The 4 quadrant method of time management takes your linear to do list and asks you to split all the items up into 2 buckets: what’s important and what’s not important.
You only want to do tasks that are actually important, so within this “bucket”, split it up further base on what’s due soon and what’s due much later.
If it’s important and due soon, it goes into the top left quadrant. If it’s important, but not due soon, it goes to the upper right quadrant. If it’s not important, but it’s bothering you enough to have to do it, then it goes on the bottom left. Everything else goes into the uncategorized bucket on the bottom right.
After splitting up your tasks into 4 quadrants, you should have a layout that looks something like this:
When you start your day, you immediately know what you have to work on: the upper left.
When you are done with those things, or if you are stuck with any item on the upper left, then you move to the upper right.
The idea is that you never should do anything on the bottom left. In fact, if you have an executive assistant, these are the tasks that may make perfect sense to delegate. If you don’t have an EA, then think hard before you ever do any of those tasks. If you find yourself asking over and over whether you really need to do a task, it’s unlikely you should, and consider storing it on the bottom right. If a task has been on the bottom right for a long time, then it becomes a candidate for deletion. At the same time, the bottom right quadrant is the perfect place for you to store anything and everything that you’ve thought of.
You should never be hesitant to write down to your to dos. In traditional linear lists, you will overburden yourself, but if you write everything down in a 4 quadrant approach, you never have to worry because your attention is, and should always be, focused on the upper left.
The 4 Quadrant Method in Detail
What are the four quadrants?
Here’s a recap of the kind of tasks you put in each quadrant:
Quadrant 1: Critical and Due Soon (top left)
The most important things that you have to work on, especially if it’s due soon. Each day, each hour, each minute of your work should be focused on tackling issues within this quadrant. The criteria in putting it here should be the value-adding tasks that drive your business and/or your life.
Quadrant 2: Critical, but not Due Soon (top right)
The important things you have to work on, but the due date is farther out. The criteria for consideration of what’s “far out” varies depending on your overall project scope. With Priority Matrix the app, you can create your project definition in a such a way that the timeline is inherited from the project definition. So if you are working on a 10,000 feet project, the top right quadrant could represent tasks that are more than 3 months out.
Quadrant 3: Not Critical (bottom left)
Everything that you could delegate, or if you feel are burdens rather than value-adding, should go here. These are things you should explicitly avoid to do whenever possible. Even when your top quadrants are cleared, perhaps you should take a break, rather than working on the bottom left. While this may make you feel good to get these done, ultimately, they may not add to much. Recall, if it did add to something, maybe you could break it up and add the important part to the top quadrants.
Quadrant 4: Uncategorized (bottom right)
Write everything here. This is your traditional to do list. The difference is, it moves up the chain to “do-now” status only when the to do item is actually important.
How often should you follow through this process? The answer varies, but I would suggest, as often as you need to. Writing everything down help clears your mind.
So how do you get started?
At first, you can try it on paper until you become familiar with the methodology.
Then when you are ready for the real deal, you can then use our product Priority Matrix for iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Windows. The app is built on the principals of the 4 quadrant method in order to help you prioritize and focus.
You can sign up for a free trial by entering your email here:
Here’s a free download of this template that you can open up and use in Priority Matrix to get seamlessly started with your status reporting!
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