Time Management Matrix: How to Get the Most out of Your Time

Steve Covey developed the time management matrix in his book, the seven habits of highly effective people. Today, both individuals and businesses use this concept to determine time wasters and prioritize important tasks. The Eisenhower matrix approach categorizes tasks into four quadrants that we shall discuss below. 

Nearly Everybody Wastes Time Unknowingly


While almost everybody wastes time without realizing it, we all tend to prioritize urgent things without figuring out their importance. Studies suggest that more than 40% of workers spent time conducting irrelevant tasks. What this means is that you waste nearly half of your time. While many people use the terms urgent and important activities interchangeably, it is worth noting that they are quite different.

It is this difference that forms the essence of the time management quadrant. The time management matrix is an excellent concept that can help you determine the things you should be doing. It also allows you to approach your engagements deliberately, an art that Dwight D. Eisenhower of the United States mastered accurately. 

Deadlines Stimulate the Brain

Apart from the prioritization of urgent tasks, human beings invest all their energy to completing tasks amid tight deadlines. In the end, completing the tasks makes you feel good. However, when the excitement is over, you discover you spent almost the entire day doing unnecessary things.

Stephen R. Covey, a businessman, and educator in the United States was conversant with the urgency of addiction. He later developed the time management matrix. According to the matrix, you can classify every task by its importance and urgency.

The time management matrix is a square template split into smaller squares, two at the bottom and another two at the top. It comes with four labels for each quadrant as follows:

  • Quadrant 4, located at the bottom-right represents: Not Urgent and Not Important
  • Quadrant 3, locates at the bottom-left, represents: Urgent but Not Important
  • Quadrant 2, located at the top-right, represents: Important but Not Urgent
  • Quadrant 1, at the top-left, represents: Important and Urgent

The time management matrix helps you understand the difference between what is urgent and what is important. Let’s define both terms below.


Tasks in this category play a critical role in helping you achieve a predetermined goal. You consider them quite significant to you or your loved ones. 


You should complete tasks in this category immediately because procrastination can hurt other activities or aspects of your life.  



The Time Management Matrix Quadrants


·                Quadrant 1: Urgent and Important 

In this section, you should include time-sensitive tasks that have the highest priority. Not only do they require your immediate attention, but you cannot put them on hold. An example of these tasks would be:

  • A forthcoming deadline either from your boss or client
  • A family emergency
  • A medical crisis
  • Last-minute event preparations 

You cannot delegate tasks in this quadrant to others, and even if you do, you will have to assess the details personally. For best results, you will need to handle urgent and important tasks yourself.  

·                Quadrant 2: Important but Not Urgent

Any task in this quadrant is critical as long-term goals, and you can choose to complete them in bits. Quadrant 2 is crucial when it comes to preparing for the future. Tasks in this quadrant require a certain percentage of your attention, but their completion does not rely on urgency. Potential activities for this quadrant include:

  • Professional development
  • Training courses
  • Keeping up with the news
  • Preparing for an event
  • Spending time on planning

You can execute tasks in quadrant ii by delegating duties and encouraging teamwork. 

·                Quadrant Three: Urgent but Not Important

Experts consider elements in this quadrant as distractions that prevent you from being proactive enough to complete tasks in the first and second quadrants. While they come up with a perception of urgency, they are often irrelevant. Quadrant three items include

  • Some phone calls
  • A few meetings
  • Some emails

Including items in the third quadrant can be tricky. It also requires you to determine crucial and urgent tasks. 

·                Quadrant 4: Not Urgent and Not Important

Items in the fourth quadrant are poor, unproductive habits that are neither urgent nor important. Often, these items cause a mess in your day and prevent you from completing crucial and compelling tasks. Activities in this quadrant include:

  • Surfing the internet aimlessly
  • Spending hours watching the television
  • Telephone conversations based on irrelevant and unproductive stuff

Managing Your Time Management Matrix


While you should focus on the second quadrants, you will also want to reduce the items on quadrant one as much as possible. You can do so by spending an adequate amount of time in quadrant 2.

Quadrant one involves unexpected, unforeseen but pressing matters, while quadrant 2 requires proper planning. In this quarter you should be prioritizing if you want to be effective and reduce work pressure. How can you create time for this? Read on to find out. 

·       Determine Your Priorities

If you want your tasks to be in the important but not urgent quadrant, first things first, you need to determine your high priority tasks. The idea of Steven Covey’s time management matrix is to help you establish whether a particular activity is crucial for your goal achievement or not. Rearrange your to-do list based on the criteria we have discussed here. Doing so helps you determine which of your tasks are urgent and crucial. 

·       Automate or Outsource where Necessary

To create more time to complete quadrant two items, limit the amount of time you spend in quadrants three and four. You can even outsource or automate some of your work to reduce backlog. 

·       Set-Up Time for Extensive Work


After determining asks that are genuinely important your next step should be creating a suitable place from where you can execute them. Consider time tracking and blocking to restrict the amount of time you spend on irrelevant tasks. 

·       Utilize Anti-distraction Apps

You need to eliminate the not important and not urgent tasks in quadrant 4. You can even reserve them for a time when you want to take a break from challenging tasks. Anti-distraction applications are essential for controlling these tasks and ensuring they do not interrupt you when you have busy work. Apart from tracking your time, they can also block some websites and limit the time you spend browsing the internet unnecessarily.  

Hone Your Time Management Skills

Time management skills are of essence both for individuals and businesses. The book the 7 habits of highly effective people offer excellent lessons. Leverage the tips we have discussed here to focus on tasks that matter. 


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