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Use Stephen Covey's Matrix to Become a Productive Time Manager

The Time Management Matrix was popularised as a management model by Stephen Covey in his book "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People". It shows how you can divide up all your workplace tasks according to two criteria: how important they are (the horizontal axis in the picture) and how urgent they are (the vertical axis). As a result of these two criteria, the model creates four squares which Covey calls "quadrants" and which are the keys to your time management performance.

Image 01: The Time Management Matrix

This picture shows Eisenhower's Time Management matrix, popularised by Stephen Covey.

Quadrant 1: Urgent and Important Tasks

In Quadrant 1 of the Time Management Matrix, (top left in the picture), are the high urgency and high importance tasks. These are the things that we have to do because they are our responsibility and need immediate attention. These are usually emergencies, crises, and pressing deadline-driven problems. They may be the result of our procrastination or inability to face up to doing them at the right time. These are your "firefighting" tasks.

Jot down your own Quadrant 1 activities and work out how much time you spend on these in a day or a week.

Video 01: The Time Management Matrix

In this video from vlogbrothers, John Green (who, with Hank, is one of the two brothers), gives his personal assessment of the Eisenhower Matrix.

Quadrant 4: Urgent but Not Important Tasks

In Quadrant 4 of the Time Management Matrix, (bottom left in the picture), are the high urgency but low importance tasks. These are the things that we allow to interrupt our working lives because we believe they take precedence over other tasks. The worst examples of such tasks are personal "drop-in" callers, answering every phone call and wading through junk mail. These are your "distractions".

Jot down your own Quadrant 3 activities and work out how much time you spend on these in a day or a week.

Video 02: The Time Management Matrix

In this video from EISENHOWER, you'll get an introduction to the Eisenhower urgency-importance matrix.

Quadrant 2: Not Urgent but Important Tasks

In Quadrant 2 of the Time Management Matrix, (top right in the picture), are the high importance but low urgency tasks. These are the tasks that aren't pressing but, if we do them, will ensure fewer, if any, problems down the line. They include time on your key job duties, personal health and development, unhurried "quality time" with others, prevention work, thinking time such as planning and preparation, and clarifying our values. These are your "productive" tasks.

Jot down your own Quadrant 2 activities and work out how much time you spend on these in a day or a week.

Video 3: The Time Management Matrix

In this video from FranklinCovey, Stephen Covey provides a demonstration of the "first things first" time management principle.

Quadrant 3: Not Urgent and Not Important Tasks

In Quadrant 3 of the Time Management Matrix, (bottom right in the picture), are the low importance and low urgency tasks. These are the things that we don't need to do but that so often we end up doing to fill in time or because we like doing them. These include aimless web browsing, socialising around the drinks machine, and attending unnecessary meetings. These are your "time-wasters".

Jot down your own Quadrant 3 activities and work out how much time you spend on these in a day or a week.

Video 4: The Time Management Matrix

In this video, Brian Tracy will show you how to structure your day.

What Your Quadrants Tell You

When you've added up the time you spend in a typical week on each of the four quadrants, this is the action you should take to improve your time management.

i. If you spend any significant time on quadrant 4 tasks, (not urgent and not important), stop doing them. If you can't, take a hard long look at why you are spending time on them.

ii. If you are spending any significant time on quadrant 3 tasks, (urgent but not important), realise that, as they are not important to you, you shouldn't be doing them whether they are urgent or not. Delegate them if you can. Dump them if you can't.

iii. If you are spending any significant time on quadrant 1 tasks, (urgent and important), work out why you didn't do them earlier. Get to the root of what stops you doing them before they become urgent.

iv. If you are spending any significant time on quadrant 2 tasks, (important and not urgent), congratulate yourself. This is where you should be spending most of your time. If you are, you already know that life is balanced, productive, and good.