The best time management method we’ve seen is Stephen R. Covey’s Time Management Matrix. 

In his book ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’, Covey describes activities as important or not important, urgent or not urgent.  If you make a grid using these divisions, you’ll come up with something like the matrix below.  [The matrix is Covey’s.  The corny alliteration is ours.  Click on the pic for a larger printable view.]

If you are honest about how you spend your time, this chart will help you immensely.  We suggest you keep a record of what you do each day for several days, and then take an hour to sit quietly and write each activity in one of the four quadrants.  Include the time you spend on each.  The number of activities in each quadrant and the time you spend will give you a good idea about why you are achieving or not achieving your goals.

Covey explains that ‘urgent’ means ‘pressing’ and requiring immediate attention.  Urgent things ACT ON US.  A ringing phone is urgent, but it may not be important.

Important things, on the other hand, contribute to your mission, your values, your high priority goals.  We must be proactive with important things.  We must ACT ON THEM.  This requires much more initiative.

Quadrant 1 activities are both urgent and important, usually called ‘problems’ or ‘crises’.  Quadrant 1 consumes many people, the crisis managers, problem-minded people, deadline-driven producers.  If you focus on Quadrant 1, it will get bigger and bigger until it wipes you out.  Some results of spending too much time in Quadrant 1 are …

  • Stress
  • Burnout
  • Crisis Management
  • Always putting out fires
  • Escape to Quadrant 4

Quadrant 3 is urgent but not important.  Many people confuse urgency with importance, but the reality of Quadrant 3 is that the urgency is based on the needs and priorities of OTHER PEOPLE.  The results are …

  • Short-term focus
  • Crisis Management
  • Reputation as a chameleon
  • Seeing goals and plans as worthless
  • Feeling victimized and out of control
  • Shallow or broken relationships

People who spend most of their time in Quadrants 3 and 4 …

  • Lead totally irresponsible lives
  • Get fired from jobs
  • Depend on others or institutions for basics

Effective people avoid Quadrants 3 and 4 and shrink Quadrant 1 down to size by spending more time in Quadrant 2, the heart of effective personal management.  People who focus on Quadrant 2 …

  • Build relationships
  • Write personal mission statements
  • Make long-range plans
  • Exercise
  • Do preventive maintenance
  • Plan and prepare
  • Have vision and perspective
  • Are balanced and disciplined
  • Are in control
  • Experience few crises
  • Are opportunity minded
  • Feed opportunities and starve problems
  • Understand leverage
  • Engage in capacity building activities

We must strive to spend most of our time effectively in Quadrant 2, or as Covey says, “Don’t spend time in the thick of thin things.”

Bob and Anna Bassett

Tom ‘Big Al’ Schreiter’s 25 Skills
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