The time management matrix is one of the best tools to help you prioritise and get productive.

Productivity is something we all struggle with and we can end up procrastinating even when we’re trying to be productive. It might be that you end up spending too much time on the less important tasks. It might be that you end up giving more attention to a small part of a task than is necessary.

Whatever the problem, there is a solution: the time management matrix. It helps you to figure out what you need to be doing with your time as opposed to what you want to be doing with your time.

By utilising the time management matrix, you will be able to prioritise your work so that you keep on top of everything.

What is the time management matrix?

The time management matrix was popularised by Stephen R. Covey and is based on the theory that our time is spent on a four-quadrant matrix. These quadrants are:

  1. Urgent and Important
  2. Urgent and Not Important
  3. Not Urgent and Important
  4. Not Urgent and Not Important

Each of these quadrants has its own characteristics and should be dealt with differently. Once you know where tasks fit, it will be much easier to use the time management matrix to improve productivity.

How will the time management matrix benefit me?

time management quadrants

The most obvious answer to this question is that the time management matrix will boost productivity. However, there are a number of added benefits which make it even more beneficial.

Better Performance

By implementing the time management matrix, you will learn how to more effectively manage your time. This is because you will be learning which tasks are important and which tasks just seem important.

You will also be able to spend more time on important, urgent tasks so you can work to a higher standard. This allows us to take more pride in our work and reap more substantial benefits from the time we spend.

More Effective Work

As you begin to use the time management matrix on a regular basis, you will start using your time more effectively.  This also minimises the frustration we can sometimes feel at the end of a busy day when we feel as though nothing has been done.

More Time

By categorising tasks according to the time management matrix, we spend more time in the right places. This frees up a lot of extra time to spend on more important things.

When urgent tasks are complete, we lower our stress levels and can enjoy other things. This might be ticking some tasks off the important and non-urgent to do list, or maybe freeing up a little more personal time.

Health Benefits

Our day to day lives can be stressful, especially when we feel we are making little progress. Stress can lead to a number of negative side effects on our body. Not only does it negatively affect our mood, but it can be seriously detrimental to our health.

Boosted performance and spending time more effectively has a positive effect on mood and stress which, in turn, benefits our overall health.

The Four Quadrants

time management priorities matrix

The time management matrix splits our time into four quadrants, each with their own characteristics.

  1. Urgent and Important

The urgent and important items are those which must be dealt with immediately. Any time you spend on this quadrant is non-optional. Most of these tasks should be reactional and not due to poor planning.

The use of quadrant 2 will significantly minimise these tasks so that you are only acting in this area on an emergency basis.

Examples of tasks which fall into this category are family emergencies or emergency work deadlines.

  1. Not Urgent and Important

Not urgent and important tasks are those which do not need your attention right now but should be planned for.  According to Covey, this is the quadrant which we should spend most of our time in. This quadrant allows for long-term achievement of goals and the proper planning of deadlines.

Use of quadrant 2 significantly limits the use of quadrant 1 so that you can reduce your stress and work at your own pace.  When you are aware of deadlines, make sure to properly plan for them. To maintain your health, factor in a little bit of time for exercise or planning healthy meals.

Don’t be fooled by these tasks, as they may seem urgent, but are really only important.

Examples which fall into this category are things like exercise, maintaining relationships, working towards a goal or deadline.

  1. Urgent and Not Important

Urgent but not important tasks are those which need to be seriously limited or eliminated altogether. These kinds of tasks usually come from other people who may be asking for help or wasting time in a meeting.

They may also be very simple tasks which take more time than they are worth. These tasks add no value to your day but can still take up a lot of time. To limit these tasks, it is useful to learn how to say no to people in order to prioritise your time.

Examples for this category are useless phone calls, interruptions and other people’s emergencies.

  1. Not Urgent and Not Important

Another quadrant which should be severely limited is that for non-urgent and non-important tasks. These are tasks which don’t have to be done within a certain timeframe and add little or no value to your day.

These tasks are often trivial and are the primary contributor to procrastination. These tasks usually completely waste time but are surprisingly the tasks we can spend the most time on.

Examples which fall into this category include scrolling on social media, watching too much TV and general bad habits.

How to use the time management matrix

Now that you have a better understanding of the four quadrants, you can start to categorise your tasks and plan for your goals. By spending a little bit more time in quadrant 2, you can begin to plan for things properly.

When we have our goals and deadlines planned and we can spend a little bit of time on them each day. This reduces the last-minute rush and improves performance overall.

By reducing the rush caused by leaving these projects too late, we reduce the stress they can cause when they become urgent. Then, by reducing the time spent on tasks of little value, we increase the time we have for more important things.

This can take a little bit of time to get used to, and it takes a lot of practice of self-control. Remember that you are the best judge of what is important to you.  Once you get into the swing of it, however, you will find your productivity increased and your stress reduced.

With proper use of the time management matrix, you can improve your productivity and spend more time on the things that matter. With a little self-control and reflection on different tasks, you will quickly be able to differentiate between importance and urgency.

The time management matrix helps to make more time for what counts and free up the time we spend on tasks of little value. It is a great tool to have in your arsenal to get into the flow of working better and working smarter.



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