“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” -Dwight Eisenhower
During weeks like this one when I am on at least one plane every day while still keeping up with my ongoing clients, projects, and personal self-care, time management is essential to my sanity! Today I want to share with you one of my FAVORITE systems that supports me in managing how I spend my time even when things feel especially hectic that is simple, yet powerful.
It’s called the Urgent/Important Matrix and has been attributed to both Eisenhower and Stephen Covey. It is built on the principle that great time management is about being effective in the long run rather than just being efficient at getting immediate stuff done. This matrix helps distinguish between urgent and important activities to become more mindful of how your time is invested. Important activities have an outcome that supports your values, moves you toward your vision, and helps you reach your goals. Urgent activities demand immediate attention, often are requests of your time from someone else, and do not necessarily move you toward your own goals. The matrix is broken down into four quadrants based on these two categories of the types of activities we spend our time on (click here to see this visually):
Quadrant 1: Things that are important and urgent
Quadrant 2: Things that are important but not urgent
Quadrant 3: Things that are urgent but not important
Quadrant 4: Things that are not important and not urgent
For maximum efficiency and effectiveness, our time is best spent focused in quadrant 2 with limited to zero time in quadrants 3 and 4 so that we have spare time to deal with true urgencies in quadrant 1. Our tendency is to spend WAY too much time in quadrant 3 focusing on things that seem urgent but are not important. I call this perceived urgency which includes things like getting an email or text and feeling like you have to respond immediately and allowing it to distract you rather than continuing to focus on more valuable tasks. Or allowing interruptions or requests from others to pull you away from what’s most important to your overall well-being and success. What is truly urgent and important (quadrant 1) are things like responding to a crisis, handling an unexpected life event (like a car accident or credit card fraud), making it on time to an appointment, or meeting a deadline.
According to this system, time spent on activities in quadrant 4 (not urgent and not important) should be eliminated or drastically reduced. This is called the “waste” quadrant because we trash our time on mindless distractions and escapisms. Sure we all need breaks but there are more valuable ways to take them. For instance, call a friend you haven’t connected with in a while because relationships are important instead of spending hours surfing Facebook, which is not important. Think about what you are doing at each moment and ask yourself if you are wasting your precious time!
When we spend too much time in quadrants 3 and 4 we are likely to not be as focused in quadrant 2, which are the activities that are important but not urgent. These are the things that support our goals, values and vision. Examples are working on a project that you are passionate about, exercise, a meditation practice, education, personal development, spending quality time with friends and family, etc. In sum these are activities that will have the biggest “payoff” emotionally, spiritually, physically, mentally, and financially. But these things often take a backseat or we procrastinate because we allow ourselves to be distracted by things that are urgent but not important and waste time indulging in activities that are not important or urgent.
My encouragement to you is to make a list of all the ways you spend your time and then number them according to what quadrant they fit into. Anything that is a 3 or 4 either is something that you either need to stop doing, delegate or adjust in some way. The number that you want to appear most on your list is 2 as that means you are spending the majority of your time on things that are important and yield the biggest payoffs.
I go into more detail on this matrix in today’s video so be sure to watch. Remember your time is your most valuable commodity and YOU are your best investment. Don’t waste it and spend it wisely. If anyone is worth it, you are!