When I ask a sales manager how business is going, I usually hear a little pride in their voice as they say, “We’re totally slammed!” In the business world, people seem to think it’s cool to be buried up to their necks in work!
Hearing people brag about being slammed always makes me think of one of my favorite Tim Ferriss quotes:
“Being busy is a form of laziness.”
He explains that people who are perpetually busy are usually suffering from lazy thinking, lazy decision-making, and lazy time management.
Sure, we all have important and urgent tasks to get done. But many of us feel like we’re always putting out fires—and never seem to get a chance to catch our breath!
If you’re constantly overwhelmed with the things you need to get done, you’re probably spending your time on the wrong things. Stephen Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, introduced a simple idea of approaching time management called the Time Management Matrix. It divides activities, projects, and to-dos into four quadrants:
Quadrant 1: Important and urgent
Quadrant 2: Important, but not urgent
Quadrant 3: Urgent, but not important
Quadrant 4: Not urgent and not important
This four-quadrant system for time management is also called “The Eisenhower Matrix.” It was inspired by a speech by President Dwight Eisenhower, in which he quoted this quip from a former university president:
“I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”
When we’re “totally slammed,” we’re spending a lot of time in Quadrants 1 and 3, dealing with the urgent issues—some aren’t even that important. We don’t spend enough time in Quadrant 2, and those important, non-urgent tasks get ignored! All that stress makes us want a break, and we end up wasting time on unimportant, non-critical activities from Quadrant 4.
How can you use the Four Quadrants to take back control of your time? Let’s take a closer look.
Quadrant 1: Important and Urgent
Quadrant 1 is full of fires, crises, pressing issues, and deadlines. Your important and urgent tasks will always be your number one priority, whether you want them to be or not. It’s “emergency mode,” and spending too much time here results in stress and burnout.
But how do you avoid spending all day in Quadrant 1?
You can’t make your important tasks any less important. But you can make them less urgent—by allocating time to plan, manage, and complete them before they turn into emergencies!
Quadrant 2: Important but Not Urgent
Quadrant 2 is the best place to spend your time. Here, you’ll work on scheduled tasks, new opportunities, and deepening relationships—things that define your ideal week. Time you’ve set aside for planning and organizing your to-dos also falls into Quadrant 2. With more time dedicated to this quadrant, you can prevent urgent issues from coming up in the first place.
More time spent in Quadrant 2 means more balance, self-discipline, control, and greater vision. This is where you want to live your life!
Quadrant 3: Urgent but Not Important
This quadrant is tricky for a lot of us! Sometimes, it’s hard to realize that just because a task is urgent, it’s not automatically important.
If you automatically consider every urgent thing as important, you’ll quickly lose control over your schedule. And Quadrant 3 is full of urgent things: interruptions, phone calls, meetings, and other people’s priorities.
Once you identify the urgent yet unimportant things that will derail your day, you’ll be able to say no. Or, if you can’t say no, you can reprioritize and reschedule these tasks to fit into your day. It’s almost always best to delegate Quadrant 3 tasks when you can!
Quadrant 4: Not Urgent and Not Important
Have you ever had deadlines hanging over your head, but you end up browsing the internet, scrolling through social media on your phone, or walking around the office to chat with co-workers for a bit? Even shuffling papers around on your desk feels better than confronting the mountain of work you’re facing!
When you experience burnout or spend most of your day fighting fires, it’s tempting to retreat to the easy, pleasant tasks of Quadrant 4.
You’ll look busy (and maybe even feel busy), but you’re not taking ownership of your business. The good news? Once identified, most Quadrant 4 items can be taken out of your workweek completely.
Putting it All Together
Once you’ve identified where all your projects and activities are on Covey’s time management matrix, start mapping out how you’ll spend your time. Your goal is to spend as little time as possible in Quadrants 3 and 4—and to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant 2. As you spend more time in Quadrant 2, you’ll see those Quadrant 1 fires start to go out!
I coach and train sales professionals on lots of topics, but improving time management skills often makes the biggest impact to their business. The 4 Quadrant method is just one of many tools that can enable salespeople to take back their day and spend time wisely.
Until next time—go sell some stuff!