Ultimate Guide to Time Management Matrix: Learn How it Can Transform Your Day

Written by Domantas Vanagas

January 6, 2022

A time management matrix system could be your ticket to a more productive and less stressful life. It is likely that you have tried to use other time management systems before, but doubtful that you have run across anything as powerful as this. Let’s explore what the time management matrix is and how you can utilize it. 

What is a Time Management Matrix?

Steven Covey is credited with first coming up with the time management matrix in his famous book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People“. This extremely popular book remains a best-seller, and it is often looked upon with reverence by those who have seen it work wonders in their own life. The concepts contained within the book are so well-known and effective that they are often used by business leaders and other individuals who have a desire to inspire others and manage time effectively. 

The concept behind the time matrix is quite straightforward. It is meant to be used to identify the most urgent tasks that a person has to do. They can tackle those tasks first before moving on to the more challenging issues that they are sure to face. It is meant to help push the most pressing matters to the forefront so that they can be identified and completed before moving on.

time management matrix quadrants

The time management matrix is not only a useful tool as far as determining which tasks need to be completed first, but also in weeding out tasks that don’t really need to be bothered with at all right now. It is common for us to allow certain tasks to get buried deep into our brains and override our sense of what really matters as far as productivity is considered. We may find ourselves stressing over tasks that don’t really add much to our day. The time matrix can help us sort this out. 

Everyone is welcome to use this time-saving strategy for themselves. Some groups of people that have found it useful include:

  • Teachers
  • Business leaders
  • Students
  • Creative Types (Artists, Writers, Musicians, Etc.)
  • Busy Parents

Anyone who has an agenda of tasks that they need to accomplish may discover that there is something useful for them within this time management system. If you are tired of always feeling like you are behind on your tasks, then the time to explore what this system can do for you is surely right now. 

How Can You Use a Time Management Matrix?

Now that you know a little about what the matrix is, you need to know how you can implement it into your own life. The very first thing you want to do is get organized. This means getting a piece of paper and a writing utensil and writing out all of the tasks that you feel you need to accomplish for the week. You don’t have to write them down in any particular order at this stage of the process, you just need them all written out on paper. 

journal with a pen

Once your list is complete, you are likely to see a big mess of various tasks that you would like to accomplish. This is what you are supposed to see when you first start using this system, so don’t let this overwhelm you. From here, you are going to look over that list completely to see which tasks stand out to you as being the most urgent and important. For example, getting a speeding ticket paid is something that you know you need to take care of immediately. However, you should create a separate list for less important tasks. 

From there, you just keep going down the list, separating out tasks by order of importance. You might have some mid-tier tasks that need to come next, and then you might have some tasks that aren’t truly as important to finish right now. It is perfectly acceptable to have a long list like this as long as you are aware that the tasks will need to be split into various categories before you can plunge into working on them. Once you finally have this all on paper, you can start the diligent work of splitting up these tasks into sub-categories that will make the matrix come to life and help you accomplish time management goals.

What you will need to do is split the tasks up into 4 quadrants of time management in order to see where each task actually fits into your plans for the day. We will break these quadrants down one by one for you now.

 

Quadrant 1: Urgent and Important

The most essential tasks go into this first quadrant and should be the first tasks that you take on for the day. When you see this list of tasks, you will immediately know which ones they are, because these are the tasks that have likely been reaching for your attention for a very long time.

time management matrix first quadrant

They are the things that will cause your entire day to fall apart if you don’t get them done. Precisely what these tasks are will vary depending on the person who is setting up the time management matrix, but they are always going to be essential. 

Think about a busy parent and what their matrix may look like. For them, they may put tasks such as the following in their Quadrant 1: 

  • Pick up the kids from school
  • Pay the utility bill
  • Make sure school lunches are ready to go out for tomorrow

These are priorities that have to be completed for the day to go on as planned. They are also tasks that are likely to look a lot different from what a business leader might put into their Quadrant 1. The difference is because these are two very different types of people. However, they both still have priorities that need to be accomplished before they move on to the next thing. This is not to say that one set of objectives is more important than the other. Rather, it is to point out that everyone has their own set of priorities, and it is just important to get those priorities straightened out. 

Quadrant 1 is where all of your energy should be channeled until it is complete. It is only once you have moved through the entire cycle of tasks in Quadrant 1 that you can even begin to think about additional tasks to be completed in the other quadrants. The sense of accomplishment that one gets from finishing up their Quadrant 1 tasks is enormous and can carry them through finishing up their other tasks as well. 

Quadrant 2: Not Urgent But Important 

Almost everyone has some tasks that they know to be important in their life, but they may not be the most urgent thing in the world.

time management second quadrant

This is because life gets stacked up with various chores that we have to handle, but they don’t always rise to the level of being entirely urgent all the time. This is why we need to be aware of what those tasks are so they can go into a quadrant of their own. 

The tasks that go into Quadrant 2 are still essential to get accomplished, but the time limit on them is not necessarily today. Thus, you are not necessarily under the same time pressure that you might be with some of your Quadrant 1 tasks, but you are still well aware that this quadrant is among the most important of the 4 quadrants of time management. 

In this case, we might look at what a business leader would put in his or her Quadrant 2. This might include:

  • Preparing a presentation that isn’t due for months
  • Putting a morale booster program together
  • Reviewing financial numbers relevant to a report due some time down the road

You can see that each of these tasks is something that needs to get done, but each also has an extended time frame on it that you wouldn’t necessarily find with Quadrant 1 tasks. That is why these missions can come to rest in Quadrant 2. 

As it isn’t necessary to do these tasks right away. It is recommended to schedule Quadrant 2 tasks and do them only when the time comes.

Quadrant 3: Urgent But Not Important

How can a task be urgent but not important? Simple, it can be exactly that when the task is something that you need to get done, but that doesn’t add value to your day at this time.

time management matrix third quadrant

In other words, if the task has a time limit on it, but it doesn’t necessarily add much value to your day, then it can be a Quadrant 3 task. 

Many people have a hard time picturing what a task that qualifies for Quadrant 3 status would look like, and that is why we wanted to provide some examples: 

  • Eliminating the spam e-mails from your inbox
  • Creating a new logo for a project that may be used someday
  • Submitting your picks for a fantasy football contest

Each of these tasks is something that you would probably benefit from in some way, and they may even have a time limit set on them, but you don’t have to stress them too much. If you get around to them in the course of your day, then great, but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t. 

Quadrant 4: Neither Urgent Nor Important

You almost have to wonder why you would include tasks that are neither urgent nor important to your quadrant at all.

time management matrix fourth quadrant

The truth is, we actually all know that some of these tasks are the ones that we cannot get out of our heads. It seems that they just buzz around in there until we are finally able to either accomplish the task or determine that it is not worth it. 

A task that is neither urgent nor important can still be included in the time management matrix. You can still put these tasks into the matrix if for no other reason than you want to make sure you understand where your priorities really lie. 

A few examples of what a quadrant 4 task might look like include: 

  • Look up the latest celebrity gossip
  • Planning a shopping trip
  • Take cute pictures of your pets
  • Posting on social media
  • Writing texts back to friends

These are nice thoughts, but you don’t have to rush out and take care of them immediately. It is up to you when these tasks get done (if at all), but you still want to keep them on your list so that you know that they still need to get done. 

What are the Benefits of Using a Time Management Matrix?

You don’t have to worry so much about your time management when you have everything written down in the matrix. You will know specifically how you are supposed to allocate your time, and you will know which tasks you can put off until a later date. There is something freeing about setting yourself up with these dynamics and allowing the chips to fall freely. You may experience lower levels of stress by just knowing that everything you need to accomplish is put together in little boxes.

Everyone recognizes the benefits of knowing that they will get a surge of motivation by knocking off their Quadrant 1 tasks first and then moving on to the things that are less urgent or important. Freeing yourself up so you can focus your full energy on those lesser tasks is a very big deal. 

Who Can Use the Time Management Matrix?

Don’t think for a moment that only business leaders can use the time management matrix. It is built to be used by everyone. If you feel that you have a business schedule that you are dealing with, then the time management matrix is for you. If you are overwhelmed by the piles of work that are stacking up before you, then this one is for you. If you feel that you could better use your time and resources to accomplish more important things in your life, then this is for you. Students love the time matrix, as do teachers, busy parents, small business owners, and those trying to give their creative talents a boost. In short, there is no one that can’t benefit from the time management matrix in some form or fashion.

 

Examples of Time Management Matrix

Let’s pull this all together now. What does a completed time management matrix look like and how can you start to form your own? 

As stated above, the first step towards a completed time management matrix is to get all of the tasks that you have to handle written out on paper so you can see exactly what is taking up space in your brain. After that, you will immediately start to categorize each task into one of the 4 quadrants of time management. You need to be very honest with yourself at that moment so that you are not putting anything into a category that it doesn’t belong in. If your heart is telling you that a task is not urgent or not important, then that is probably the case. 

After you have everything written out, you start to slide those tasks into the quadrants. Don’t expect to get it perfectly right the first time!

This is something that takes some time and practice to get right. You don’t want to convince yourself that you should be perfect right from the start. This is an unrealistic expectation, and it will probably lead to you getting very discouraged when things go wrong. Instead, try to understand that a process of trial and error may be necessary until you have worked out all of the potential glitches with the plan. 

Let’s take a look at what a completed matrix might look like for a creative person who is attempting to expand their writing career: 

Quadrant 1: 

  • Complete assignments that are on deadline
  • Submit invoices for payment

Quadrant 2:

  • Update writer profile 
  • Submit applications for multiple writing websites
  • Pitch new clients

Quadrant 3: 

  • Look for local writing competitions to submit work to
  • Discover magazines that may be currently looking for submissions

Quadrant 4: 

  • Purchase a new office desk for writing purposes
  • Clean up the office for maximum productivity 

As you can see, each of the quadrants has items listed in it that would be nice to take care of, but each is only given the priority and respect that it deserves. The Quadrant 4 tasks are clearly much less important than the Quadrant 1 tasks, and that is why they have been listed in the ways that they have. The writer who has his or her matrix set up in this way is likely to get a lot done and to make sure that they are staying on track with all of their goals. It is so important to look over these quadrants regularly and ensure that they are still serving your purposes. At the end of the day, it is all about accomplishing more with the same amount of time you already have. 

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