Forget Time Management, Start Managing Yourself: The Time Management Matrix

Wednesday, November 9th, 2016

There are hundreds of books, courses, seminars and podcasts out there, all claiming to help you to learn to manage your time, become more efficient, more effective and more productive. It’s hard to sort the wheat from the chaff, and even harder to put any words of wisdom into practice however life changing you may recognise them to be.

piggy bank saving time

A wonderfully short and simple chapter on time management can be found in ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ by Stephen R. Covey. It may be 28 years since this book was originally published, but it still contains buckets of useful information, particularly this chapter that coherently deciphers how to better select the tasks that you choose to prioritise, and how this impacts your overall time management.

Covey believes that time management can be summed up  in one simple phrase “organize and execute around priorities” (p149). I know what you’re thinking, far from groundbreaking stuff, but it’s only when Covey breaks down this simple statement into its components that his approach to time management starts to make sense. A new focus should be made towards achieving results rather than focusing on things and time. Deciding which tasks are our priority tasks is the key to self management. We must learn to judge ‘priority’ by our long term aims for progress, rather than letting other people or imposing deadlines decide.

Covey believes that we should be part of a new generation of time management whereby we no longer focus on efficiency as this has been starving us from opportunities which may have longer term benefits. “The challenge is not to manage time, but to manage ourselves” (p150). Getting tasks done does not have the same result as getting the right tasks done.

He demonstrates his idea through a diagram he refers to as the ‘Time Management Matrix’, a quadrant that places our daily tasks into four time management models that are catagorised by importance and urgency. To simplify, Covey believes that the majority of people spend their time targeting jobs that are deadline driven, permanently fighting themselves and their workload to keep their head above water, these are often tasks given to us by others (quadrant 1). Many people prioritise jobs simply by deadline and not by importance, in fact, rarely are the jobs really of importance to long term progress and these are tasks you should be looking to delegate (quadrant 3). Many of us may pick and choose our tasks in preference of those that are easy or fun, these are usually neither urgent nor important (quadrant 4). Covey encourages us, in the quest for effective time management, to focus on tasks that are not urgent but are important (quadrant 2), these are the tasks such as relationship building, planning, prevention, and recognising opportunities, these are tasks that give results – you should be making these your priority. Effective time management is having the ability to prioritise “All the things we know we need to do, but seldom get around to doing because they aren’t urgent.” (p154)

Take a look of the matrix below and decide which tasks currently receive your time.

matric of time management


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