidden. Waiting.

Maybe you could use this tool right now too. To check-in and more clearly observe where you are spending your inner-resources.

I would also encourage you to play with it if you’re like me and find the original matrix a bit robotic and uninspiring.

I used the structure as a creative prompt. I find bringing a bit of imagination to this kind of thing helps me engage with it at a deeper level too.

So one way I’ve imagined it is as a house. Where ‘important’ is inside and non-important is outside. I am in Q2; a room full of things that matter most to me. This is where I want to hang out.

Sometimes I need to respond to the Q1 calls from the other rooms. And things often come knocking at the Q3 door.

The Q4 bin contains things I’ve chucked in the trash that I found laying around my house.

If you’re struggling with these things at the moment then I hope this is a helpful reminder. Please know that you’re not alone.

And if all this stuff feels like a BIG thing for you right now and you’re overwhelmed by distractions and demands, then I’d love to support. I can help you develop a clear picture of how you ideally want your house to look (what you want to hold and what you want to let go). We can use that to gauge what needs to change, and design really simple steps you can begin to take to get there.

We often have a general sense of what needs to change. But sometimes it’s only when someone else asks the right question at the right time, that things finally begin to shift and we gain a clearer perspective.

I open a couple of spaces each month for my Gentle Rebel Creative Shift programme. This is where I work one-to-one with people. We design a bespoke action for gentle forward movement in a truly meaningful and exciting direction.

If you think this is the right time for you, just take your first very simple step and send me a message below.

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