The time management matrix is a way to categorise tasks based on their relative levels of urgency and importance. Urgency relates to time - something that is urgent requires your immediate attention. Importance relates to results - if something is important it has a direct impact on the main goals of your role.
The matrix consists of four quadrants
Quadrant I deals with activities that reap significant results and require immediate attention. It is about dealing with crises and problem solving. Some people can enjoy this quadrant because it is exciting and challenging. Long term however, getting stuck in this quadrant will lead to stress, lower quality work and burn out.
Quadrant II deals with things like building relationships, planning business strategies, long range planning, preparation, thinking about and planning new ideas – all the things we know we need to do, but somehow don’t get round to doing because they are not urgent. Quadrant II is the heart of effective personal management.
Quadrant III deals with things that need to be done immediately but that are not important to our role. This quadrant us usually filled by the demands of others. This is a very frustrating place to be because you are busy and stressed but unable to achieve your goals.
Quadrant IV refers to items which are not urgent and not important. People spending time in this quadrant are wasting time and have poor understanding of how their behaviours relate to goals, success, happiness and fulfilment.
There are two common problems that we see with the time management matrix – people getting stick in Quadrant I or Quadrant III.
Addicted to the buzz and getting stuck in Quadrant One
Some people thrive in quadrant one – they are busy and always problem solving and moving from one crisis to the next. There is no denying that for some people this can be incredibly satisfying. They feel important and needed and thrive on the pressure. However this can also cause problems, long term staying in this quadrant causes stress and burn out.
So what to do if you are stuck in this quadrant?
First of all recognise that you need to make a change, once you are in Q1 and ignoring Q2, your Q2 tasks will move into Q2 when they become urgent so it becomes difficult to get out of it. You need to start to do some planning, think ahead to what is coming up and start to schedule some time in your day for non-urgent work.
Then you need to look at the Q1 activities you are dealing with and assess what you could have done differently to manage this earlier or prevent it coming up altogether. If you are regularly getting passed emergency situations with customers maybe you need to look at what is happening before this issue reaches you and what needs to be improved. Is there a personnel issue? A process improvement that can be made? Q1 suggests a crises so how can your business future proof so that less crises happen in the first place?
Another reason for your overload in quadrant one might be that people have recognised that you respond well to problem and get it done immediately so keep coming back to you. This is a positive as you have a reputation as a strong executor but is there someone else you can train up to take some of the pressure off you?
Can’t say no and getting stuck in Quadrant Three
Another quadrant people get stuck in is quadrant three. This means you are working on things that are urgent but not particularly important to your role. People usually get stuck here because they are unable to say no to others requests of them. People dump things on you and you find your responsibilities expanded and your job loses focus. Do you agree to new projects too quickly? Agree to help out when others need support? This could be getting you a good reputation as a helpful colleague but it will not be getting you a good reputation as someone who is focussed on delivery maximum output in their area of work. They key here is balance, you don’t want to become totally unhelpful as we all rely on each other to support each other to succeed. But you also need to be more assertive and more selective about what you agree to. Learn to push back more when others make demands of you, start to say no more often and you will find that you can still maintain your relationships and be assertive at the same time!
For more information on our Time Management training get in touch with us.