The Four Quadrants of Time Management

Everything you do in life can be classified by its urgency and by its importance. We often spend our lives focused on the Urgent things instead of the Important things. It is important to learn to distinguish between the two.

Four Quadrants Time Management Matrix
The Time Management Matrix: Everything you do in life can be classified by its urgency (Urgent or Not Urgent) and by its importance (Important or Not Important)
Important and UrgentCrises and Emergencies
Important but Not UrgentPrevention, Planning, and Improvement
Not Important but UrgentInterruptions and Busy Work
Not Important and Not UrgentTime Wasters

We often spend our lives focused on the Urgent things instead of the Important things. In business as in life it is extremely important to ask yourself: “Am I doing this because it is truly important or am I doing this because it is simply urgent?”

Important and urgent things, such as crises and emergencies, should not be ignored. However, the more time you can spend on the non-urgent but important things (prevention, planning, improvement) the less crises and emergencies you will experience..

Below is a more detailed explanation of each quadrant along with some examples:

Quadrant 1: Important and Urgent

Important Urgent Quadrants 1

Fire fighting mode: Crises, real hard deadlines for important project, health & family emergencies, etc…

Quadrant 1 is the urgent important quadrant: Things that you should definitely NOT ignore. However, spending too much time in fire fighting mode will lead to stress and burn out. You will be caught in a never-ending cycle of crisis management.

The only way to reduce the time spent in this quadrant is to be proactive by spending more time on the important things BEFORE they become emergencies (see Quadrant 2 below).

Quadrant 1 Example
Dealing with a heart attack is an Urgent and Important problem that cannot be ignored (but perhaps by living a healthier lifestyle such health emergencies can be reduced or avoided all together).

Quadrant 2: Important but not Urgent

Quadrant 2 Tasks - Prevention and Planning

This is where you should spend most of your time.

Quadrant 2 tasks are all about planning, prevention, capability improvement, relationship building, recognizing new opportunities, etc…

Spending time on these important things should lead to a clear vision and a balanced life, discipline, control, and fewer and fewer crisis situations.

Quadrant 2 Examples

  • Frequently buying flowers for your significant other “just because”
  • Eating healthy and exercising to avoid future health issues
  • Preventative maintenance on your home or car
  • Reading, learning, and education
  • Forming bonds and strengthening relationships with your friends and family
  • Self renewal and spending time on things that inspire and uplift you

Quadrant 3: Not Important but Urgent

Quadrant 3 - Interruptions

Many of us spend a big portion of our time in this Quadrant confusing the Urgent things for the Important things.

Interruptions, ringing phones, most emails, etc…  Spending too much time on the unimportant urgent things leads to a very short-term focus with continual crisis management.  Your plans and goals will seem increasingly useless since you are unlikely to have time to devote to them.  Your relationships and reputation will suffer and you will feel victimized with no control over your life.

Quadrant 3 Example

You have scheduled an important meeting with a coworker 2 weeks ahead of time. This person has very limited time and so you carve out a 30 minute window to deal with a very important matter. As you sit down and start the meeting, your phone rings.

The phone is screaming: “Pick me up! Pick me up! Pick me up!” Most people will pickup the phone and sacrifice the very important meeting for the likely not important but urgent ringing phone.

Quadrant 4: Not Urgent and Not Important

Quadrant 4 - Time Wasters

These are the time wasters in your life.

Spending too much time on non-urgent and not important things can lead to dependence on others for your basics, loss of jobs, irresponsibility, etc…

Quadrant 4 Examples

  • Trivial busy work
  • Mindless web surfing
  • Watching too much TV
  • Lots of pleasant activities

How do I use this to make my life better?

quadrants 1,2,3,4
How do we transition from Quadrants 1, 3 & 4 and make more time for Quadrant 2 activites?

A. Identify Quadrant 2 activities.

  • Write down all the Quadrant 1 and 3 activities you routinely do (all the Urgent stuff)
  • Write down how you can prevent these things from reoccurring or from becoming emergencies in the first place: These are your new Quadrant ii activities.

B. Free up time for Quadrant 2 activities

  • Look at all the things in Quadrant 4 and STOP DOING THEM!
  • Look at all the things in Quadrant 3 and stop doing them too.  This is more difficult as it involves saying NO to people.
  • You should now have time to spend on Quadrant 2

C. Schedule time for Quadrant 2Schedule Time for Q2

  • Schedule time to do Quadrant 2 activities.
    (Put them in your calendar just like a meeting).
  • DO THE THINGS YOU SCHEDULED!

D. Reduce Quadrant 1

  • The beauty with spending more time in Quadrant 2 is that it should slowly chip away at all your Quadrant 1 activities.
  • As you reduce your Quadrant 1 activities you have more time for Quadrant 2, creating a fly-wheel effect.

Simple, right?

Not quite.  The Question “What is important to me?” usually does not have a simple answer.

What Quadrant Am I?

Example 1: Going to a Sporting event
(Hockey, Baseball, Football game, etc…)

Which quadrant does this fall into?  The answer is it depends on YOUR priorities and what is important to YOU. On the surface it looks clearly like a Q4 item – a time waster.  Not urgent and certainly not important.

But, it could be a Q2 event (important) if you consider the event to be an opportunity to spend quality time building relationships with your parents, children, or friends .

Example 2: Watching TV

Clearly another Q4 item: A time waster.  Or is it?  If watching TV is a stress reliever for you and serves as a way to wind down and chill out after a hectic day, it could very well be a Q2 activity.  Just as long as you frame it correctly and consume it in the right way.

To be successful with this method you must have a very clear understanding of what is important to you, what your long term goals are, etc… For more information about how to plan your week around this framework, see my blog post on How I Plan My Week.

Related Reading


Author: Alex Czartoryski

Alex is the director of digital marketing for Manitobah Mukluks, Canada’s fastest growing footwear brand, where he helps the luxury winter boot manufacturer accelerate growth profitably via digital marketing. Alex has over 20 years experience in e-commerce and digital marketing.

11 thoughts on “The Four Quadrants of Time Management”

  1. why don’t you mention your source ? This Quadrant theory is Stephen Covey’s work. You could direct your readers to his book : “The 7 habits of highly effective people”.

    1. In the original version of this post, I had lots of proper credit given with links. But then lawyers from Franklin Covey threatened to sue me if I didn’t remove all mentions of the their trademarks, or links to their materials. So I had to remove them all, and so here we are, with no sources… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  2. I was looking for examples of these 4 quadrants to implement them into my business and personal life. Stumbled across this post and it’s been very helpful! Thanks so much for this informative post.

  3. i found your representation of the quadrant difficult to comprehend just because of the placement of the boxes, intuitively i would expect “important and urgent” on top right and “not urgent and not important” on bottom left. even though it does not change the meaning of it, it makes it easy to comprehend, i am curious if others also feel the same. 🙂

  4. I was introduced to the four quadrants several years ago and imediately changed how I handled my day. Now that I’m retired, I continue to live within the four quadrants and unbelievable how little stress I have which enables me to spend some time in quadrant 4 when I want to
    JER

  5. This is one of the very best discussions of the 4 quadrants I’ve seen. Great service to anyone looking to convey what this means to someone else and how to apply it.

  6. Brilliant Job bro. So helpful. I got to be in q2 and I realised this after spending my entire life in q1 and wondering what the hell is wrong with me. I read all the self help books in my life and none of them explained this to me in such simple terms.

  7. Nice holistic presentation of the quadrants–usually people think of these as pertaining only to their professional lives but thre idea runs across everything we do…thanks!

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