First things first: “time management for dummies”

First things first: “time management for dummies”

The key to be efficient in your private life, in your working life or in meetings is the time management. In other words, doing the first things first – prioritizing the important things above the less important things. But what is really important? How should you prioritise your time? There are several different tools for that and I am going to explain you a very simple one. Many thanks to Steven Covey for introducing this concept of easy prioritising of tasks in his book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  I feel honoured to summarise it here in this short blog.

Understanding your “overall target” / “Mission”

The prerequisite for efficiently managing your time is to understanding what is your overall target or mission. You should be able to clearly answer the following questions:

1. Why I am doing all this?

2. What do I want to achieve in medium or long term?

If you are not able to answer, your first thing to do would be to define your mission. If can answer, I guarantee that you will be able to manage you time efficiently.

Prioritizing your activities

Let’s dig into the foundation of time management. There are actually only two criteria, that you need be aware, in order to manage your time efficiently. These criteria are:

1. importance

2. urgency

Importance means how the activity contributes to your overall target or mission. You should ask yourself: “Does this contribute to my/our overall target.” If you answer “yes”: the activity is important. If you conclude that the activity does not contribute to the overall target, it cannot possibly be important.

Urgency means how the activity relates to time. If the activity needs to be done now, it is urgent. Otherwise it is not urgent.

Each activity can be categorized in four categories using importance and urgency. You can visualize the categories by thinking about a square and making a cross over it dividing the square into four smaller squares. Now you have a “Time management matrix” with four quadrants. Now let’s have a look at each of the quadrant of the matrix separately.

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Quadrant 1: important and urgent

In this quadrant the activities are important to your overall goal and they are also urgent. We tend to call these things “problems” or “crisis” or “challenges”. They need to be sorted out immediately or it may mean that you are not able to survive. Similarly if you have a important meeting coming up, that falls into the category being “important and urgent”. But only if the meeting is that important that if you are not attending your overall target will be negatively affected.

Quadrant 2: important but not urgent

These activities are important for your overall mission, but there is no urgency to sort them out. They can also be done later without negatively affecting your overall target. However, they need to be done, not postponed forever.

Quadrant 3: not important but urgent

These things are pressing you, distracting your attention or demanding your action now. These maybe important for the other people but they are actually not contributing to your overall mission or to the overall mission of the organization. Therefore these are not important for you. Good example could be ringing phone (yes it maybe important in some cases), spending extensive amount of time in facebook or other social networking platforms, answering all unanswered emails and chatting in internet simultaneously when you should focus on quadrant 1 or 2 issues.

Quadrant 4: not important and not urgent

Quadrant 4 activities are pure waste of time. These are the interruptions that can consume your entire day like unnecessary meetings, unprepared meetings, reading emails in the meetings, extensive internet surfing, facebook updates 10+ times a day, uncoordinated reporting, etc. This list goes on and on. After a day filled up with these activities you are exhausted, you feel that you were so busy the whole day – but sadly you did not achieve anything.

Task for you (if you want to)

Think about one activity in your life. Just one activity, that you are absolutely convinced that it would deliver superb results if you did it consistently, perfectly well and with determination. Write it down.

Now, in which quadrant would it fall in? I bet in quadrant 2: important but not urgent. Why? Clearly because it is important as you said and it is not urgent. If it was urgent you would have done it.

Why is this result so important for (time)management? Because it is the cornerstone proactive crisis prevention.

Prevention and proactivity

All the preventive activities fall into the Quadrant 2: important but not urgent. What will happen if you focus only on firefighting or management by crisis kind of activities (Quadrant 1: important and urgent)? You will neglect the preventive actions (Quadrant 2: important but not urgent) and the quadrant 1 will grow and grow and grow until you burn yourself out or until there is nothing else than firefighting to do.

On the other hand, if you put your emphasis on preventive actions (Quadrant 2: important but not urgent), the quadrant 1 gets smaller and smaller. Of course there will be some urgent things that will pop up that you could not anticipate and you need to deal with it. However, the amount of crisis will be much smaller and therefore perfectly manageable.


Where do I find the time for quadrant 2 activities?

I guess you know the answer already: from the quadrants 3 and 4. The activities in quadrant 4 have no value at all to you. You can use all of this time for preventive actions.

Essentially the quadrant 3 activities have also no value to you but maybe they are important for the other people involved. If the success of your mission or overall target depends on these particular people, obviously you need to dedicate some time to them. If there is no value to your mission, you just have to learn to smile politely and say “no”. This “no” gives you time for your preventive actions and therefore makes the management by crisis part of your time smaller and yet manageable.


Using this simple time management principle you dedicate your time to the things that matter most. Simultaneously your wasting your precious time in things that matter least. Being able to do that, you need to be proactive and you must take responsibility. Are you willing to do that?


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