Covey’s Time Management Matrix Explained

At least once a week I explain Stephen Covey’s time management philosophy to someone. I’ve even written about elements of it here on slightly insightful.

Do it mañana

I keep coming back to Covey because his focus on roles and values resonates with me and I find it the best way of prioritizing my tasks.

Not everyone groks a mindmap, so when I explain Covey’s system to others I invariably end up drawing the four quadrants of the Time Management Matrix.

Time Management Matrix

Let me give you a brief overview of the four quadrants matrix. Look at the things you do. Are they important? If so, they belong in the top half of the matrix. If they’re not they go in the lower half. Are they urgent? If so they belong in the left half of the matrix. If not, they belong in the right hand side of the matrix.

Urgent and Important

Quadrant 1

If I were a betting man, I’d wager that the majority of us spend most (if not all) of our time here. We’re busy putting out fires and dealing with crises.

It’s only natural that some of your actions will fall into Quadrant 1. Unless you love ulcers though, you really don’t want to spend most of your time here.

Non-urgent and Important 2

Quadrant 2

If you don’t give Quadrant 2 activities precedence many of them will turn into Quadrant 1 activities. But, this is also where many of the activities that enhance the quality of your life lie—time with family, exercise, study, etc.

This is the magic quadrant. If possible, you want the majority of your actions to occur here. This is the where good managers and employees spend their time.

Urgent and Unimportant

Quadrant 3

You don’t want to be seen doing Quadrant 3 activities. They are ineffecient time-wasters.

I hate to break it to you, but if you’re in Quadrant 3 you’re really bad at prioritizing. Essentially, you’re hurrying around doing things which don’t add any value.

Non-urgent and Unimportant

Quadrant 4

Do you read and (even worse) forward all those joke emails your grandparents send you? Do you waste time on Facebook (or Twitter or YouTube or whatever) when you should be working? Quadrant 4 is the goof off domain.

One consequence of having spending too much time in Quadrant 1 is that in order to de-stress you’ll probably also be spending a fair amount of time in Quadrant 4 as well.

I Already Did That

For more on Covey’s Time Management Matrix and the Four Quadrants read First Thing’s First. You can also download a copy of the matrix and quadrants here.

Which quadrant do you spend most of your time in? What would it take to get to where you want to be? Sound off in the comments below.

All images are from my flickr, unless otherwise noted.


6 thoughts on “Covey’s Time Management Matrix Explained

  1. Chris


    thanks for this great article about the Time Management Matrix.

    If you are interested in a convenient and free software solution for using the Time Management Matrix, the following link might be interesting for you:

    TasksOnSteroid’s LifeQuadrants is specifically designed to optimally support the user in the application of the Time Management Matrix.


    1. Chris

      Hi Ammon, I’m pleased to hear that you like my recommendation.
      Regarding your question: Currently, LifeQuadrants is only available as an online service.

  2. Frances antoinette

    Interesting information about how time can be spent. I find myself spending time in quadrant II the most. This post reminds me of a quote, “I like work, it fascinates me…I like to stare at it”.

  3. Andreas

    Great post, thanks for sharing!

    If you’re looking for an alternative, we’re at Eisenhower are currently working on an iPhone app to be released very soon!

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