Last updated on 19th April 2023
“If only there were more hours in the day.”
We’ve all heard that before. In fact, we’ve probably all felt that before.
And while it’s impossible to add more time to your day, it is possible to manage your time more effectively so that you can get more done.
In this article, we’re going to take a look at the time management matrix to find out how it works, the benefits, and most importantly, see how you can apply it to your life and business so you can get more out of every day.
What is the Stephen Covey time management matrix?
The time management matrix is a productivity model that helps people to plan their tasks according to their importance and urgency.
The matrix was originally attributed to the former American president, Dwight D. Eisenhower. However it was popularised by Stephen Covey, who wrote all about the time management matrix in his book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People’.
“The real secret to working effectively is organizing your efforts by priority – and for this, you can use a time management matrix.”
This short and engaging video by our founder Matt Byrom goes into a little bit more detail:
How does the time management matrix work?
The time management matrix is made up of 4 quadrants:
- Urgent/Not Important
- Important/Not Urgent
- Not Urgent/Not Important
Here’s a simple graphic that can give you an idea of what this looks like in action:
Once you have your matrix (you can literally scribble this out in 2 seconds using a pen and paper), you can start to divide your tasks based on how urgent or important they are.
The top-left box is Urgent & Important. This should be reserved for really important tasks that can’t be ignored and have to be done by you alone. This could be a sudden and unexpected crisis, like a shipment of orders that hasn’t gone out or your website crashing.
The top-right box is Not Urgent & Important. This is for tasks that can be scheduled, but are still important. Think: long term project goals. Unfortunately, because of their non-urgent nature, these tasks are the ones most at risk of being forgotten or ignored (and sometimes, if enough time passes, this turns them into Urgent & Important tasks!) Make sure you’re keeping on top of them by dealing with them before moving on to other tasks.
The bottom-left box is Urgent & Not Important. These tasks should be safe to delegate to others in your team. For example, answering the phone or sorting files.
The bottom-right box is Not Important & Not Urgent. These tasks are not urgent or important so they really shouldn’t be eating into your day. This refers to busy work or time-wasting tasks that have no real benefit.
Why the time management matrix works
The Covey time management matrix works because it can be applied to pretty much anyone’s situation, whether that’s the day-to-day tasks of a marketing manager, household chores, or even the responsibilities of a president.
Not only that, it can be applied quickly. Once you know how the time management matrix works, you can whip up a diagram in minutes and easily divide your tasks between the quadrants.
This is especially helpful for when you’re feeling overwhelmed. According to our Employee Engagement Statistics 2022, 84% of people have experienced burnout in the workplace.
Burnout can happen if you have an excessive workload, with tasks that are pulling you in all different directions. It can create a sense of paralysis that puts immediate breaks on your productivity and negatively impacts your mental health.
The time management matrix can reduce the chances of burnout happening by allowing you to take a proactive response to managing your workload. You can quickly prioritise your tasks and focus only on what’s important.
5 Key benefits of the Covey time management matrix
1. Easy to implement
There are lots of other time management techniques out there, from Getting Things Done to Don’t Break the Chain, but you’d be pressed to find one that you can implement more quickly and easily than the time management matrix.
It doesn’t take a lot of effort or investment on your part to get started. All you really need is a blank page that you can draw your matrix on. You don’t have to change how you work either, you can just get stuck in straight away.
2. Reduces busy work
According to a study of over 10,000 workers cited by CNBC, people spend more than half of their day on busy work. Think of all that wasted time!
The Stephen Covey time management matrix is great because it allows you to stop wasting time on low value tasks and start putting your effort where it’s needed most.
3. Strengthen team relationships
The Urgent & Not Important quadrant of the time management matrix is all about delegation. If a task is urgent but not important then you should try and delegate it to someone on your team.
By delegating more of your workload you show your team that you trust them with certain tasks and this can help to strengthen team relationships. It can also increase happiness in the workplace. Research by Gartner has revealed that employees seek personal value and purpose at work.
According to the article:
“Monetary compensation is important for surviving, but deeper relationships, a strong sense of community and purpose-driven work are essential to thriving. This is the value that employees expect their employers to provide.”
4. Gets easier every time
You can really get into a groove with the time management matrix. Once you know what you’re doing, it becomes easier to organise your tasks.
You could even plan your entire week using this productivity technique, creating a matrix for every day.
5. Prevents burnout & improves mental health
As mentioned above, the Covey time management matrix can be an excellent tool for preventing burnout. Having a list of tasks to complete – and also categorising those tasks in order of importance or priority – can really reduce the mental strain that comes along with being busy.
According to our Project Management Statistics 2021, a whopping 95% of people feel having a list of tasks to do each day is good for their mental health.
If the time management matrix can work for Stephen Covey and Dwight D. Eisenhower, then maybe it can work for you too!
This is a great tool that you can apply to both your business and personal life to make sure you get the most out of every day.
If you want to explore time management and productivity further, check out this article: 8 Best Productivity Methods Explained and Compared.