How dividing time into quadrants… 3 approaches to help you manage your time more effectively

Last week I discussed the book by Stephen Covey The 7 habits of highly effective people, covering the four quadrants to manage your time effectively.

As I’m going to heavily refer to theories presented in the book, then I recommend you read this post first:

How applying the 7 habits of highly effective people quadrant theory helps manage time


This week I wanted to share my thoughts on each of the four quadrants, defining approaches on how to manage all the activities in your life, so you get better at prioritising more of what matters and controlling things which if they go unchecked are detrimental to your development and wellbeing.

Prioritising what you are doing today

As discussed, the quadrant puts emphasis on the importance of completing things in Quadrant one, ‘Urgent and Important tasks’ and allowing time for Quadrant two, ‘Not Urgent, But Important tasks’ (that contribute to your wellbeing and development).

To ensure most of your time is focused on these two quadrants, a simple strategy is to allocate an hour at the start of your working week, to define a weekly plan to define:

  • What must be done (e.g. Pressing deadlines)
  • What you must commit to (e.g. Meetings, family commitments)
  • Growth and relationship activities
  • Time for rest and recovery

This can be managed via whatever method suits you, though recommend not turning your this into busy work that fills your development time planning!

Reflect on the weekly plan for 15 minutes a day to review priorities and ask:

  • Are they still relevant / urgent?
  • Have any emergencies or tasks requiring urgent attention arisen?
  • How well have you focused on the plan?
  • Have any reactive or timewasters distracted from the plan?
    • Why?
    • What will you do differently?

Make any changes as necessary.


Making time for development

When you have lots of tasks, the quadrant two development activities can easily be dropped from your schedule.

This creates a culture of ‘fire fighting’ constantly trying to address day to day problems, neglecting the ability to to be proactive and look after yourself.

Continue this trend for too long your ability to produce (P) becomes depleted because you did not look after PC.

Therefore, emphasise quadrant two development activities as a priority and consider:

  • Goal setting and review
  • Knowledge and education activities
  • Reflection time
  • Being creative, thinking of ways to be proactive and solve problems


Managing task creep

The other day, a colleague asked me to look at an error message popping up in an Excel spreadsheet.  After much testing I solved the problem with the help of Google research three hours later.

Although jubilant in my success, I’d fallen victim to taking part in reactive quadrant three ‘reactive’ tasks and as a result sacrificed time on other more urgent activities.

My development time took a hit.

When considering task creep activities, it is important to consider whether something deserves your attention, incoming requests can be put in a blue book and prioritised in planning.

Even then, you do not necessarily have to do it!  As my team’s resident IT expert, I’m getting better at outsourcing their request for support to the IT service desk!

Rather than throwing your schedule out at random requests, keep asks under control, stop saying yes to everything and wasting time on things out of your control.


Not urgent / not important tasks

Unless you have adamantium stoic discipline, it is inevitable you will spend time on TV, social media, procrastination – the quadrant four timewasters.

None of these things are bad in moderation, being important to scheduled downtime so you are ready to focus back on the urgent and development activities.

You can control your usage by allocating sensible time to enjoy these activities.

Allocate an hour to social media rather than reacting to notifications.

Schedule an evening watching one episode of your new favourite show.

This is a better case scenario than acting on impulse, where you can be honest that you will dedicate some time to quadrant four activities.


Thoughts on time and priority management

Upon the birth of my first daughter I felt busy constantly.  It took a lot of effort but was able to establish a better routine to balance my responsibilities with my ambitions.

This got me thinking, when I was young, single and childless what did I occupy my time with?

The answer of course was mostly with quadrant four activities playing video games and watching DVDs.

When my life changed to have children, I recognised how finite my free time was, therefore the discipline to manage my schedule became essential to function.

Stephen Coveys quadrant has helped me understand the difference in tasks that occupy my day ensuring time is utilised to get urgent things done, but also reflect, grow and rebuild myself so I’m more effective in everything I do – as an employee, father, husband and an ambitious person.

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4 thoughts on “How Splitting Tasks into Quadrants Helps to Manage your Time

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