The 4 Quadrant Model
Many people struggle to manage their time. Although there are no magic pills and you can’t get
more than 168 hours in a week, there is an approach to managing your time that allows you
to “find” more time in your day. Over the next 3 columns, we’ll explore proven techniques that
allow you to do more of the things you want.
Let’s break time management into four components: 1) Deciding what to do. 2) Prioritizing
what to do. 3) Focusing on what to do. 4) Staying in the moment. (Or, some might think of this
as “removing distractions.”)
How can you decide what you want to do? Part of the answer is attitude and part is choice. If
you’re at work and something is assigned to you, you might not have the option to say “No”
without unwanted repercussions (can you say “pink slip”?). Changing your attitude towards the
assignment so you’re not fighting it, but welcoming it can often cut time out of the project AND
allow you to do a better job. By the way, this works at home too with activities like mowing the
grass, doing the laundry, painting and other jobs that you don’t like doing.
The choice part of our answer is when we get to choose to do something, to not do it, to
delegate (outsource) it, or to ask for help. A great tool for helping with choice is the Four
Quadrant Time Management Model. Picture a graph where the two axes are “Important”
and “Urgent”. Some things are Important AND Urgent. These are Quadrant 1 (Q1) and should
be done now. Some things are Important but NOT Urgent. These are Quadrant 2 (Q2) and will
be done, but can wait. These are things like planning, preparing for meetings, researching a
Some things are Urgent but NOT Important. (Q3). These include checking e-mail as soon as
a new message arrives, answering the phone when it rings and you’re not expecting a call, etc.
These things should be ignored or done on your time frame. No catastrophe will happen if you
don’t look at e-mail for an hour. (And if something is urgent, why send it in an e-mail? A call to
your cell phone or a text is better!)
Finally, there are things which are NOT Urgent and NOT Important. (Q4). Why you would ever
spend time here is unknown! (But we all do it!) These things either get delegated to someone
else’s Q1 or Q2 (because it’s their job not yours) or tossed.
So what makes an item Important or Urgent? That’s what you get to decide. Put parameters
in place and stick with them. There will be different “urgency-” and “importance-qualifiers” for
everyone. Knowing yours and knowing what works best for you will take a little practice but will
pay big dividends. By focusing you on the RIGHT things (Q1, Q2) and avoiding wasting time on
the WRONG things (Q3, Q4) you can have more of what you want!
Next time: Prioritizing!