Designating Key Performance Indicators – or KPIs – allows you to benchmark, stretch, and track tasks that will move you closer to achieving your goals. There are many strategies that you can use to improve the performance of your KPIs, thereby enhancing the likelihood that you will meet your goals. Some strategies will impact the progress towards your goal more than others. Some strategies will be enjoyable, while others will prove more challenging. With all these options, how do you keep track of it all and focus on what is truly important? Where do you start?
In order to reach your desired level of success, you must remain consistent and focused. To attain and sustain that focus American educator Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, proposes the concept of “Four Quadrants for Time Management,” a tool which can be used to help you prioritize the tasks you need to improve your KPIs and reach your goals. Additionally, a step by step to implement this strategy during your work day is provided.
In his book First Things First, Covey states that everything we do in life can be classified by its urgency – Urgent or Not Urgent – and by its importance – Important or Not Important. With that in mind, Covey created this matrix with four quadrants. Let’s review it!
Quadrant 1 – Important and Urgent
This quadrant could be described as “putting out fires” mode. Within this quadrant, you do anything and everything possible to handle things that need to get done, even if that includes going above and beyond to make it right. If you have a deadline, you are not leaving the office until it’s done. If you have a client complaint, you are willing to try anything to make them happy. This is stressful and fast-paced quadrant can often lead to burnout if too much time is spent on these particular tasks.
Tasks which fall in this quadrant are likely out of your control and typically require your immediate attention. However, when you are proactive – creating processes in anticipation of potential issues or regularly running data analyses – this quadrant can mostly be avoided. Make every effort to spend the least amount of your time in this quadrant. Rather than helping you to improve your performance, the tasks found in this quadrant instead represent the minimum needed to continue organizational operations.
- A client complaining on social media
- A last minute report request
Quadrant 2 – Important and Not Urgent
Quadrant 2 can be seen as the “self-improvement” mode. It is also the quadrant you should aim to spend most of your time working within. In seeking to complete these tasks, take time to plan what you want, strategize how to get there, and schedule your days to accomplish your objectives. These activities are typically most relevant to your long-term goals and most likely to give you the greatest satisfaction.
Focusing on these tasks requires you to allocate time within your schedule to devote to them. Consider it as scheduling an appointment with yourself, just like any of the other meetings you have.
The time you spend on this quadrant is a direct representation of how much control you have over your time. The more time you spend in this quadrant, the better performance you will have.
- Working on a project plan, work flow, budget and implementation strategy
- Analyzing a process, improving and testing the outcome
- Reading, learning, educating yourself
- Doing activities out of the box to inspire yourself
- Spending quality time with your team and co-workers
Quadrant 3 – Not Important and Urgent
Quadrant 3 – or “who screams loudest?” – can be the most disruptive, if you let it. This quadrant represents daily interruptions like reading emails and getting calls. Tasks found within this quadrant cannot go unattended, but they should be managed around your schedule; there must be a sense of balance.
Appropriately addressing the tasks within this quadrant is accomplished by scheduling time that is convenient for you. For example, consider letting all of your incoming calls go to voicemail, and set aside one hour a day for making and returning calls. Designate specific times during the day for responding to emails instead of responding as each message arrives.
The time you spend on tasks within this quadrant cannot be specifically measured in successes, unless you are hired to respond to e-mails and phone calls at a call center all day. How do these tasks help you improve your KPIs? They don’t.
- Unscheduled phone calls
- Emails during any time of the day attending to the need of others
- Getting called last minute to a meeting without any preparation
Quadrant 4 – Not Important and Not Urgent
Completing tasks within Quadrant 4 might be thought of as being in a “lazy” mode. Although not everything we do in life has to be productive, anything in excess is bad. Watching TV, going out with friends, completing mindless tasks – none of these are inherently bad as long as they don’t become a constant.
The challenge lies in the fact that tasks within this quadrant can become addictive and lead to many negative effects.
As long as you appropriately limit the time you spend on tasks within this quadrant, it will provide some balance in your life. It is OK to focus on these activities once in a while, as long as you stay aware of the time you are devoting to particular tasks. However, these tasks are typically not related to your performance, so limit your time here, and if you can do without, then do so.
- Mindless web surfing
- Office busywork
- Responding to email all day
Implementing the Four Quadrants for Time Management
If you have read this far along, you might be considering making a change to your current approach. I’d encourage you to do so. Start by identifying your daily and weekly activities, decide what quadrant they belong to, and write all that information down. Next, follow the steps below to begin creating a time management plan tailored to best suit your personal needs.
1) Look at activities in Quadrant 1. Create strategies to prevent them from recurring or becoming emergencies. These strategies are your new Quadrant 2 activities and should be placed in that quadrant.
2) Look at activities in Quadrant 3 and schedule a specific time during each day to handle them. Even if it is one hour in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon, put it in your calendar just like a meeting.
3) Look at activities in Quadrant 4 and assess their benefits relative to the amount of time you spend on them. If there are any that have no value whatsoever, stop doing them.
4) Look at activities in Quadrant 2 and put a meeting for yourself one day during the week to accomplish these tasks.
5) Do your activities as scheduled for 1 week.
6) Evaluate your success:
a) If it didn’t go as planned, start again from step 1.
b) If it went as planned, add one more day during the week for Quadrant 2 tasks.
7) Stick to your plan. You will feel more accomplished and your performance will improve.
Here is how I would reinterpret Stephen Covey’s Matrix:
Connie Marianacci is an accomplished professional of e-commerce, marketing and strategy with over 10+ years of experience increasing online productivity, results and effectiveness. @cmarianacci Marianacci.com
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