In the age of the smartphone, where an endless stream of distraction awaits us menacingly in our pockets, managing our time is increasingly becoming more challenging. And there are a whole lot of time management techniques out there to make us more productive, but one stands out: The Covey Time Management Matrix by Stephen Covey.
This tool is particularly useful for better focusing our attention on the to-do list items that matter and ultimately increasing the long-term success of our businesses. Think prioritized list making, personal productivity, the seven habits of highly effective people, and managing all the most urgent things in our lives. Let’s dive in.
What is the Matrix?
The best way to familiarize yourself with Covey's Time Management Matrix is to take a look. Here’s what the four quadrants of time management look like, built across two axes:
- Urgency: Responsibilities that demand immediate attention - the urgent stuff
- Importance: Tasks with significant value in relation to overall goals - the important project
Quadrant 1: Important and Urgent
These are the items that are likely causing you the most stress, and those that should be prioritized above all else. These are critical to achieving your goals (and your clients’ goals!) and should be handled quickly and efficiently. Poor planning is not possible here, but instead, efficient time management is extremely important. Tasks that fall into Q1 share these qualities:
- Quickly approaching deadlines
- Related to meeting time-sensitive goals
- Related to eliminating risk
Quadrant 2: Important but Not Urgent
Q2 lacks the urgency that we see in Q1, but these tasks are just as important. To sum up, they are important but not urgent. Because they don’t involve impending deadlines and don't require immediate action, you have freedom to breathe and take your time in figuring out how to perform these tasks effectively, thereby you will potentially see increased productivity. Q2 items might:
- Need planning but not take too much time, requiring short term focus
- Be an important piece of overall long-term goals and important activities
Quadrant 3: Not Important but Urgent
These aren’t your most important or urgent items, but they are time sensitive. These tasks can really throw our schedules and priorities out of alignment because we tend to confuse urgency with importance. Think of answering a work call while you’re having dinner with your parents. Family is the important thing here and often you have limited time with them in your life, but you sacrificed that time to dive back into work when the call could have waited and was not urgent. This is where you need to learn to manage time and focus. Some Q3 items might be:
- Other minimally significant interruptions
Quadrant 4: Not Important and Not Urgent
When it comes to effective time management, it’s highly important to know what falls in Q4, because these items are the items you should not be wasting your time on. They are often not urgent and important. Classify them as low priority and ensure you tackle quadrants 1, 2, and 3 first. There are a million things that could land in Q4, but here are some common qualities:
- Not directly related to goals and/or a task
- Not super stressful
- Contribute to time wasting and take up more time
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Getting Value Out of the Matrix
The Covey's time management matrix might not be your be-all and end-all. And it doesn’t have to be. What’s important is finding a technique that helps you use your time spent and become more productive to reach your business and personal goals. It can even help in your private life and managing those important things and all those activities including family. I’m a fan of the matrix because it’s an objective-like helping hand when it comes to productivity, personal development and time management strategies. But habits of highly successful people vary. If you’re struggling with productivity, prioritizing tasks and managing urgent things in your life and are unsure of what you can do, give it a try! It just might be the game-changer and the perfect example you’ve needed to help establish a work life balance for the long run. Spend less time on the less important things in your life and more time on the more important things to help you and your personal life.