The Time Management Matrix

Several years ago I was required to take a two-week seminar on Steven Covey's 7 Habits for Highly Effective People. I've forgotten almost all of it, which is what happens when you don't put something into practice and stick with it. Nonetheless, there were a few key points that come back to haunt me now and again.

My company gives managers quarterly training on management technique, skills and habits. Covey would call this "Sharpening the Saw", which is Habit 7. I find these sessions to be incredibly helpful and am very thankful that we spend so much time working to improve ourselves. In one particular session in mid-2006 we spent half of the day discussing time management and Covey's groovy Time Management Matrix. The matrix breaks down all of the responsibilities and tasks which we must do into four areas, defined by two critieria, Importance and Urgency:

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

Each time I was trained on this topic the trainer would ask us how much time we spend in each quadrant now before telling us how much time they thought we should spend. Invariably, every single participant was spending way too much time in Quadrant I. Each time I completed this exercise I was in a Technical Support role so my Quadrant I number was around 50%, which is sickeningly unhealthy. I won't post what the actual values should be... you should pursue Covey training if you're interested!

The instructive premise is simple: If you don't take the time to do the things that are not yet urgent or not yet important, they will become both at some point. In tech support, everything is urgent in the eyes of your customer, so you constantly feel like you are operating in crisis mode. For adrenaline junkies, this works very well, and explains why I have loved such roles during my career. For everyone else, they burn out.

I really like the time management matrix - it reminds me that every single task falls into one category and should be given a certain amount of time based on that. It's an easy rule that removes (some) stress from planning one's day/week/month/life.

I am going to write a few posts in the coming weeks about each quadrant and what I've found helps me to both keep things in their respective places as well as keep me as sane as possible while managing these tasks.

The image above was mirrored from I didn't ask to use it, rather I found it in a Google Image Search, so if they are annoyed and would like me to refrain from using it, my email address is readily available.

Jan 3rd, 2008