Roughly 90% of time management is prioritising. Time is limited. Or rather we limited in what we can do with time. You can only do so many things with your time and that’s where time management comes in. Time management is really the management of self. How do you prioritise? Well, there are many methods and systems for that. Of all the ones I have come across nothing beats Quadrant 2 time management. Sometimes’s referred to as Covey’s time management matrix after the late Dr Stephen Covey author of the 7 habits of highly effective people.
The Covey matrix is an adaptation of the Eisenhower (former American President) Matrix. They have the same considerations of what is important and urgent and consider the cross-sections between the two but the Eisenhower Matrix approaches the quadrants differently. The Covey is adapted to reflect the focus and the flow of tasks, this will make sense a little later in the article. Both systems identified 4 quadrants.
There are 2 ways of prioritising things in this matrix and first, we will look at their importance. Importance is a measure of how essential something is to the achievement of your overall goals. In your business examples of important tasks may be things like negotiating with suppliers, paying creditors and making sure your business documentation is up to date. Some tasks fall under your responsibility that may be non-important but are part of your responsibilities. These vary from role to role so I will not suggest examples but suffice it to say some tasks fall under this.
The other important classification is between the urgent and the non-urgent. The majority of if not all tasks are time-bound. A task like doing a report that is due at the end of the week will certainly not be urgent on Monday. Tasks like taking phone calls, checking emails, responding to so and so are urgent tasks because they usually require your immediate attention. Now with our earlier example of the report due at the end of the week by Friday morning, that report has become urgent.
So the time management matrix combines the two methods of classifying your tasks, importance and urgency and creates 4 types of tasks. Each type of task is in a quadrant hence the name of our time management method, quadrant 2 management. The four quadrants are important and urgent tasks (quadrant 1), important and non-urgent tasks (quadrant 2), non-important and urgent tasks (quadrant 3) and non-important and non-urgent tasks (quadrant 4). The 4 quadrants can be labelled as firefighting, priorities (hence the name of the system), activity traps and time-wasters respectively.
In quadrant four, the tasks do not contribute to the overall goals and will waste your time. The lack of urgency makes them low-pressure tasks but ultimately they are not of consequence. Quadrant 3 tasks because they are urgent will make you feel like you are doing something but ultimately do not contribute to the outcomes significantly. Quadrant two tasks are where your priority should be and we will discuss why shortly. Finally, quadrant 1 activities are both important to the goals and urgent, so they command your full attention. However, working under pressure is not the best idea and quadrant 2 management is all about addressing this.
We can sum up quadrant 2 style management with two key lessons from the matrix. Trust me there are more but there are just two things you need to grasp to make the most of this method.
Things that are not important will never become important
If something is not important it will never become important. So even when something appears in quadrant 4 (non-important and non-urgent) it should not be your concern. Tasks of this nature are prime targets for delegation, automation or filtering. Non-important and urgent tasks are activity traps. You get the rush of adrenalin and feel like you’re achieving but you have not moved the important things forward. Those calls which interrupt your workday but do not move projects forward are good examples of this. It’s also important to realise that important things will always be important. If for some reason you have tasks that started as non-important then became important, you are doing it all wrong.
Non-urgent things will become urgent
The second key lesson explains why we practice quadrant 2 management. We have already agreed that your focus should be on the right side of the matrix, the important side. When things are in quadrant 2 they are not yet urgent, you still have time to work on them without pressure, as with our report example earlier. The whole idea of quadrant 2 management is to deal with things before there is pressure. We invariably perform our best in lower pressure situations. And working on important things before there is pressure allows us to do our best work. Working on things when they are still in quadrant two prevents them from moving into quadrant 4.
For clarity on the Covey matrix and quadrant 2 management, 7 habits of highly effective people are the book to read. You can readjust the chapter that addresses time management. I mentioned the Eisenhower matrix earlier and you can look that up online as well. Just be guided that the Eisenhower matrix was about dealing with crises while quadrant 2 management is about preventing crises.