Do you spend your days’ firefighting through your never-ending to-do list? Do you jump between meetings and emails all day only to realise at 6 pm that you haven’t actually done anything important? Do you feel like you have no control over your time, that it just slips away from you? Are you drowning in your business, barely staying afloat, never mind moving forward?
No matter how busy you are, taking control of your day comes down to the one skill that we can all improve on: time management. We’ve all heard of it, we all try to get it right, and we all hate it a lot of time, but it works; it’s the key to success.
If we can really manage our time from planning to prioritising to executing, only then can we start working effectively. I understand that that’s easier said than done but as I say to all of my coaching clients, it CAN be done. If you or anyone use this matrix, you can become a Jedi master of time. Here’s how.
Urgent-Important Matrix: the key to prioritisation
“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”Dwight D. Eisenhower
Although the concept of the Urgent-Important Matrix was popularised by Stephen Covey in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, it was actually U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower himself who made it famous. Eisenhower, just like most successful people today, often assessed urgency and importance before making any decision and delegated as many of his tasks as he could. Smart man.
So what is the Urgent-Important Matrix or Eisenhower Matrix as it is sometimes known?
Put simply, it’s a visual tool where you prioritise your tasks based on a scale of urgency to importance, and it changes everything.
The Urgent-Important Matrix consists of four quadrants:
Quadrant I – Urgent/Important
Think of this quadrant as one of “necessity,” where tasks need to be done right this minute. These can be any crisis or emergency such as pressing problems, immediate deadlines, last-minute demands, preparations for and attendance of project or management meetings, and tasks from quadrant II that have been postponed. When managing your time, quadrant I tasks are of the highest priority as they are both urgent and important.
Quadrant II – Not Urgent/Important
Ahh…the quadrant of “quality.” The place where we want and should spend our time, but alas, most of us don’t. Quadrant II tasks are often those that take time but are crucial for growth and success; tasks such as strategic planning, problem prevention, self-development, relationship building, creating new opportunities, and self-care. As Eisenhower so eloquently put it, these important tasks are seldom urgent so often never get done.
Quadrant III – Urgent/Not Important
The trickster quadrant of “deception” is one that makes us feel like we are busy when in reality, we are not being productive; this is the one that drains our time until almost end of day when we realise we haven’t even started what we meant to. Quadrant III tasks often feel like they are urgent, such as incoming calls or emails, meetings, interruptions, reports or other people’s needs or problems, but these are bogus tasks.
Quadrant IV – Not Urgent/Not Important
The lowest priority tasks are found in the quadrant of “waste.” For the people who firefight through their day in quadrants I and III, this is where they go to escape to scroll through social media, surf the web or partake in any other procrastination activity that makes them feel like they are busy. This quadrant includes both ‘busy work,’ such as some calls and emails which has no clear impact on the company’s goals, and habitual behaviours.
3 step guide to become a Jedi master (of time)
Looking at the Urgent-Important Matrix, it’s really easy to segregate your tasks. All you have to ask yourself are these two questions: “is this task important?” and “is this task urgent?” Boom. Done.
But that’s not all. Being able to prioritise right now doesn’t miraculously make you a time-management Jedi when it counts, it just prepares you for the training.
The difficulty comes when actually trying to apply the matrix to your everyday life, especially when more tasks become ‘urgent.’ Soon enough, you may just find yourself back in the Urgent-Important dilemma that you were in before.
To claim back your time so that you can focus on the important things in your business and life, here are the three steps you need to take to prioritise and improve your productivity.
Step 1: Understand the matrix
This may seem like a strange step, but it’s important. If you don’t really understand the concept of Urgent vs Importance then you will struggle to use the matrix and see the desired results. This productivity tool, if used right, has the ability to help you increase your effectiveness 10-fold so you need to understand how it does that.
Step 2: Evaluate where you are in the matrix
Like I said previously, it’s easy to segregate your tasks into quadrants but this information is useless if you’re not using it to make the most impactful changes. First, you need to evaluate where you are right now. Keep a timesheet of everything that you do for a week and calculate the hours spent in each quadrant as a percentage – where do you spend most of your time?
Are you constantly putting out fires dealing with tasks that demand your attention? Or are you on top of things so you mainly spend time on high-value work, building relationships and creating new opportunities? Most likely you’re putting out fires and spending more time than you realise in the waste quadrant so you feel ‘busy’ but you’re actually not.
Step 3: Optimise the matrix
This is the crucial (and most difficult) step; the step that separates the majority from the Eisenhower’s and Richard Branson’s of the world. Why? Because it takes time, dedication and a whole lot of trial and error to get right.
Now that you understand the concept and you’ve evaluated where you spend (or waste) most of your time in the matrix, you can now start to prioritise and increase your productivity so that you can actually start making a dent in that important work. Here are some quick tips:
- Quadrant I – MANAGE – you can’t get around these urgent and important tasks so you need to manage them. Do them as efficiently as possible, delegate them to someone you trust, get them out of the way when you’re most productive – whatever works for you. You want as few tasks here as possible otherwise you’re spending your days’ firefighting.
- Quadrant II – FOCUS – the most effective people spend 80% of their time in this quadrant so you want to focus on making time to complete these tasks. The more you do, then the fewer quadrant I activities you’ll have. To increase your time here, schedule them into your calendar, complete them in your mental peak times, and minimise distractions. For example, many successful people swear by routines. If you link an important task such as business planning with another healthy habit such as meditation or exercise on the same day or time every week, it can’t not get done. Put simply, quadrant II and self-care are the foundation to success.
- Quadrant III – AVOID – these tasks may seem urgent but they aren’t important in the grand scheme of things and they are often not contributing to you achieving your goals. With these tasks, it’s best to complete them as efficiently as possible or to avoid them altogether. Batch similar tasks together and assign specific times in the day to complete them (such as emails), use technology to automate or speed up some tasks, delegate or outsource, and turn off your phone when completing important work. Often, the world doesn’t end if you don’t answer a call and ring them back after you finished what you were doing.
- Quadrant IV – LIMIT – these activities are neither urgent nor important so they shouldn’t be done at all. Time-wasters such as stress-related activities (social media, reading the news etc) should be completely eliminated from your day. The best way to do this? Understand if there’s a root cause for these habits and/or limit them to certain times in the day (your lunch break or commute). When it comes to busy work that you can’t eliminate, limit them: learn to say no to pointless requests and challenge the way things are done normally if they aren’t as efficient as they can be.
Start to plan properly and execute those plans effectively
To become a Jedi master of time, you need to prioritise using the Urgent-Important Matrix and start pro-actively working on tasks and projects which deliver the highest value. Only when you limit time spent on reacting to pressing issues and other people’s needs can you start working on new opportunities that help you make significant progress towards your goals.
There is such a thing as a more balanced, calm and focused work-life balance, you just have to prioritise and be proactive to propel your business forward.
A tool like the urgent-important matrix can help you develop your time management skills. It allows you to regain control over your environment and the demands of others, rather than allowing your environment to control you.
I hope you found that useful and good luck!
(Remember if you don’t change your approach, you won’t change the results)
As a business Coach (who still runs 2 other successful businesses) I work with Entrepreneurs and business owners to build the business that they dream of and to ultimately give them the freedom they desire.
If you are interested in finding out more then please get in touch. Want to take your business to the next level of success? Book a free 30 min coaching call to see for yourself if having a coach is the missing piece you have been looking for.
P: 01792 475149