In today’s fast-paced lifestyle, we are constantly expected to do more, to juggle more roles which require our immediate attention. We spend our time reacting to urgent circumstances and emergencies, and never invest the necessary effort to develop the ability to prevent emergencies from the start.
So how do we manage the flood of responsibilities, maintain a balance in life, not burn ourselves out and maintain a positive frame of mind?
Stephen R. Covey, author of ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, a self-help book first published in 1988, presents an approach to being effective in attaining goals by aligning oneself to put first things first. In Habit 3 Covey focuses on putting first things first- to live a more balanced existence, you must realize that not doing everything that comes along is okay. As an individual, you need to realize that it is okay to say “no” when necessary and focus on your main priority. According to Stephen Covey putting first things first means organizing and executing your most important priorities. It is living and being driven by the principles you value most, not by the agendas and forces surrounding you.
How does it work?
The matrix allows you to schedule your week according to what is most important to you and what will have the most meaningful results. It is designed to help you become a more effective self-manager and maintain a balance in your life.
The two main criteria on which you evaluate tasks are urgency and importance. Urgent activities require immediate attention; important ones contribute to your mission, values, and goals.
Quadrant 1 – is filled primarily with crises, which is what you want to avoid. That is when you do not give the right amount of time and energy to the task at hand, which may cause it to be incomplete or have a rushed outcome.
Quadrant 2 – is where you’ll want to focus most of your energy on activities that are important but not urgent. According to Covey, this quadrant includes relationship-building, recognizing new opportunities, planning and prevention.
Quadrant 3 – is our everyday interruptions, telephone calls, some reports, things that could have waited until you finish with the task at hand. It is things that are happening ‘now’ and are not important.
Quadrant 4 – is social media that clogs our day and keeps us from doing what we must. It is the time wasters and busy work, it is getting that quick cup of coffee that turns into a half hour conversation about the weekend’s rugby game.
Using the Grid
The first and most obvious use of the grid is take your current ‘to-do’ list and sort all the activities into the appropriate grid. Then, assess the amount of time you should take to accomplish the lists and, if necessary, reallocate activities.
The second approach is a one week assessment strategy. Make six copies of the grid and use one grid for each day of the week, listing all activities and time spent. At the end of the week, combine the five individual days’ data onto one summary grid (number 6) and calculate the percentage of time spent in each grid. Then evaluate how well your time is being spent and whether you work load needs to be reorganized.
It sounds simple enough, but we are far more likely to deal with urgent activities, regardless of importance, because it is right in front of us. It is that email that you receive, a co-worker asking for advice or even just a phone call, something that draws your immediate attention.
Covey writes: “Urgent matters are usually visible. They press on us; they insist on action. They’re often popular with others. They’re usually right in front of us. And often they are pleasant, easy, and fun to do. But so often they are unimportant.” The objective of using the time management matrix is to question whether a certain activity brings you closer to your goals or not. If this is the case, these responsibilities need to be prioritized over those tasks that might demand your time but do not contribute to your goals. Delay activities that do not contribute any significant output until more important tasks are finished.
According to Covey, when you plan to adjust your schedule, you will have fewer Quadrant 1 activities. “Your crises and problems would shrink to manageable proportions because you would be thinking ahead, working on the roots, doing the preventive things that keep situations from developing into crises in the first place.”
You need to take that step back so you can see the imbalance between how you spend your time and how you should spend your time. We need to focus more time and energy on activities that will produce long-term results.
Use the time management matrix to help you do more of what matters.