Is the time in our day enough?
Time is one of the most democratic things on the planet. Not intelligence. Not money. Not health. Not happiness. Time! Everybody has 24 hours. If you think about it, time is our most important asset. We start off as babies, having all the time of the world and as we grow up we come to a point when every single minute of our day is occupied with something. Then we complain we don’t have time. Wrong! We still have 24 hours. But our day is now filled with stuff.
The Matrix as a time management tool
“When you don’t have time, make time”. It may sound counter-intuitive, but perhaps it is a perfect advice. The Eisenhower Matrix is the tool we need to make time.
US General and President Eisenhower once said: “I have two kinds of problems: Urgent and Important. What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important”.
A common pattern in businesses but also in our personal life is that we often move from one urgent matter to the next, devoting no time to the important issues. Like a never-ending queue of urgent things which, no matter how many we complete, new ones continuously appear. We are at a constant war with a modern Lernaean Hydra. We cut one head and two new heads spring out of nowhere.
If we analyse the four areas of the Eisenhower matrix, it will immediately become clear how it will help us manage our time:
Quadrant 1: (Urgent and Important): Do First!
This is the most critical area, it contains tasks that are both urgent and important. These are “do first” tasks because they are critical for our life or career. Typical Q1 activities include important problems, deadlines and crises.
Quadrant 2: (Important, but Not Urgent): Schedule!
Here we place the tasks that are important, but not urgent. This is where we need to invest most of our time. These are usually our personal and professional long-term goals and activities relevant to the significant areas of our life like education, career, family, recreation or personal growth. Put these tasks in suspension until you find enough time to work on them carefully. Beware, these tasks may not be urgent, but if left neglected, sooner or later they become urgent.
Quadrant 3 (Not Important, but Urgent): Delegate!
If a task deserves to be in this quadrant, then you don’t deserve to perform it. It is most likely a distraction and you better pass it to someone else or postpone it. Many tasks appear to be urgent when actually they are not. Most messages and telephone calls fall into this category. If you answer every call or text you receive immediately, then you will not be able to do anything that requires undistracted attention. The same is true with business meetings. You don’t have to participate in every meeting you are invited, you can choose if you need to be present or not. A common source of Q3 activities is other people. Saying “no” politely or encouraging them to solve the problem themselves usually does the trick.
Quadrant 4: (Not Important, Not Urgent): Eliminate or Keep to a minimum!
These tasks that are neither important nor urgent are simply time wasters and they should be eliminated, or cut down to a minimum. If you drastically reduce the amount of time spent in quadrant 4 tasks, you will free up lots of precious time for your quadrant 1 or 2 tasks. Mindlessly watching television, playing games or surfing the web are only some of the typical ways for wasting time. This does not mean of course that watching a good movie or resting is a waste of time. We need to be very careful when distinguishing what is and what isn’t important for us.
Sometimes, procrastination kicks in when we are not very clear about what is important or urgent. It causes confusion and leaves us standing still while trying to decide what to bring on the foreground next.
When you first try this tool, you may have some difficulty labeling your tasks. It may be frustrating and you may feel you are wasting your time. You are not wasting time, you are investing some of your precious time learning a great skill that will empower you with precious focus and self-awareness. It will save you way more time for the rest of your life.