Stephen Covey's Four Quadrants: The Time Management Grid

Work Life Balance Couple

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For fathers, getting everything in life to fit together as it should is one of the biggest life challenges. It can feel like so much of your time is spent in your role as provider: go to work, keep the house and yard in working condition, manage money, and pay bills. Top that with a long commute and running from one child's activity to another, and you get totally consumed during waking hours.

The Four Quadrants

To keep your life in balance, Dr. Stephen Covey created a Time Management Matrix. The concept helps fathers prioritize their lives by determining the tasks they need to do versus the ones that they want to do:

  • Quadrant 1 involves important and urgent items that must be dealt with immediately. An exaggeration (or not) may include taking care of a crying baby, putting out a kitchen fire, or making some important calls.
  • Quadrant 2 includes important items that are not urgent. These items do not require your immediate attention, but they need to be planned for. This is a very important quadrant that needs dedicated focus to meet long-term goals. Exercise, vacation, and planning are examples of items that may be included here.
  • Quadrant 3 is described as urgent but unimportant tasks. These items should be minimized or eliminated completely. Also known as "time sucks," interruptions, distractions, and unnecessary calls can give you back some wiggle room for other tasks.
  • Quadrant 4 incorporates unimportant and non-urgent items last. Similar to the last quadrant, these items should be minimized or removed because they add little to no value. These time wasters are often trivial.

Change Your Life

With just a little effort, your life and relationships can change by doubling the amount of time spent in Quadrant 2. It's clear that Quadrant 1 items always get done and Quadrant 4 activities are a waste of time. Take the time to focus on Quadrant 2 by eliminating some Quadrant 4 activities first.

Invest in your personal growth by emphasizing your spiritual focus, reading uplifting materials, and considering how to better live your life. Additionally, setting personal goals, evaluating progress, and planning your activities around those goals will give greater focus to your life and help you achieve more with less effort and less time lost.

Finally, putting activities that build relationships with your children into Quadrant 2 will help create more positive and trusting relationships that avoid problems later on.

Prioritize Activities

Focusing on Quadrant 2 activities, using time found by eliminating Quadrant 4 activities, makes all the difference in what you can accomplish in life. Planning and giving higher priority to the things that matter most will allow a busy father with many life demands to make good decisions, balance work and life better, and live a more abundant life.

Quadrant 2 activities should be programmed into your daily schedule. Whether developing a personal purpose statement or setting personal and family goals, fathers can learn how to thrive. The first step is to plan your time every week and make some room in your schedule for other Quadrant 2 activities, like the following:

  • Reading scripture, praying, and meditating
  • Personal exercise and nutrition planning
  • Date nights with your partner
  • Family nights and recreation with the kids
  • Job interviews and career planning
  • Visualizing, reading, and writing affirmations
  • Journaling

A Success Story

Following The Time Management Matrix can be life-changing. One father shared his personal experience with his early mentor, Dr. Covey, during his college years:

"I am fortunate to count Dr. Covey as one of my early mentors and university professors. Even before he published his wildly successful book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr. Covey was teaching graduate students at Brigham Young University the importance of time management and work-life balance.
The first time I saw the Time Management Matrix (also known as the Four Quadrants) was on a white board in a large classroom at BYU. Dr. Covey drew a box on the board divided by a horizontal line and a vertical line into four quadrants. Across the top, he labeled the two columns "Urgent" and "Not Urgent." Then he labeled the two rows "Important" and "Not Important." Then he labeled the quadrants with the numbers one through four, starting at the top left and ending at the bottom right.
Then, he asked the class to help him fill in some activities that fit into each quadrant. The first one was easy: urgent and important. One student said, "Cramming for your tests." He was right, it was urgent and it was important. Dr. Covey then asked, "Where should we put doing the required reading and keeping up with class assignments?" Students responded, "Quadrant 2: important but not urgent."
We next went to Quadrant 3: urgent but not important. "A ringing telephone" was one response. "Perhaps," Dr. Covey said, but what if it was the big job offer you had been waiting for?"
"That is for sure a Quadrant 1 call," the student responded.
When he got to Quadrant 4, activities in that quadrant came fast and furious. "Talking with my roommate until 2:00 a.m." one suggested. "Staying for the fourth quarter when BYU is ahead by 24" said another.
Finally, Dr. Covey's graduate assistant passed out a paper with the four quadrants and asked us to estimate how much of the 128 hours in our week was spent in each quadrant. I had to admit that I was spending a lot of time in Quadrants 1 and 4, some in Quadrant 3, and almost none in Quadrant 2.
Dr. Covey then suggested some ways that we could spend more time in Quadrant 2. Careful planning, spiritual renewal, goal setting, spending time on important relationships, journal writing, and more were all important but not urgent. No one demanded an accounting for these things. But his counsel was to plan our time so that Quadrant 2 activities came first."