4 Quadrants Of Time Management 

Time Management

Time management is the planning and allocation of time to various activities one does to increase the efficiency and productivity. Time management encompasses the personal as well as professional works. It is basically the skill of managing yourself to the best of your capabilities within the 24 hours that have been provided daily to each of us.

So many people have given their own principles but the whole division of concept of time management into four generations as has been done by Mr. Steven Covey is just extra ordinary. He developed his whole theory starting with the concept that time management is to organize and execute around priorities. Mr. Covey has explained the natural evolution of time management in very simple terms

First Generation Concept

This earliest concept of time management revolves around only the tasks that are required to be done. This may consist of various to-do lists or reminders. The main purpose of this was to put some order into the day and more importantly put all the tasks to be done at a single place so that they are taken care of and not forgotten.

The major drawback of such a system is that it just doesn’t give precedence to any task over other. The most important task of the day is as equal as the task which could be least important. We need to consider here that being busy and being productive are two entirely different things. Purpose is to become more productive and less busy so that you get more time for yourself. Due to these shortcomings there was a need for the more developed system of time management principles which followed soon.

Second Generation Concept

To look into the future and plan anticipating the events that are expected to happen, this second wave of time management principle added the tools like calendars, schedulers and appointment books. Immediately this system turned out to be a better system as it gives some control over the future. Whereas the first generation principles were just about each day, this concept talked about planning better one’s weeks or months ahead. This gave some sort of control over time but still there was no consideration about the ranking of importance of tasks. It simply recorded future commitments to be honored.

Third Generation Concept

These time management principles started the prioritization of work based on the importance of the activities. It involves looking into the future and setting various goals and classifying them into long term, intermediate and short term goals. Teachers like Jim Rohn advocated the planning based on goals when they said, “Never start a day without planning.” They talked about the concept of setting priorities.

To prioritize various tasks is one of the very important time management skills. In the earlier concepts there used to be day lists or week lists with a lot of tasks to be completed and the most common trap people fell was to start with the smallest and easiest tasks right in the beginning. In place of this new principles taught that a better strategy is to start with the most important and difficult tasks right in the beginning of the day or the week. Reason is the Pareto principle that says that usually 80 percent of our results are because of 20 percent of activities, which may be difficult but are of higher significance. So always prioritize. In the planner always mark ‘must’ items and face them head on at the start.

These principles have given a lot of control but the drawback with these is the inherent rigidity of such tight scheduling. These concepts are in a way counterproductive to the opportunities for the development of good interpersonal relationship. They may give a boost to the efficiency but for most people satisfaction is the bigger need which can come only from doing all the tasks in such a manner that it gives fulfillment and richness to the quality of life.

Fourth Generation Concept

This latest principle of time management as taught by management guru Mr. Steven Covey divides the tasks into four different quadrants depending upon the mix of two factors, urgency and importance as given in the diagram below:


This concept clearly shows that efficiency of most people is low because they focus more on the urgent things rather than the important ones. Most people spend their time and energy on the the urgent things because they are visible at the moment and captures their mind so completely that they are not even in a state of thinking about the things which are not urgent and pressing but may be of the most importance in the long run.

Some of these tasks may be urgent as well as important (Quadrant-I activities) and they definitely deserve your attention but come to think of it if one gives adequate attention to the important but not urgent tasks (Quadrant-II activities), these tasks will diminish automatically. Mr. Covey suggests that best time management principle focuses on the Quadrant-II tasks. He goes on to explain that when one fails to acknowledge the Quadrant-II, the size of Quadrant-I or the crises will keep on increasing and you will not be able to work on your long term goals or the dreams.

Quadrant-III tasks are those which are urgent but not important like checking mails or answering all calls. These are the task that fill your day with the ‘busy’ work and still you accomplish nothing. Lastly the Quadrant-IV activities that are neither urgent nor important are the sheer waste of one’s time and energy. These may include the leisure or pleasant activities which most people get involved into thinking them as relaxing but not realizing that they are missing out on the opportunity of working on most important Quadrant-II tasks.

It is suggested that to begin with one needs to identify and segregate his various tasks into different Quadrants and then start focusing on the Quadrant-II activities. Initially that time has to be taken out from the Quadrant-III and Quadrant-IV activities. Slowly and gradually you will realize that the efficiency and productivity gets a substantial boost. Even the quadrant-I activities that are urgent as well as important or the crisis will also decrease in number and will result in much more calm and fulfillment in your life.

With these better time management principles you will be able to improve your quality of life and add value to all the work that you do. It takes away or reduces the stress component in your life. You become more happy and healthy, and achieve better results.

If you are also one of the persons who are struggling with increasing your business efficiency, or work and personal life balance, start focusing on Quadrant-II. Think ahead, work on the basics and do all the preventive things that keeps the number of your problems small. In short, don’t get caught in the thick of thin things.

Related article: 8 Time Management Tips


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