Understanding the Time Matrix

Before you can use your time effectively, it is essential to define what constitutes an effective use of time. You spend each minute of each day doing something, whether it’s advancing your field, strengthening your relationships, or getting caught up in the latest game app craze.

Stephen R. Covey provided an excellent framework for categorizing how you spend your time: the Time Matrix.1606005-BTS2-Planner-Talk-Time-Matrix-FinalCovey goes into great depth on these four quadrants, but he raises an important point. Often, our sense of what is urgent depends on how we feel, while our sense of what is truly important depends on how well we’ve thought out our values and planned accordingly.

The end goal is to live as much of your life as possible in Quadrant II, where you spend your days on personally important tasks without stressful urgency. Spending time in this quadrant takes the most personal preparation and thought, including defining your values, planning your day, and responding effectively to interruptions and distractions. It’s no wonder that so many people spend their lives in the other quadrants instead.

There’s no question when an event is truly a Quadrant I event. If the half-completed presentation to decide the fate of the company is due in a half hour, or the toddler is happily running toward the rim of the canyon, you’re going to feel the urgency. Adrenaline kicks in, time slows down, and you respond with either fight or flight.

While Quadrant I events are memorable, for most people, the urgent-seeming events in their lives are actually Quadrant III events. Grabbing someone’s attention is the first step to getting them to do what you want, so our modern world has made a science out of it. From the phone ring to the phone notification, from the interrupting co-worker to the Facebook feed, Quadrant III activities try to intrude on your own priorities, tapping into your sense of urgency to get you to react, rather than act.

This urgency comes at a price. After the adrenaline rush wears off, you’re left with the physical and emotional aftereffects: stress, fatigue, and sometimes satisfaction at salvaging a dicey prospect. It’s at this point that Quadrants I and III funnel people into Quadrant IV. After reacting to noise and problems all day, it’s all too easy to feel that you’ve earned a break from decisions and sink into unimportant, time-wasting activities.

That’s not to say that fun is incompatible with a productive life. As a matter of fact, living life in Quadrant II can lead to personally fulfilling activities as you focus on the goals, people, and experiences that matter most to you.

The key to achieving a Quadrant II life is to act, rather than react. This is the main purpose of the FranklinPlanner planning system. Your planner is a distraction-free tool that gives you space to plan out how you’re going to act before the world throws its urgency at you. It’s a window to life outside the next 24 hours, where life-changing goals, from fitness to musical talent to love itself, happen with consistent effort.

Whether you’re new to planning or a thirty-year veteran, take some time to review your daily activities and categorize them in these four quadrants. Are you making progress in Quadrant II? How many of your activities help you feel busy without having any real importance? Are you stuck in the III – I – IV cycle, where interruption leads to crisis leads to crash?

Once you have your list laid out, you can see where your life needs to change to align more fully with your values. You can identify how to minimize the time you spend responding to Quadrant III and stay ahead in your important activities, keeping them out of Quadrant I. And as your life changes, you’ll discover that the cost of leaving Quadrant IV for Quadrant II is such a small price to pay for the results you achieve.

6 Replies to “Understanding the Time Matrix”

  1. I haven’t had much family time since moving away to college so it is good when i get to go home and see my family every once in awhile. I have had personal growth since I moved to college, I’ve learned which friends are real and fake and realized what’s important in life and what’s just fun in life. Since i’ve been home I have been working but work will have to be put on hold until next summer when I’m not in school anymore.

  2. This past years has made me learned a lot about life. At this point i just realised my friends are just there for good times but none is walking same path with me or goals. At the moment i put my family first, I manage my time between my studies and work . First thing come first depending on how import and urgent they are. I discover how much time i have wasted with wrong people but am currently on track to better the future.

  3. A very incisive article. Aligns with what Seth Godin was teaching about the same time on ‘the fierce competition for your attention’ and intentionality in both being creative and being productive. Key takeaway quotes:

    “Grabbing someone’s attention is the first step to getting them to do what you want, so our modern world has made a science out of it.”

    “Often, our sense of what is urgent depends on how we feel, while our sense of what is truly important depends on how well we’ve thought … and planned… .”

    Think, plan, then do. Don’t get trapped in a cycle of unthoughtful business. I have been on that ride for too long, and happy to be recuperating from it.

  4. Knowing your time is everything. I have learned using my calendar is essential for time management and sticking to it. Others will respect your time if you do as well.

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