Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix is basically a box divided into four smaller boxes, or quadrants. Each box describes a type of activity and measures its urgency and importance.
The top left box / quadrant is for things that are urgent AND important. Examples would be a baby crying, a broken plumbing pipe, a call from a family member in trouble, or any other type of immediate crisis that needs attention and can’t be put off.
The top right box / quadrant is for things that are important but not urgent. They include work projects, career plans, goals we set for ourselves, planning and preparation for future tasks, building relationships and creating networks of people who can help us achieve our dreams. These are things that need to be done, but can be addressed over a flexible time period.
The bottom left box / quadrant is for things that are urgent but not important. Usually these things aren’t really urgent anywhere other than our own mind. They could include dealing with someone who is interrupting your work, checking email, worrying about what to cook for dinner, etc. This things would not rock the world if they were done immediately, and won’t cause utter chaos if they are put off.
The bottom right box / quadrant is for things that are not important OR urgent. This type of activity is generally classified as ‘time-wasting’, and can include hours of online surfing or gaming, chat sessions with friends, escapism / procrastination (watching TV all day long, sleeping more than really needed - as in all day - or simply sitting and watching the clock tick).
Quadrant one is full of things that are imperative to get done. Quadrant three can be deceptive, containing things that appear important, but really aren’t - their urgency being built up in your own mind. Quadrant four is a simple time suck - the more you can minimize activity in that sector, the better.
Quadrant two, however, is where the most important items are if you want to succeed long term. A productive and effective person will spend the majority of their time trying to get things done that will have long ranging benefits. Slackers spend most of their time in quadrants three and four, while drama lovers or those trying to impress a higher up will concentrate on quadrant one.
You will always have to deal with urgent and important issues, but don’t let them consume every single waking moment. Spend as much time building on a foundation of important but not urgent things, focusing on the long term. Occasionally a little foray into fun and fantasy can’t hurt, but don’t waste your time on hours of unimportant and non-urgent past-times, and limit the time you take dealing with unimportant and only mildly urgent activities.
Slot everything from your daily to-do list into a mock up of Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix, and prioritize your days!
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