Wednesday, April 4, 2012

How to master the four quadrants of time management

It always causes me to have a small laugh to myself when I conduct time management programs and people turn up late! It really doesn't bother me if people are on time or not - they are the ones who will miss out if they are not there. For a lot of people it does highlight an important issue - their lack of capability to manage their time. Many people leave little room for error with regard to their time management - everything is 'cut so fine' that if one thing goes wrong, then they are unlikely to be 'on time'.

Many people have often suggested that they need to 'make time'. I know what they mean, but can anyone really 'make time'? The challenge is to use your time wisely so that you don't 'waste time'. Stephen Covey's Urgent and Important Matrix is a useful tool for determining the wise use of time. The matrix works as follows:

URGENT and IMPORTANT Tasks (Quadrant 1)
These are the tasks that require immediate attention. A presentation, a meeting, a speech, a performance (as in a musical, theatrical or sport performance) the majority of the work that you do in your job, answering exam questions, a critical issue or crises. Time matters in the performance of these tasks. In short, if you don't take effective action 'right now' you fail.

NOT URGENT and IMPORTANT Tasks (Quadrant 2)
These are things like planning, preparing, reading, clarifying your values and other personal development activities, capturing and preparing your stories for interviews, retreats, health and fitness activities, developing relationships etc. All these things could be completed at another time. In this sense, time is 'not urgent'. As such, many of the tasks in this quadrant are simply left alone and they aren't attempted. What people don't understand is that there is a direct relationship between the quality of the tasks performed in Quadrant 1, and the quality time that you have spent in Quadrant 2. In short, time spent in Quadrant 2 improves your performance in Quadrant 1. It is therefore worth prioritising your time so that some of it, at least, is spent in Quadrant 2. Think about your performance when you have prepared for a presentation as compared to when you have 'winged it'. I have heard some people boast about how well they can 'wing it' and make presentations without preparing. While it may have the appearance of working these people are in for a big let down - one day. The reality is they don't 'know their stuff' and because of a 'gift' may be able to bamboozle people with their presentations skills. That can be a lot of extra pressure to carry around with you after a while. The majority of us, however, know that if we don't prepare our performance suffers, so we prioritise our time beforehand to ensure that we are prepared.

Another example of Quadrant 2 activities is attending personal development workshops, particularly when you are a volunteer. Ideally the lessons that you learn, when applied, will help your performance in Quadrant 1.

So where does the time come from to enable you to spend more time in Quadrant 2 activities? The following quadrants provide that answer.

URGENT and NOT IMPORTANT Tasks (Quadrant 3)
These are things like many emails, some meetings (when you really don't need to be there), text messages, the behaviour of some people when they demand your time 'right now' (you know the person, they ask if they can have five minutes of your time and they always seems to be talking 30 minutes later). Tasks in this quadrant have the appearance of being urgent, which is why they draw your attention. The problem is that you really could deal with them later (or not at all). By focussing on them 'right now' all you are doing is taking your attention away from Quadrant 1 or Quadrant 2 tasks. It is Quadrant 3 tasks where effective prioritising can 'free up' a lot of time; time that can be better used in Quadrant 1 or Quadrant 2.

NOT URGENT and NOT IMPORTANT
These are wasteful activities that often relate to addictive type behaviours or are behaviours that are undertaken to deliberately avoid the Quadrant 1 or 2 tasks. Time spent in Quadrant 4 has a DIRECT impact on your performance in Quadrant 1. You have a presentation tomorrow that you have not prepared, yet you spend the whole of the previous night watching the Premier League football on the television. You eventually arrive for your presentation underprepared and very tired. It is no surprise that you performance is poor. Ideally Quadrant 4 activities need to be completely eliminated from your life - all they do is detract from where you performance really matters, and that is your performance in Quadrant 1.

This is just one example of many approaches to time management. What are yours? What systems work for you? What questions do you have about time management? What templates do you use that could be useful for other members of our network?

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