time management stephen covey

Covey’s Time Management Matrix

 It may seem like we have an infinite amount of time in our hands. But the reality is that we don’t. Like Tyler Durden says:


This is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time.”


In fact, life is much shorter than it appears to be.  Not long ago, scientists confirmed that time only goes faster as you grow old, which is an unsettling idea. However, we all need to cope with it.


Coruscant Consulting labs offer a tool, which displays your life in weeks. One square represents one week in your life. All you need to do is enter your date of birth, place and time periods of some stages from your life. Try it for yourself.


Here’s how mine looks (click to enlarge).


My life expectancy according to my birth date and place (click to enlarge).


As you can see, there aren’t that many squares. The star marks your current week in the life, and the flower shows your life expectancy according to the country statistics.


Of course, we all are here to defy such data, and I wish that for every one of you. The bright side here is that most of us still have plenty of time in our hands and we can use it in any way we desire. However, it is important to emphasize one point, that is best illustrated by this quote of Dr Neil Fiore.


time is valuable qoute
Picture by Emilija Dukaukaite.


Everyone spends 24 hours of it per day, even if you’re not aware of time management. But what is a well spent time?


According to Stephen R. Covey, author of the classic bestseller”7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, the best way to spend time is by investing it in the activities that bring you the most value and matter the most. So, to help us manage our time better, he adapted Eisenhower’s decision-making matrix into a powerful time management tool.


Here, Covey distinguishes four activity dimensions, which are as follows:

Source: SAE Alumni Association.

Urgent and important things – MANAGE


These are the things that require immediate attention, such as crises, pressing problems or project deadlines. As long as your primary focus is this quadrant, urgent and important tasks keep piling up until you feel exhausted.


Everyone has some fundamental things that must be done. Personally, I am in this zone when I participate in the deadline driven projects. Sometimes, when the assignments start to pile up, I spend days doing them just because they seem urgent and important to me. In reality, not all of them are. The solution here is to only focus on finishing these tasks as soon as possible and move on.


Covey writes that people, who are stuck here feel an excessive amount of stress, have a tendency to burn out, and most of their time is filled with crisis management and firefighting. Essentially, these tasks are critical, but they do not lead to a healthy lifestyle, so do not make it bigger than it must be.


Urgent not important things – AVOID


This quadrant is all about things that require your instant attention but are not important. It includes unimportant meetings, calls, answering emails and doing other tasks that need to be done now.


When you are in this area, it may appear that you are doing important and urgent things, but you’re not. For example, one of my friends used to help other people a lot. Whenever something came up, he just couldn’t say no to it.


There is nothing wrong with helping other people from time to time, but when that continues for too long, it leads to becoming short-term oriented, out of control, victimized and a shallow person without any goals and plans. Activities done here are important, but only to other people.


In other words, you become the “nice guy” – an individual who is busy solving other people’s problems and is fed by a false sense of achievement.


Not urgent, important things – FOCUS


Covey encourages to spend your most time in this quadrant. These are activities that most of the people tend to delay or skip because of the urgent activities.


It involves planning, goal setting, reflection, relationship building, recreation, new opportunities, self-development, health and other things that significantly enhance your quality of life.


For instance, many of us have heard about the benefits of meditation. However, only a few of us practice it regularly. However, allocating more time for these things gives us a vision, balance, discipline, control, and perspective on things, which allows us to take better control of urgent things and crises.


There are many important things on our “I’ll do it someday/soon” list, but unfortunately, those days do not come very often due to the lack of focus or distractions by the urgent things.


Not urgent unimportant things – LIMIT


The fourth quadrant is the area of total irresponsibility. Neither urgent nor important things sound unnecessary, but they are inevitable. It includes chats with colleagues, distracting social media, games, acting busy and other things that allow us to slack with minimal accountability.


The problem with spending too much time here usually revolves around the idea that feels good to get away and do whatever you want. Another thing is that it provides us cheap entertainment that we don’t need to earn.


Moreover, the choice of the entertainment activities today is greater than ever. Therefore, it requires no effort to stay stuck in here. However, being too laid back results in irresponsibility, short-term orientation, dependence on people and institutions or even getting fired.


Stephen Covey states that to get more time for the FOCUS tasks, people must take time from the both bottom quadrants. You can do that by learning how to say “no” and discipline. At least that’s what effective people do. What do you think about it?


Additional reading:
Covey, S.R. (2004). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Free Press: New York.

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