Prioritize Your Time with the Time Management Matrix

Time management may have been perfected by Stephen R. Covey’s book First Thing’s First, in where he proposes the following matrix for determining the priority of tasks:

Time management matrix by Stephen Covey

Basically, the strength of the Time Management Matrix is that it helps you prioritize in a very clear and graphical fashion.

I’ve tried many personal productivity hacks, but one methodology with staying power is David Allen’s Getting Things Done. It’s ingenious, but it’s not great for visually oriented thinkers. It also doesn’t force me to prioritize a task like the matrix does.

Trello, an online kanban (the kanban was first devised by Toyota to maintain high productivity and constant improvement in their processes), is also excellent and free.

Covey points out that most people stay stuck in the Urgent/Important quadrant, and are unable to finish more fullfilling projects. He says that in order to achieve one’s goals and dreams, tasks in the Not Urgent/Important quadrant need to be honoured and tended to.

Obviously isn’t easy to do, especially when as a parent or manager (or both) we seem to be constantly putting out ‘fires’. Covey says that you may need to steal time from other quadrants.

Another challenge of Covey’s Time Management Matrix is knowing what task goes in what quadrant. Not everything is obviously urgent and important like a household emergency.

One heuristic I use to recognize the importance of a task is if it occurs to me as something I should do three times, on three separate occasions (even if it’s to go outside for a walk).

If I didn’t deem it important the first two times, the third time makes it automatically so.

Photo by Kevin Wen

Implementing the Time Management Matrix

Getting the Matrix started is as easy as drawing a four quadrant grid on a piece of paper (maybe something like this), but there are other ways. Ammon Beckstrom of Slightly Insightful designed a beautiful 7 Weekly Habits Planner you can download as a PDF.

It’s called a habits planner because “our character is basically a composite of our habits” (Covey quote), thus it makes sense to cultivate good habits.

Personally, I just started working with Priority Matrix 2.0 software, which can be had for a reasonable $20 (personal edition). Hopefully I’ll get my priorities straight so that the “main thing stays the main thing”.

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