How to Create a Time Management Matrix to Keep You Accountable for Achieving Your Goals

Almost every one of us wastes significantly more time than we know. Whatever your occupation, the majority of people prioritize the tasks that relieve the sense of urgency over the duties that are truly the most important.

We also spend a significant amount of time thinking about the big tasks we need to accomplish, usually pushing them aside until we have “more time.”

President Eisenhower said that we are too prone to focus on the important and urgent matters, resulting in reactive behavior based on what needs to be done right now, rather than focusing on the important and non-urgent, which would be the foundation of a more strategic approach based on long-term goals.

We are wasting nearly half of our time on tasks that may not benefit us in the long term. We have to create the opportunity to redirect our time to more valuable work.

While there are no shortcuts for getting important tasks done, there is a strategy to help prevent procrastination: a time management matrix.

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What is a time management matrix?

When you’re crammed with tasks at work, it’s easy to lose track of what’s “important” and what’s “urgent.”

These two words are frequently used interchangeably, but there is a significant distinction between them—and this distinction lies at the heart of the time management matrix. This matrix is essentially a method of determining what you should be doing and how to approach your obligations with more awareness.

Prioritizing time spent on urgent tasks is in our nature.

When we are aware that a deadline is approaching, our reactive brain kicks in; we devote all of our attention to completing something just because it is “urgent,” and we are rewarded with a burst of dopamine in exchange.

When it wears off, however, we realize we’ve spent the entire day doing things that aren’t actually important and are later seen as time-wasters.

Stephen Covey, a US educator, and businessman, recognized this “urgency addiction” and developed the Covey time management matrix to help people distinguish between what is important versus what is urgent.

How Does a Time Management Matrix Help?

The time management matrix is based on the basic principle that efficient time management can help us achieve our goals. Success in almost everything involves time management, after all.

While it may seem like there is not enough time in the day to complete everything, there are simple ways to organize your time so it doesn’t feel like you are always running out of it.

The time management matrix can act as a tool to understand your priorities and goals.

It is particularly helpful if you struggle with distractions and time-wasters or if you feel overwhelmed when planning out your tasks.

The time management matrix gives you a structure for your goals, allowing you to focus more on achieving them rather than planning to achieve them. 

By incorporating better time management habits in your personal and professional life, you can reduce your overall stress, produce better work, and even improve your career opportunities.

How to Create Your Own Time Management Matrix

Now that you know how a time management matrix can help you, it’s time to make one for yourself.

Creating a time management matrix is as follows: draw 4 boxes, each containing four words around the left and top sides: Not important, important, urgent, and not urgent. Then, you write your activities into the appropriate cross-section box and take action from there.

Create Your Quadrants

Use the descriptions below to see where each of your particular activities would fall into.

Quadrant I:

Tasks in this quadrant should include important, urgent things that are somewhat rare, and as the name suggests, they’re tasks that require your immediate attention.

With quadrant I tasks, there will almost certainly be instant consequences if you do not complete them within the deadline.

These consequences could be a missed opportunity, a setback at work, or a bad performance review.

Tasks that are important and urgent are frequently referred to as “firefighting.” If your organization has a huge client deadline but the project lead is out sick for a week, you and your team are likely putting all your focus and energy on getting the work done with less guidance than usual. 

Or if a customer calls and they’re ready to buy the biggest deal your company has seen all year, it’s one of those “drop everything you’re doing” critical moments.

Quadrant II:

Quadrant II duties are important, but they aren’t necessarily urgent tasks or may not require immediate attention. If it feels like all your important tasks are also urgent, this might mean you have a backlog of important tasks on your to-do list that have become urgent since you have pushed them off for so long.  

While not urgent, these quadrant ii tasks are significant to your long-term and strategic goals, personally and professionally.

These tasks are the kind that create the most impact. Improving work processes, completing extra training, and relationship-building are all examples of quadrant ii tasks.

If you have the ability, arrange large blocks of undisturbed time to work on urgent, non-important issues. The longer you can stay in a flow state and genuinely focus, the better.

Quadrant III:

Quadrant III duties are those that you should delegate or automate whenever possible. These tasks are urgent, meaning they need to be completed within a deadline, but they are not necessarily critical activities.

For example, your colleague asks you to help them with the PowerPoint presentation they are presenting tomorrow.

Though there is a deadline to this project, it’s not as important to you as it is to them. Rather than taking a significant amount of time out of your day and your tasks to help them step by step with this project, offer your support in checking their work once they feel like it’s ready.

These are the kind of tasks you want to spend as little time as possible on. They can often be counterproductive to your workflow, don’t contribute much to your overall aim, aren’t high on your priority list, and add a layer of fog to your daily life that makes it difficult to see through.

Quadrant IV:

Quadrant IV tasks are neither urgent nor important, thus they are probably not worth your time. Consider quadrant IV as a black hole.

You get dragged in deeper and deeper as you spend more and more time there until you’ve lost all momentum and energy to focus on important things.

The following activities are examples of low-importance or low-urgency activities: Idlily scrolling around social media, watching mindless television, sorting through spam mail, attending meetings that have nothing to do with your job, etc.

I’m sure there are many tasks each of us can name in quadrant IV.

These meaningless tasks feel like a waste of time, and we often feel shame when we spend too much time on them.

Writing them down and seeing them on paper will act as a reminder not to partake in them as often.

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Identify Your Priorities

Being able to figure out which tasks go where means understanding your priorities.” The idea of Covey’s time management matrix is to get us to think about whether a task is helping us reach our goals or not.

Reorganize your To-Do list according to the grid above, so you can quickly see which tasks require immediate attention and which are the most critical.

Eliminate Distractions

Once you’ve determined which tasks are genuinely important, the next step is to create more undisturbed time and space to work on them – with uninterrupted and sustained focus.

You’ll want to strategically manage your schedule to ensure you devote the majority of your time to these kinds of tasks.

Consider utilizing time blocking to schedule regular sessions of immersed deep work and to set limits on how much time you allow yourself to spend on low-value, irrelevant things like email management.

Anti-distraction apps are a great help for ensuring you can focus on your important tasks without letting meaningless tasks colonize your time or interrupt you when you’re trying to focus.

They can even help you manage your biggest self-distracting behaviors, like blocking certain websites or limiting your non-work-related browsing each day.

If you want to get better at time management and finally get started moving towards your goals, check out my personal development plan template! This template will help you define the steps you need to take in order to change your life and succeed!

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About Brian Tracy — Brian is recognized as the top sales training and personal success authority in the world today. He has authored more than 60 books and has produced more than 500 audio and video learning programs on sales, management, business success and personal development, including worldwide bestseller The Psychology of Achievement. Brian's goal is to help you achieve your personal and business goals faster and easier than you ever imagined. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Linkedin and Youtube.

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