The Time Management Matrix by Stephen Covey

by | Feb 21, 2021 | Business, Opinion, Thought Piece

Something a little different today. I want to talk about time and time management. Bit odd for a blog on an accountant’s site? Read on to see why I’m passionate about this.

The modern working world is a very intense place. Constant notifications, email bombardment and being online 24/7 means you can easily become distracted. There is a growing pressure to try and reverse the ‘always on’ culture, but it’s practically difficult.

Planning and managing your time around these pressures is tough. It is as much an art as a science for me. Even now, I am writing this on a Sunday afternoon, so I can work flexibly around my free time, my family time, and my delivery time.

The one significant thing which has helped me is to manage my tasks in what is known as a Time Management Matrix, devised by the excellent Stephen R Covey. In his book, The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People, Stephen talks about what he witnessed in superstar individuals and businesses in how they think, act and manage their time. I’ll try to cover this book a little more later, but for now I want to introduce his Time Management Matrix.

What is the Time Management Matrix?

The Time Management Matrix is a way of classifying the tasks and errands that come into our daily life. Everything from the big deadlines, dedicating time to a new system, answering phone calls, watching the film you’ve wanted to see or even writing blogs!

Stephen was able to categorise these tasks into two categories: urgency and importance. On the top, you have “Urgent” and “Not Urgent”. On the left, you have “Important” and “Not Important”. This creates four quadrants, below.

Click on the table or here to download your own version, with our little twist.

The four quadrants

Items in the top-left quadrant are the things you must do ASAP, such as completing your taxes. They take the priority and are the most pressing issues you must deal with.

Not urgent, but important things in the top-right quadrant are valuable, but not necessarily the urgent priority. It could be going to the gym, building your budget, or networking.

The bottom row covers non-important items. The bottom left covers those things which are not important but urgent are the distractions, such as emails, phone calls or notifications. The danger is the urgency creates the illusion of importance. Not every email or call you will receive is important.

Finally, the bottom right covers those things which are not important, nor urgent. Catching up on your box sets, clearing junk emails away or other things like this which don’t really add value.

The theory here is this. If you were to think about things you need to do, chances are the top-right quadrant has the most valuable tasks in it. The things which will grow you personally and professionally. But time is limited by those urgent items which take up your time. Spending more time on activities in the top-right quadrant can help you reduce urgent items, improve your quality outputs and should in theory help you achieve more personally and professionally.

I must say, The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People is a fantastic book for many reasons and even this topic alone is covered in greater depth. I am barely scratching the surface and I highly recommend this as a read.

What about inclination?

My unique twist to this, is inclination.

Say for example, telephone calls are bombarding you every day. You don’t have the time to focus on high value activities, because of the urgency created by your phone ringing all the time. Could a virtual assistant or telephone service assist? This to me comes down to inclination, or your appetite to want to spend time working on something. If being the first voice a customer or prospect hears means a lot to you, this might be high for you. If you would rather someone else handle this on your behalf, could you outsource it, or bring someone else into the business to handle it for you?

Bringing it more into finance, what about bookkeeping. This is (and I would say this of course, but with good reason!) a high importance activity, albeit not immediately urgent. It is important because it ensures your records are correct. Good bookkeeping means you know where you stand financially, who owes you money and what you have spent. It is also a basis for key processes, like VAT or company accounts. But do you have the time, inclination, and expertise to do this? Maybe, or maybe not?

This works for some things better than others. As much as I would be tempted to ‘outsource’ my trips to the gym, it’s impossible! But I could free up time to get to the gym, which is why this matrix is so powerful. It gets you thinking in ways to really focus on what matters.

On my sheet, you can see to the right of each task you can grade high or low what is of importance to you. Those which are low, could someone else handle them for you?

Using tools to put it into practice

I use the system as part of my planning process, and it helps me to filter the key tasks from the less key ones.

Something I swear by is Todoist, which is fabulous task planning software. I use the flag system to decide what is in the urgent and important quadrant, but then can break it down into ‘project’, label items or assign them to the team. It also works from anywhere, so if I’m starting my day I can sit at my computer and review my work. Or if I’m on the go, I can quickly add a task on the app. By the way, they offer a free version too.

I usually try to spend the end of the week to think ahead about what I want to achieve.  Stephen R Covey goes into great depths on this in his book, but for me this is about looking at my tasks ahead, scheduling them, making sure the priorities are right and spending as much time as I can in the top-right quadrant so I can improve on everything I do, personally and professionally.

What is on your list?

Do download a copy of this or set up the system on the Todoist app (or your task manager of choice, if it can prioritise) and see what you must do. Think then as well about if you have the inclination to do those things. What is on your list?

Bringing this around full-circle, I like to think we are in the business of giving time back to clients. We want our clients to spend more time growing their businesses. Spending time with their families. Not worrying about the accounts. If you looked at your business, there are many key finance tasks which will take up your time. Are there tasks you think are best with you, or best with a trusted advisor?

Aside from that time spent, it’s the years of experience and knowledge you acquire. Finding an accountant with expertise, abilities in building processes and systems and technical competence.

My passion comes from my own personal challenges in managing my time and when I can help my clients do that, it means the world as it’s immediately making a difference.

The first website I built was done by hand – me, personally, with just a notepad and a couple chunky books. It took me many weekends to finish. Much like my story about the accountant fitting the smart doorbell, a new website was important for me, but I recognised it wasn’t for me to do it.

If finance is important to you, but you want it in safe hands, get in touch today to see how we can give you back your time.

Ready to start the journey?

To get help with your accounts and start freeing up your time to focus on growth, talk to the Mayflower team today.

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