Time Management – Way Beyond To-Do Lists

The phrase “buying time” doesn’t really mean “buying time.” It just means finding a graceful way to delay something. Time just keeps on ticking by.

That means we have to be smart about the way we spend our time. Maybe even smarter than we are about the way we spend our money.


So how can we make smart decisions about the way we spend our business time? We’ve talked before about using a schedule planner and to-do lists, and we’ve touched upon setting priorities. Those are all very good tools.


Another great tool for time management is the “urgent / important” test.


President Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” The late, great Stephen Covey presented this idea in his excellent book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey illustrated the concept with a 4-quadrant matrix (the examples/results shown were added by yours truly):

Urgent / Important Matrix

This matrix gives you a very effective way to look at how you spend your time. And once you figure out where you are in the matrix, you can take steps toward improving your results.


Quadrants I and II deal with things that are important. But Quadrant II is the place you ideally should spend the most time. I’ll get back to Quadrant II after I touch on each of the other three.


Business owners (or parents or people in general) who spend most of their time in Quadrant I are in firefighting mode and usually feel stressed out. They’re reacting almost all the time, because they’re constantly dealing with things that are BOTH important AND urgent. In other words, they MUST get done right away! Not a good way to live!


This means that people who spend most of their time in Quadrant I need to find ways to shift more of their time to Quadrant II. In Quadrant II, we’re dealing with things that are important but not urgent. Things like planning, strategizing, laying the foundation for future growth and prosperity. Quadrant I is about short-term activities, while Quadrant II takes a longer view. Quadrant II is where you begin to feel like you’re in control. It’s also where you can spend time building relationships that are important to meeting your goals. But wait a minute – I said I’d save Quadrant II for last!


So let’s look at the bottom two quadrants. When you’re in that area, you’re doing things that are NOT IMPORTANT! So why do them??? Quadrant IV is about things that are not important and not urgent! That translates into WASTING TIME – escape – procrastination. That’s OK if you’re home relaxing, but those who spend a lot of time in Quadrant IV when they’re at work really need to break some bad habits!


Quadrant III should also be avoided, but it’s easy to fall into a trap and end up there. Your best friend calls (for the third time this week) and just has to tell you about the game last night. OK, so you spend a few minutes. He (or she) is your best friend, after all. But before you know it, 15 minutes have gone by (for the third time this week). Sometimes events at work masquerade as urgent and important when they’re not important at all. For example, an employee wants to chat and you want to be a nice boss, so you spend some time chatting. In this situation, too, you can easily end up spending too much time on what amounts to socializing.


This brings us, finally, to the Golden Quadrant……..Quadrant II. This is the place to spend as much time as possible. Quadrant II activities are important but not urgent. They include planning, goal-setting, networking, designing & implementing systems, documenting procedures, and marketing (among others). If you spend time planning and anticipating (Quadrant II), you will spend far less time firefighting back there in Quadrant I. If you spend time building systems, repetitive and error-prone processes will become more automated, saving you time and improving quality. So be sure to reserve time on your calendar for Quadrant II activities every week or even every day.


As you go through your day, try tracking your time. Write down what you’ve done and how much time you spent on each activity. Then go a step further and write down which of the urgent/important quadrants each activity falls into. You may be surprised at what you learn. Better yet, you will most likely be able to improve the way you spend your time and increase your productivity and your bottom line.

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