Put First Things First – How To Prioritize Using The Time Management Matrix

Prioritizing the things that are most important to us is a valuable, yet underrated skill. Having sufficient self-awareness is vital to possessing this ability of prioritization because if you truly know yourself, you’ll know what your values, dreams, vision, and mission are. 

If you lack the skill of prioritizing, you’ll fall into the trap of spending too much time on less important things and ultimately end up with regrets. 

The Time Management Matrix from Stephen Covey, author of ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,’ is a great tool to use when figuring out what to put first in your life. It helps you figure out which activities in your day demand the most attention, based on what you categorize as urgent and important. 

The Four Quadrants 

The Time Management Matrix is made up of four quadrants arranged in a grid; urgent and important, not urgent and important, urgent and not important, not urgent and not important. 

You can break down your daily activities into these four quadrants, categorizing them as necessary according to their urgency and importance. 

Let’s take a closer look at the four quadrants, and how to determine which activity fits in where:

Quadrant 1: Urgent and Important

The activities that require urgent attention and at the same time contribute to your mission, values and highest priority goals should fit into Quadrant 1. You should put any emergencies or crises into this quadrant too. We all have things that fit into Quadrant 1, the difference between effective and less effective people is their ability to recognize these urgencies and to take action on them. 

However, people who spend too much of their time in this area might find themselves constantly rushing to fix things and put out fires. This often leads to stress, burnout, and the feeling of being in a constant rush. 

Quadrant 2: Not Urgent and Important 

This is the quadrant for things that are important to you but don’t have to be done right away. Quadrant 2 is for personal activities that you hold important, such as building and working on your relationships, self-development, personal projects, and taking care of your health. Whatever you need to maintain a good life is put into this quadrant. 

When you spend a lot of time in this area focusing on things that mean a lot to you, you work on yourself, your vision, and tasks that you are committed to. 

Quadrant 3: Urgent and Not Important

The tricky thing about Quadrant 3 is that many people mistakenly assume that all things which are urgent are automatically considered important. This is not the case. You can have things that demand your attention without meaning a lot or adding much to your everyday life. Either way, some things just have to get done. 

Spending too much time on these activities may result in putting others’ needs before your own, shallow relationships, feeling victimized, a sense of unfulfillment, and a lack of focus on your goals. 

Quadrant 4: Not Urgent and Not Important

Quadrant 4 is where you put things that are neither demanding your attention nor adding much value to your life. Things like watching TV, scrolling our on social media, or generally procrastinating come into this section. When you’re not doing something that’s adding value to your life, or spending too much time on entertainment, you are spending time on what’s not important and not urgent. 

When you spend more than your fair share of time in this quadrant, you become irresponsible, demotivated, disengaged, and dependent on other people for your needs. 

Using Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix

Do you know which quadrant you’re spending most of your time in? Draw a time management matrix and log each activity as well as the amount of time you spend doing it. Categorize each thing you do over the next 3 days and log your time in 15-minute increments. 

After the 3 days are up, check in with yourself and see if you were right. Are you really spending too much time in one quadrant or another? Is your time management out of whack? 

If so, you might want to rethink your priorities and implement some healthy habits to help you keep track of your time management. 

Implementing and Changing Habits

It’s hard to break a bad habit, but replacing it with a new, better one is an easier alternative. 

Think about what daily habits you have that are leading you to spend more time in a certain quadrant. Maybe you write a to-do list in the morning and don’t pay attention to what is most important on it? Or maybe you start your day off watching TV or on social media instead of getting straight to work? 

Take one bad habit you have which is preventing you from managing your time effectively and replace it with a better habit. A habit which lets you prioritize your time more evenly. 

Here are some ideas for healthier habits:

- Start your day off with an effective morning routine to get you ready for your day

- Stay off your phone and social media for the first hour or two of your day

- Make a to-do list in the morning (or the night before) and take time to schedule your priorities

- At the end of each day, do a quick daily review of what you did. This is the perfect time to use the Time Management Matrix if you feel your priorities were out of line. 

As Stephen Cover himself says:

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule but to schedule your priorities” 


When it comes to time management and prioritizing what’s important to you, simply realizing that you’re spending too much time in one quadrant and not enough in another can be a great help.

Give the matrix a try, sometimes it’s less evident where the problems lie. Once you’ve identified the problems, it becomes much easier to find the right solutions. 

Time is precious. It is our greatest commodity. Learn to manage it well and you’ll never have to say “I don’t have time” again. 

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