The Time Matrix

In his most celebrated book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the late Stephen Covey popularized a concept what is now known as the Eisenhower Decision Matrix. Credited to the 34 President of United States, it consists of four quadrants as shown below.

Important and Urgent

Important and Not Urgent
High value
Long term

Not Important and Urgent
 Routines                                                          Interruptions 

Not Important and Not Urgent
Time Waters 

To make use of this matrix in helping us to organize our personal and business life we must be able to distinguish tasks that are urgent and tasks that are important.
Urgent is associated with tasks that require immediate attention. It generally puts in reactive mode. Important is linked with tasks that contribute to our long-term success, values and goals.

Let us look at each quadrant.  Quadrant 1 – Important and Urgent

Tasks in this quadrant demand our immediate attention such as:·  

  • Report deadline
  • Fire in the pantry
  • Certain e-mails
  • Drug problem in your office/household

While it is almost impossible to eliminate all the tasks in this quadrant, we must try to minimize it

Quadrant 2 –  Important and Not Urgent

Tasks in this quadrant contribute to our vision, mission and goals. It is the most important quadrant in this matrix. We should be spending most of our time doing tasks in this quadrant. Typical tasks of Quadrant 2 are:·

  • Daily exercise
  • Family time
  • Reading good books
  • Attending skill enhancing workshopsRecreation
  • Reading good books
  • Attending skill enhancing workshops
  •  Recreation

Quadrant 3 – Not Important and Urgent

According to Covey, many people spend most of their time on Quadrant 3 tasks but thinking they’re working in Quadrant 1. Because Q3 tasks do help others out, they definitely feel important. Plus they’re also usually tangible tasks, the completion of which gives you that sense of satisfaction that comes from checking something off your to-do list. Most e-mails, meetings, interruptions and daily routine works are in this quadrant. We should minimize tasks in Quadrant 3 and a simple way of doing this is learning to say no.

Quadrant 4 –  Not Important and Not Urgent

This quadrant is where tasks that are absolute time wasters are in. Some are listed below:

  •  Watching TV
  • Mindlessly surfing the net
  • Shopping sprees

We should try to eliminate all tasks in this category.

It is by spending our time in Quadrant 2 that we are making the best use of our time. And by doing tasks in Quadrant 2, we will eventually find that tasks in Quadrant 1 is getting lesser.  By asking ourselves this question: “What are the tasks that I can do on a regular basis (but not doing it) that will increase productivity”, will help to identify tasks in Quadrant 2.