Stephen Covey in his famous book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey designed a matrix that helps individuals prioritize activities, determining which activities are important, which are urgent, and which can be considered distractions or interruptions.
According to Covey, urgency can be defined as requiring immediate attention, and importance has to do with an outcome that contributes to an individual’s mission, values, and high priority goals.
Here is a breakdown of each quadrant:
Quadrant I: These activities are both urgent and important and require our immediate attention and can be considered crises and problems. Individuals who live in Quadrant I are often consumed with problems all day every day and only find peace in escaping to Quadrant IV. These individuals can be characterized as crisis mangers, problem-minded people, and deadline-driven producers. Living in Quadrant I is not sustainable, as you are always “on fire,” as my professor would say.
Quadrant II: Ideally, everyone should strive to “live in box two.” These activities are important, but not urgent, and help achieve personal goals. These activities are things we need to do, but never seem to get around to, such as exercising, building relationships, and long-term strategizing. Individuals who “live in box two” are often opportunity-minded people and have a relatively low number of crises, which allows for more goal oriented activities and increased productivity.
Quadrant III: Activities that fall into this quadrant are urgent, but not important and often get mistaken for being important. Individuals living in Quadrant III spend time reacting to the urgency based on the expectations and priorities of others. These activities are often seen as distractions because they are urgent, but not important to the individual.
Quadrant IV: Activities held in this quadrant are not urgent nor important and have very little value, which takes time away from other urgent and important activities. This quadrant is where surfing the web and watching TV lie along with other timewasting activities. Individuals that reside in Quadrant IV lead very irresponsible and unproductive lives.
Most people find themselves living in Quadrants I and III, leaving no time for Quadrant II. Stephen Covey stresses the important of moving to Quadrant II, which results in fewer crises and problems. Covey’s Time Management Matrix will help individuals make the move to being effective as well as efficient.
How to Use the Matrix
Here are the steps for prioritizing your activities:
- Create a To-Do List and include all tasks you need and want to do within the next week (or set period of time of your choosing).
- Prioritize these activities based on importance, NOT urgency. You can use a scale of 1 to 5 or re-order the activities based on importance; either option will work.
- Sort all the activities into the appropriate quadrants based on the constraints above.
- Now evaluate where you are spending most of your time and consider how you can start working toward Quadrant II.