Enhance your time management skills

Tam Johnston

Time management skills make the difference between chaos and productiveness. I often have people say to me that I must be so organised to run my business. I have a  little chuckle to myself, thinking… ‘if only they knew’! Their statement is true in its concept; you do need to organise your time well in order to really succeed. Yet I, like a lot of people often struggle with staying on track, prioritising and avoiding the distractions of twenty-first century life.

I notice it everywhere, people posting or commenting on social media all day when supposedly working (which begs the question – how do I know?!) or going off to the park myself  to ‘work outside’ only to find myself seduced by the sunshine and people watching instead.  Fortunately I discovered a popular tool which has revolutionised my time management skills, productivity and  perhaps the biggest bonus… led to a much tidier desk!

It’s helped me so much, I had want to share it with you… and we’re giving away free worksheets of these tools at the bottom of this page to help you put this to good use, as I have!

Give your time management skills a quick boost

Today’s environment brings with it demands, tasks and responsibilities that can leave us feeling under pressure and out of control. Finding an easy way to prioritise means we can increase our productiveness and reduce the pressure on ourselves.

TOOL: The Stephen covey time management matrix

This Prioritisation Matrix is an excellent planning tool that was originally developed by Stephen Covey in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People*. It is simple and straight forward, and once you how to organise your activities with the use of this tool, you can maximise your productivity and identify and eliminate a number of time-wasting activities and unproductive behaviours.

Its principle is based upon a 4-quadrant system to sort according to importance and urgency.  You spend a few moments assigning your needs, tasks and activities into the appropriate quadrant. You then evaluate where you need to make changes and plan your time accordingly. If you are honest with yourself and your time, this matrix is an extremely useful way to help you focus, and prioritise where to place your attention.

We have provided two separate examples. The first being for the working environment and the second more applicable to the domestic setting. Use the guidelines that follow to go through the process.




How to use the matrix

  • Start with making a list to identify all your needs, demands, activities and tasks. This can be for this moment in time, day/week/month ahead or for the timeline of a project.
  • Now place them in the corresponding quadrant that you feel is the most appropriate.
  • Review each box and re-evaluate each demand/task and decide if it is in the right box.
  • Act upon Quadrant 1 and then focus efforts and attention in Quadrant 2.

Further guidelines for prioritising your life

Quadrant 1 activities are both urgent and important, usually called ‘problems’ or ‘crises’.  ‘Urgent’ means requiring immediate attention and we have a natural instinct to attend to urgent things, meaning to do these things first whether they are important or not. For example a ringing phone is urgent, as it is occurring NOW, but it may not be important and may not be the best use of your time and effort at that point, if you want to focus on important work. Instead, they could leave a message or you call them back when the time is right for you leaving you free to focus on the important things. Yet many people can become consumed in Quadrant 1. It is the realm of the crisis managers and trouble-shooters, problem-finding people, and project managers driven by deadlines. Yet, the more you spend time focusing on these tasks, the less focus there is for long-term solutions, strategies and delegation. Spending too much time overwhelmed and running on adrenaline in Quadrant 1 can potentially lead to stress, burnout, and constant crisis management and escaping to quadrant 4.

Quadrant 2 is the place of positive focus. Completing important things leads to achievement of your goals and outcomes. By devoting a good deal of time to that area you create strategies for the future, act upon fulfilling your mission and meeting your values. You will naturally eliminate many of the crises that tend to happen in Quadrant 1, as well as providing yourself and others with definite direction and drive, which in turn will help eradicate spending excess time in either Quadrant 3 or 4.

Quadrant 3 identifies urgent but not important tasks and needs.  There is a tendency to confuse urgency with importance, but this urgency is more based on the needs and priorities of OTHER PEOPLE and is on their agenda as opposed to yours. It can also be tempting external interruptions such as social media and instant messaging that distract your attention away from important tasks.

Quadrant 4 is the area of escapism and time-wasting. By factoring in productive relaxation, quality times with others and hobbies into quadrant 2, time-wasting is not necessary and leads to a build up of tasks in quadrant one and minimal time for the productive focus of quadrant 2.

*Adapted from Covey, S (1989) The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Free Press, United States

The efficient and productive person

Effectual people avoid Quadrants 3 and 4 and make Quadrant 1 small and manageable by spending more time in Quadrant 2.

People who place their attention on Quadrant 2 gain an abundance of benefits. They:

  • Are in control
  • Feel balanced and driven
  • Have vision and perspective
  • Write personal mission statements and align their actions to meet these
  • Create long-term plans and carry out actions
  • Build successful relationships
  • Maintain their health by creating time for exercise and healthy eating
  • Operate through prevention rather than ‘cure’
  • Experience few crises
  • Seek opportunities

Summary of prioritisation

  • Aim to work in the TOP two boxes
  • The balance may alter from time to time, but aim to have most demands and tasks in the top right box
  • Set realistic expectations and break your goals into smaller, more manageable tasks
  • Be aware that what is important to others may not be one of your key priorities
  • In order to make positive change in your daily schedule, you need to aim for spending the most time in Quadrant 2.

Acknowledgement: Thanks to Stephen Covey for making such and accessible tool to help us superboost our productivity.


Want a copy of this as a handout or a blank matrix to use? Click here for our free tools and remember to share with your friends and like us!




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