Take a look at what you've done today. What have you spent your time doing? How many things have you accomplished? Ask yourself, "How much time did I use wisely?", "How much did I waste?" and "How much of it passed unnoticed?"
What do you think about throughout the day? Do you ever consider what is most important, or is your day filled with getting to the next task, interruptions, and random musings?
With so much going on in most of our lives, it can be challenging to know where to start doing the more important things first. However, there is a way to structure and rein in your thoughts to organize your day better. To do this, you must know what the more significant tasks are and what you can eliminate.
Let's look at a system developed many years ago that is easy to implement and use to determine which activities are essential and which are not.
The Priority Matrix
A few minutes of planning can save you hours each week and many years over your life. As a wise man once stated:
"An hour of planning can save you 10 hours of doing." Dale Carnegie (1888-1955)
Yet the failure to plan creates unexceptional mediocre lives for far too many people. As one of our founding fathers said long ago:
"If You Fail to Plan, You Are Planning to Fail" Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
And fail you will if you do not plan. Yet on the other side of this coin, the planning side:
"If you plan and plan well, you are planning to succeed!"
Let's discuss a simple system that has helped countless people focus on what will make the most significant difference in life, both now and in the future, while doing away with the unnecessary.
This system has many names, but it is often called a decision or priority matrix. A condensed form of the matrix follows.
Steven Covey popularized the matrix in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in 1989. But the oldest reference dates to World War II, giving credit to then General Eisenhower (who became our 34th president) for developing the idea.
The priority/decision matrix is a powerful way to find what will make a difference in your life quickly. The matrix provides a snapshot in time, exposing what's on your plate bringing to light the things and activities consuming your time. Always remember, where your time goes, so goes your life. Or put another way:
"What consumes your time consumes your life."
In the above version of the matrix, you will notice something unique - each quadrant is named. By naming the quadrants, they are easier to remember, and there is little question about what to do with each item or task.
You can do a matrix snapshot for a day, a week, a month, a year, and more. As you develop a picture of how you spend your time and life, you position yourself to think about them differently.
Let's develop a picture and consider what to do next. Identify the things that have consumed most of your time in the last few weeks. As each item comes to mind, determine whether it is important or not and whether or not it is urgent. Once you make this determination, record your answer in the appropriate quadrant.
The following is an example of items from a personal snapshot:
Responding Quadrant - Important and Urgent
- Give all tax filing documents for the year to your accountant before the end of the month
- Schedule flight, car, and hotel for next month's trip
- Take care of leaky roof
Creating Quadrant - Important but Not Urgent
- Spend time with wife each morning before going to work
- Writing and posting a blog every morning
- Running men's group at church
- Vacation planning for the remainder of the year
- Work out every weekday
Reacting Quadrant - Not Important but Urgent
- Others last minute requests due to their procrastination
- Spending too much time on social media each day
Reacting Quadrant - Not Important and Not Urgent
- Constantly checking email
- Answering every phone call
- Checking website stats every few hours
Using my current snapshot, I can schedule my time efficiently and eliminate unnecessary things, allowing me to enjoy the freedom retirement brings to my life.
Using the Priority Matrix
Let's take a closer look at each quadrant.
Responding to the Important and Urgent
The items listed as important and urgent require time and attention. Items in this quadrant often need a quick response.
For example, our roof developed a leak after a hailstorm. I had to find someone to repair it as quickly as possible.
While the unexpected can happen, things can sometimes wind up in this column because of inattention, which happened to me recently. I kept putting off travel arrangements for an upcoming vacation. Although I'd had months to do this, I waited too long to buy the airline tickets. Faced with a looming deadline, I not only paid more for the flights, but I was no longer able to get my seating preferences. All because I had procrastinated.
Focus (Quality and Personal Leadership)
Creating the Important but Not Urgent
The important but not urgent quadrant contains the things that help you create more value in your life. Because of this, I often refer to this as the creating quadrant.
One of the big items in many baby boomers' INU quadrants is retirement and other such planning—things like continued education, exercising to maintain or improve health, making marriage a priority, and spending time with family and others for which you care.
Pay attention to the things in this quadrant. They are often crucial to your health, well-being, and long-term life satisfaction. They might not be urgent, but they cannot and should not be postponed too much because of the possible consequences.
Reacting to the Not Important but Urgent
The not important yet urgent quadrant is one of opportunity. By recognizing what is in this quadrant—and then making decisions to either delegate, say no, or otherwise dispose of them, you add time and reduce stress in your life.
Things in this quadrant can occur because of someone else's lack of planning. For example, I once had a co-worker who would come to me several times a year at the twelfth hour because he had procrastinated. After helping him a few times and dealing with the stress it created, it dawned on me that it was his problem and not mine.
Up to this point, he knew he could count on me to bail him out. By doing so, I was enabling his bad habit. The relationship eventually became strained because of my inability to say no. I was not allowing him to be fully responsible for the consequences of his actions (or, in this case, inactions.)
Other things that wind up in the Avoid quadrant are meetings you have no business attending, allowing constant interruptions, and the inability to say no to certain requests.
If there is an area of your life where you could put procrastination to good use, benefitting you in the long run, it is in this and the next quadrant.
Reacting to the Not Important and Not Urgent
The Waste quadrant consists of true time-wasters. When I have things in this quadrant to work on—which I always do—I could use this effort better elsewhere.
Eliminate everything you can in this quadrant. While downtime might seem to go naturally here, you need it. Add downtime to your not urgent but important quadrant to allow you to rest and recharge to use your time better.
To wrap up, consider doing multiple snapshots of your life to optimize the use of your valuable time in every area. Do one for your:
- Personal and home life
- Work-life - your workdays, work months, and the year
- Financial life
Add anything else that is important in your life to the above list.
Why not take a few minutes now to develop a snapshot of your life using the form in Make the Best Use of Your Time Guide and Form. Included is a guide/example form for your convenience.
By simply adding those activities that make up your life to the form, you will tap into the power of the matrix, reclaim some of your valuable time, and start creating a better life!