Stephen Covey's Time Management Matrix

Stephen Covey's Time Management Matrix

Last update: 13 April, 2020

Covey himself says that time management isn’t just about organizing your tasks. He claims it’s actually a way of life in itself. That’s because how you mange your time also plays a huge part in your well-being. 

There is never enough time to do everything, but there is always enough time to do the most important thing.”

-Brian Tracy-

Stephen Covey’s time management matrix is made out of 4 quadrants. Each represents a different priority. Every quadrant also has specific activities to manage differently depending on which one they’re in. Let’s take a deeper look.

The first quadrant

Picture a cross. When you draw it, there are four blank spaces. Those four blank spaces are Stephen Covey’s 4 quadrants. The first quadrant is the one on the top left. This one includes everything that falls under two basic categories: urgent and important. 

Stephen Covey's time management matrix.

This is where you put all the tasks that you can’t — and shouldn’t — put off under any circumstances. It’s for anything that’s top priority. It means you should do it as soon as possible. Put aside any other activities you have going on until you get this one done.

For example, one thing you might put in this quadrant is an electrical shortage at home. There are a lot of things that need electricity to work, so you can’t just put it off. Other situations that belong here are things like illness, accidents, etc.

The second quadrant: important but not urgent

The second quadrant has to do with things you don’t need to deal with right away. But in this case, they’re still important tasks. In other words, they’re things that are important, but not urgent. Usually they’re more important in the long-term than the short-term.

None of the tasks in this quadrant are life or death things. But they’re still really important for your quality of life and well-being. The best example of this is your health. Everything in life depends on your health, so it’s important to look after yourself. Not taking care of yourself might not do anything terrible short-term, but it can be devastating long-term.

Some other things that fit into this space are tasks like preparing for final exams or maintaining a healthy relationship with friends and partners. It also has to do with things like exercising and keeping yourself informed on the news.

The third quadrant: urgent but not important

This is one of the trickiest quadrants. It’s not always easy to figure out exactly which tasks or activities belong in it. Why? Because their urgency grabs your attention. But just because they are attention-grabbing doesn’t mean they’re truly important.

A business meeting with speech bubbles.

This is the quadrant where you’d put all the unnecessary things you do out of habit or chance. For example, you run into someone and stop to chat for a second. Or you get sucked into an argument on social media about something rather trivial.

The fourth quadrant: not urgent or important

The fourth quadrant belongs to everything that’s basically pointless. These are things that aren’t at all urgent, and aren’t very important either. But a lot of them somehow end up being things that take up a lot of our time.

This is the quadrant where you put unnecessary things like checking your email every five minutes. Or texting even though neither of your really has anything important to say. Other examples are watching TV and online shopping.

Good time management

Most people who use Stephen Covey’s time management matrix end up realizing that the first quadrants they fill up are 1 and 3. It’s easy to fill up the urgent-important and urgent-but-not-important quadrants. 

Covey says that happens because we generally see everything as urgent. He also says it’s this feeling of urgency that stresses us out so much.That’s why learning to deal with those two spaces better can help you be better at time management in general.

The creator of the model says you should mainly focus on quadrant 2. According to him, that’s where you’ll find well-being and happiness. If you can get a clear picture what goes there and focus on that, Stephen Covey’s time management matrix will have done its job.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Covey, S. R. (2015). Los 7 Hábitos de la Gente Altamente Efectiva: Edición de Imágenes. Mango Media Inc..
  • Covey, S. R. (2015). Primero Lo Primero: Edición de Imágenes. Mango Media Inc..
  • Covey, S. M., & Merrill, R. R. (2011). El factor confianza: el valor que lo cambia todo. Paidós.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.