In ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ author Stephen Covey suggested these four quadrants when considering how best to use your time. I believe that this is a practical way to assess and best manage how you spend each day.
So, here’s a useful exercise: list all of your tasks, and time taken, over a fixed period – say a week. Having done so, then place each into only one of these four headings: “important and urgent”, “important but not urgent”, “urgent but not important” and “not important or urgent”.
Having accomplished this, add up the time spent for tasks in each area. You now have a clear picture of how your time has been used – or misused. Let’s look at each in more detail:
Not important or urgent
So, why are you undertaking these trivial tasks? Often, the answer can simply be habit, or ‘it’s always been done this way’. Sometimes, these are ‘comfort’ tasks, allowing the person to feel they are working, and neglecting the fact that time is simply being wasted in non-productive ways! Aim to stop doing these things!
Urgent but not important
Often the urgency comes from others’ needs, or last-minute tasks being delegated to you. Do remember that these tasks might be important to your organisation generally, if not to you personally. If these tasks must be accomplished, the key is to schedule them effectively, and thus counter the interruptions caused by urgency.
Important but not urgent
Tasks here tend to focus on the strategies and value of your work. As mentioned, the key is to schedule such tasks effectively. You know how much time should be allocated, which may be different to the amount you currently spend. Appreciating this, aim to find an appropriate time to undertake the work.
Important and urgent
As you schedule your day, these areas should be given priority. Apart from managing pressing problems, or the inevitable crises, the tasks listed here should also be about taking positive action to grow the business, make improvements; be about working wisely and efficiently today while looking to the future.
I know that the above is a simplistic guide to the use of these four time management quadrants – as shown on the image. However, the depth comes when you undertake the exercise and begin to build a deeper understanding of where you currently spend your time, and how this could be more effectively focused.