Today, it seems like everyone is busy. There is so much need for multitasking, and technology sometimes makes it harder for us to focus on what is important. Everyone is in constant contact with each other, which can be both a good and bad thing for your productivity. You might often feel like there are so many notifications and distractions, how are you supposed to get anything done with so many interruptions?
As it turns out, four little boxes could help you to prioritize your tasks and make you feel more at ease doing so. If you ever read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, you might remember the time management matrix. It is a box with four quadrants. Each is a category of how your time is spent. With the invention of cellphones, email, and instant messaging, this idea that was first discussed in 1989 is even more relevant today than ever before.
This matrix is simply four squares that break down your tasks into four categories (or quadrants):
- Important and urgent (Q1)
- Important and not urgent (Q2)
- Not important and urgent (Q3)
- Not important and not urgent (Q4)
Important and Urgent
Things that fall in this first quadrant are urgent and important. Things such as emergencies and important tasks that have an approaching deadline.
Important and Not Urgent
Activities that fall into the second quadrant are things that are important, but not urgent or deadline driven. Examples include exercise, relationship building, preparation, and planning.
Not Important and Urgent
These are things or activities that seem urgent, yet are not important. Think of things such as interruptions, phone calls, emails, etc.
Not Important and Not Urgent
Of course, there are things that are neither important or urgent. This could be busy work, certain phone calls, and watching TV.
1. Where to Focus
Now that you understand the different categories, it is time to analyze where you spend the most time (and more importantly, where you should be spending more time). It might seem obvious to say that the first two quadrants are where your focus should be, after all they are the important activities. To be the most productive, you should try to focus on quadrant two specifically.
Quadrant one is spent mostly in crisis mode and should be avoided if at all possible. In fact, you will find that when you start to plan out days more intentionally with this time management matrix, you will start to notice that fewer and fewer activities appear in quadrant one because you can get them done ahead of time.
2. When and How to Use It
The great news about this time management matrix is that it works for any period of time – from an hour to a lifetime. Anytime you need to focus your priorities, you can create a list, start categorizing, and tackle each category.
One of the best ways to use this matrix is by planning it out every week. At the beginning of the week, write down all the tasks you have to do. Run through the list and categorize them. Do not forget to look at your calendar, include any meetings, and categorize these as well. You can then figure out which tasks to complete on what day, and how long bigger tasks will take over a period of time. Breaking up larger projects into daily pieces is a great way to stay out of quadrant one.
Sit down every morning, and start a running list of all the tasks you know need to get done in the near future. See which ones you need to get done that day (urgent and important), as well as some that you would like to spend a little time working on (not urgent and important).
5. Set Aside Time
After making your lists, start setting aside time for each category. First thing each day you might have to do quadrant one activities, since they are the most important and urgent. Once you are done with the time you set aside for these, move to quadrant two. One of theworst distractions is your email. Setting aside specific time for emails can greatly increase productivity, since you are not constantly starting and stopping throughout the day.
In order to be most productive and tackle those quadrant two activities, set aside time every day when you can work interrupted. Put it on your calendar for others to see, close your email account, and turn off your phone. This time should be for you to get the important things done without the constant distractions.
If you have more time set aside after your quadrant two time, you can finish up some more quadrant one activities or even extend your focused time for quadrant two. Once again, after working like this for a while, many activities will start to shift into quadrant two, and you can get things done before the deadline approaches. Also do not forget to schedule some breaks. Being productive and efficient is a great thing, but it does not mean you have to burn yourself out. Not all quadrant three and four tasks need to be a bad thing.
6. Audit Yourself
Still not seeing an increase in productivity? Try doing things the other way around. Go about your day like you normally would, and take notes on the things you spent time doing. Then go through the list, and categorize them. Did you spend any time in quadrants three and four that could have been avoided or spent more productively? Doing this activity will make you more aware of how it is you are really spending your time, and how you can improve your efficiency.
Having a categorization system for the tasks you need to complete is a game changer. It will also make you more aware of what activities you are spending time on and where to improve. Take the time to plan out each week and day at the beginning, and see how much more you get done. It is also much more relaxing to be able to work without the distractions or constant approaching deadlines.