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Sooner or later, all of us succumb to time management frustrations. Keeping our priorities straight is a daily battle, and often a losing battle. It takes perseverance to continually say “no” to distractions. It takes discipline to consistently say “yes” to the things that matter the most, but doing that isn’t as satisfying as putting out fires and looking like a hero. So, we struggle between being active and being productive.

“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

Steven R. Covey

Depending on whether you work for a boss or you’re self-employed and you are the boss, your results will vary on another level. If you work for a boss, the temptation is to “look busy” to project an aura of productivity so that you can keep your job. However, if you work for yourself, you have that added pressure of maintaining actual productivity so that you don’t go out of business.

How can you ever truly know whether your efforts are maximized?

Download the Time Management Matrix

You can start with Steven R. Covey’s Time Management Matrix.

The Time Management Matrix divides activities into a grid of four separate quadrants.

Straighten Your Priorities With the Time Management Matrix 1
The Time Management Matrix

The Time Management Matrix quadrants characterize activities by their levels of urgency and importance. At the end of this post, I’ll show you how you can use this worksheet to improve your time management. But, first, you need to know how each quadrant relates to the others.

Avoid Quadrants 1, 3, and 4

Image depicting a fireman putting out a fire
Photo by Hush Naidoo on Unsplash

For example, when someone hacks your website, or your customer service team experiences a spike in activity, those are urgent and important tasks in Quadrant 1.

In Quadrant 3, a task that is urgent but not important might be someone stopping by unannounced to discuss a website traffic report, or a vendor calling to check on whether you’re satisfied with their product.

Items that fall into the Quadrant 4 area of not urgent and not important are typically things that can almost always be put off until another time, such as webinars (just watch the recording some other time) or browsing social media.

Note that Quadrants 3 and 4 tend to be the causes of so much of our productivity loss. They’re the daily interruptions or time wasters that sap our energy and lead us to feel like we got nothing done, even though we were “busy” all day.

Quadrant 1 often manifests itself as a symptom of the disease of wasted time. Because we were so distracted by “activity” that wasn’t productive, we are now in crisis mode, putting out fires that didn’t need to start in the first place.

If only we had a way to plan, prepare, and prevent our way to better results!

Use Quadrant 2 To Be Proactive and Productive

Straighten Your Priorities With the Time Management Matrix 2
Photo by Isaac Smith on Unsplash

Well, that’s what Quadrant 2 is all about. This is where we want to spend the majority of our time. Quadrant 2, where everything is not urgent but important, is putting our minds into a proactive rather than a reactive flow. It’s about looking forward, getting organized, planning our work and then working our plan.

Quadrant 2 is the cure for the productivity losses in Quadrants 1, 3, and 4. In this area, we put together strategies, playbooks, project plans, systems for tracking ideas and progress, and relationship-building activities. By doing so, we’re forecasting, estimating, and preventing the situations that can lead to spending too much time in the other quadrants.

How To Use This Worksheet

If you haven’t already downloaded the worksheet, download it now and print it. I’ll wait. 🙂

Now, just tack it to your wall, bulletin board, or place it on your desk. The important thing is to ensure that it’s always close at hand and within your field of vision.

Every time you have a task or meeting, experience an interruption, want to browse social media, or have a fire to put out, figure out what quadrant it belongs in and put a dot or checkmark in that quadrant. That’s all. No need to write the name of the item.

Do this for several days, or even weeks, and see where the marks accumulate the most.

You’ve now scientifically measured where your efforts are focused and where they are not. If you’re mostly spending time in Quadrant 2, congratulations! You’re being very productive and proactive. However, if you’re spending a lot of time in Quadrants 1, 3, and 4, try to figure out what needs to happen in your workflow and time management to ensure that the causes and symptoms of these drains are addressed.

The Importance of Renewing Recreation and Stewardship Development

Straighten Your Priorities With the Time Management Matrix 3
Photo by Anastasia Petrova on Unsplash

Note, also, that Quadrant 2 has at least two activities, recreation/exercise and stewardship development, that we don’t often consider as “productivity” items. Why are they there? And what is the difference between those and the activities in Quadrant 4?

It goes without saying these days that exercise is good for you. Exercise has physiological impacts that go beyond mere weight loss or strength gain. When you exercise, your brain produces endorphins and other compounds that help you refocus your energy. Exercise calms the mind and helps you step away to see the bigger picture. So many helpful ideas and solutions to problems come into my head when I’m out riding the bike trail.

Stewardship development is part of separating our “money-making” activities from our “value-adding” activities. We can’t be productive if our only focus is on profits or growth at the expense of being good stewards.

  • We are stewards of our hearts and minds (so, go meditate or pray).
  • We are stewards of our environment (so, go pick up some litter).
  • We are stewards of our homes (so, go give the kitchen a good scrub).
  • We are stewards of our families (so, go give a loved one a hug).
  • We are stewards of our spiritual responsibilities towards others (so, go help the homeless).
  • We are stewards of our connection to a higher purpose (so, go find that purpose).

If we are not attending to our stewardships, then we’ve truly lost perspective. Save time every day to rebalance yourself mentally and spiritually.

Let me know in the comments how this time management worksheet has helped you.

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Rob Watson is a Web professional. Beginning in 1996 as a self-taught web designer, he has created websites for everyone from small business owners to multi-national companies. He is the co-organizer of the West Orlando WordPress Meetup.

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