We all struggle with productivity – some more than the others. In this struggle, we end up being overwhelmed by incorrectly prioritizing things. Even though we have been constantly trying to work and complete tasks, we lose track which leads to procrastination. Sometimes it might be due to unnecessarily focusing on something less important or other times it might be due to spending too much time on a small portion of the task. Whatever the reason maybe, at the end of the day, most of the times don’t we feel that everything that needed to be done wasn’t done?
What is Time Management Matrix?
Out of 24 hours a day, a human being needs 8 hours of sleep and the rest of the hours are for you to squeeze in everything you need to do that day. In order to get maximum productivity, what we need is to know how to manage our time. Time Management matrix is the strategy you can apply to help yourself prioritize your time and responsibilities so that you can get everything in line and process it without costing you your sanity.
However, Time Management matrix strategy is not a magic bean that will grow you more hours. Neither can it turn you into “The Flash” to speed up your tasks by traveling through different eras and dimensions, nor can it freeze everyone else so that you take your time in peace. So, let us come back to real world and the ways we solve problems in reality (It is OK to secretly wish for a magic though). Anyone can benefit from this matrix by developing some skills and attitude to manage your available time more effectively.
4 Quadrants of Time Management Matrix:
The Eisenhower time management matrix was popularised by Stephen R. Covey author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It classifies tasks into four different quadrants which helps you identify important tasks and time wasters. You can boost your productivity by prioritizing tasks in regards to their urgency and importance. On that basis, you either address a task immediately or postpone it. These quadrants are:
- Urgent and Important
- Not Urgent and Important
- Urgent and Not Important
- Not Urgent and Not Important
Graphical representation of Covey’s matrix:
Important vs. Urgent:
Before getting into the quadrants, we need to clear the confusion we often feel understanding the terms ‘important’ and ‘urgent’. The time management matrix elaborates the difference. The understanding of these two terms makes this matrix different from an ordinary list of tasks that you make in order to complete your work in a defined period of time.
“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”Eisenhower
Important: These responsibilities are essential to the achievement of your goals. These usually refer to significant but a long term mission.
Urgent: These responsibilities need immediate action. You are supposed to tend to them right away. These are often associated with other goals and delaying them will affect those responsibilities or tasks in your life.
Summary of each Quadrant:
Here is a summary of the meaning of each quadrant:
Quadrant One: Important and Urgent
The urgent and important items are the highest priority tasks and responsibilities which require immediate action. Here, you don’t have any option but to spend your time on it and that too without putting it off. These put you in reactionary, narrowly focused mode.
Examples of these tasks could include:
- A health emergency
- A family crisis
- Emergency work deadlines
- 11th hour preparations for an event
How to improve:
Other than being important and urgent, these responsibilities cannot be assigned to anyone else. Even if someone else can do a part of it for you, you still have to supervise that.
Having said that, it is recommended to keep your Quadrant 1 tasks as minimum as possible. You can proactively work and spend time on tasks in Quadrant 2 so you don’t stress out with delays and tasks entering into Quadrant 1. Also, when you will have some free slots, it will be easier to shift the tasks around if something urgent comes up.
With a bit of planning, many tasks from Quadrant 1 can be managed or eliminated. Like, instead of waiting for something to completely go out of order around your house, you can fix it or hire someone already.
Quadrant Two: Important and Not Urgent
The important but not urgent responsibilities are the tasks that are significant to you or involve someone you care about, in the long term. Your personal or work goals without stressful deadlines that you are aiming to manage a little at a time. They are normally some planning for future, improving yourself and making strategies for both. These responsibilities directs you towards a purpose and gives you a perspective, which is why they deserve long term attention and time.
This Quadrant should list those task that you think are important to your well-being, your physical and mental health, retirement plans, traveling etc.
Tasks in Quadrant Two could include:
- Business development
- Spending quality time with family
- Vacation planning
- Reading books
- Taking courses for a skill
- Monthly or long-term planning
- Creating a budget
How to improve:
According to Covey, we should seek to spend most of our time on Q2 activities. Investing more time on tasks in Quadrant 2 is a good strategy. If you start postponing these tasks, there is a fair chance that you will drag them to a point that they are forced into Quadrant 1. Obviously you won’t want to take that risk that will lead to stress.
For example, delaying to improve your professional skills and not keeping your business strategy updated until you realize that your business is on the edge and you are not able to survive in the competent market because you failed to keep your area of expertise up-to-date.
Challenges human face:
What is important?: Sometimes what stops us from focusing on Quadrant 2 tasks is that we are unable to determine what is important to us, what is our ultimate mission in life, what are the core values. So we just stick to anything that is urgent and just keep going with the flow.
Do it someday?: It is human nature to incline towards tasks with pressing deadlines. We lose motivation and focus for something that apparently makes no difference at the moment and keep telling ourselves that “I will do it someday” or “after this urgent stuff, for sure” but it never happens. Urgent stuff keeps piling up.
Keep your life’s plans clear and work proactively to overcome these challenges.
Quadrant Three: Urgent But Not Important
The urgent but not important responsibilities include tasks that apparently require your urgent attention and time but they don’t contribute anything to your short-term or long-term goals. These are often referred to as ‘distractions with high urgency’. Covey recommends minimizing or if possible, eliminating these tasks because they have no value. You would be surprised to know that somehow these interruptions take a major part of your time and attention which you would otherwise be spending in Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2. Usually these tasks come from other people requesting you to do some work. You should decline these requests politely and avoid wasting your important time slots to these tasks.
These may include:
- Some meetings
- Small talks.
- Useless phone calls
- Co-workers asking for favors.
- Most Emails
People spend their time on Quadrant 3 thinking that they are working something Important and urgent (Quadrant 1). These tasks are maybe important to others but not to you. You still feel obliged to do these because when you complete a task, you feel a sense of achievement – the feeling you get checking something of the list.
How to improve:
A good example is a 3 hours long professional meetings where the same old issues will be discussed but your boss wants you to be there so you cannot put it off. You can avoid some of these interrupted tasks of Quadrant 3, like not answering some unimportant phone calls and checking your voice mail later when you have time.
Quadrant Four: Not Urgent and Not Important
Not Urgent and Not Important responsibilities are obvious time wasters. They do not help you in any way and are the main reason behind your procrastination. Sometimes you don’t even realize that these are the tasks that you spend most of our time on. These unproductive tasks spread all over your day and obstruct your way of accomplishing tasks which are important and urgent.
These activities could include:
- Binge-watching television shows.
- Constantly checking on social media platforms.
- Purposelessly surfing the internet.
- Shopping sprees
How to improve:
Putting these time-wasters in Quadrant 4 will help you reduce these activities so that you can give your best performance managing tasks in Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2. For instance, spending a lot of time checking deals and clearances online without an interest of buying anything. Don’t we all have that “I have wasted a lot of time” moment at the end of the day and realizing that it could have been spent on something important which was in line for tomorrow? Honestly I have plenty of these on my plate.
While you cannot completely eliminate these activities from your routine, you can spend a limited amount of time on them. It is important to give yourself time to relax and elevate your mood with Quadrant 4 activities but the key is to allocate it as little time as possible.
Manage, Focus, Avoid, Limit:
Effective way of using your Time Management Matrix:
- Do it regularly. Make a list of routine activities daily, then write your tasks in appropriate quadrants.
- Write down. By writing things down, be it on paper or tablet/phone, you can process your thoughts and plans very effectively.
- Know details. Know why is something important or why did you add something as an urgent task in the matrix?
- Rearrange. Keep checking your tasks, arrange and re-prioritize them as and when needed.
Benefits of the Time Management Matrix:
- You learn to reduce stress. Calmness helps you manage things properly for maximum output:
- It helps you become organized and learn to balance routine.
- You learn to say ‘No’ and let go.
- You learn to discipline yourself and practice self-control.
- It makes you more efficient and you accomplish more.
- You learn to appreciate time more.
- You feel energetic and content.
The key point to remember is that the more willingly you learn to benefit from Time Management, the sooner you can start seeing the outcome it brings. I encourage you all to try it now. Make a list of tasks that you need to do today, tomorrow or the while week. Decide where does every task fit in the Matrix, put it down there and see if you can manage your tasks in Quadrant 1, also giving time to Quadrant 2 tasks, limiting tasks from Quadrant 3 and if you have time, spend it to relax on tasks in Quadrant 4.
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