written by
Iain Smith

Do You Dare Enter The Matrix?

Productivity Time Management 6 min read

We are going to take a look at the Time Management Matrix. And a very sexy thing it is too!

Admittedly, people tend to find Keanu Reeves' version of The Matrix a tad more exciting so on my Mastering Time Management training day I enlist Keanu and pretend that my Matrix is as cool as his.

The Time Management Matrix
Introducing The Time Management Matrix

It's not. Clearly.

But the Time Management Matrix, or Quadrant, is something I always try to share, whether through training days or in one to one sessions. It comes up so often because it is so very useful.

Many people are aware of it but don't know how to make best use of it. I'll show you two ways that you can use in a flash. Easily and effectively.

Two Ways To Use The Time Management Matrix

Firstly, the Time Management Matrix is a great diagnostic tool. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, you are always in one of the four quadrants.

A great rule of thumb question to ask yourself is "Where am I now? Which box am I in?"

Because you're reading this right now you're most likely in Quadrant II. You're doing something that is not urgent but which is hopefully important.

But sometimes you might realise that you've slipped into that Urgent but Not Important quadrant (box 3). You find yourself doing something that feels important because it's happening right now, but is in actual fact of no real consequence. (Like laminating. Enough with the laminating already!)

Asking that question can help you to step off the treadmill and perhaps recognise that you're being busy for the sake of it. We'll look further at the Urgent/Not important box in a minute.

Prioritising Tasks

Secondly the Time Management Matrix is fabulous for helping you to prioritise and work out what task you should be doing next.

Have a look at the image below and I'll take you through how to use it.

Time Management Quadrant

Quadrant I

In this magic box you'll find things which are both urgent and important. If you work in a school and a child falls over and blood starts gushing from their leg, then you need to jump into action.

You can't really say, "Hang on in there kid, just stem the flow while I finish inputting this data into SIMS."

That's Quadrant I in action. Box 1 activities need to be dealt with immediately. They are urgent and and they’re important.

When these events occur they tend to take priority and you have to drop whatever else it is you're doing so try to plan as few of these as possible into your schedule. The thing about Q1 tasks or events is that they're bound to turn up anyway.

More often than not they move over from Box 2 because they didn't get attended to in time. Let's take a look at that now.

Quadrant II

This box represents things which are important, but not urgent.

These are the biggies, the things that you really know you should be doing but that often get put off at the expense of other more exciting and immediate actions.

Although the activities here are important, and contribute to achieving goals and priorities – they don’t have to be done right now. As a result, they can be scheduled for when you can give quality thought to them.

Make sure you do this whenever you can and aim to have as many QII tasks as possible.

A good example would be the preparation of an important presentation, or writing a report - don't wait to the last minute.

The insidious trait of QII tasks is that if you don't schedule them in good time and attend to their needs, then they very sneakily creep over into QI.

Then all of a sudden you've got hours and hours of VAT returns to complete by tomorrow morning. Goodbye sleep!

Quadrant III

These box contains mainly distractions or low level tasks. They're urgent, and for whatever reason they've probably been allocated to you, so you have to deal with them. They feel like they must be dealt with right now, but frustratingly they are not important.

For example, when you answer an unexpected phone call you had to interrupt whatever you were doing to answer it. Yet it's only when you answer you actually find out whether it's a QI or QIII.

If it turns out that it's an unimportant phone call then guess where you are? That's right, you're in box 3 and you need to get out of there as soon as possible.

Watch out for things in this quadrant; they often come from other people.

Quadrant IV

These things are neither urgent nor important. This is wasted time or time spent doing things that don’t add value.

Watching too much TV is a great example. Sometimes people will argue that relaxing in front of the box is an important way of recharging. I get that and agree that TV can be a vital Quadrant II activity, but the very important distinction I want to emphasise is that watching too much TV is a Quadrant IV event.  

Look closely at this slide that I share on my course. In box 4 you'll see that I've put Match of the Day in there!

Game Time

But hang on! I love watching Match of the Day. Especially in the run up to the season's close.

Ten thirty on a Saturday night, the excitement of a title race, the world's top players giving their all, managers tearing their hair out, fans roaring their teams on. It's amazing.


Well, for the first few games it is. And then something odd happens half way through the programme.

The importance of the matches lessens, the quality of the games lowers, the results get worse, the entertainment disappears and suddenly I'll find that it's midnight and I'm watching a drab nil nil draw between Crystal Palace and Everton.

Now that, is a waste of everyone's time. Plus it's way past my bedtime by then. And so I have moved effortlessly, without even shifting off my sofa, from Q2 into Q4.

The same goes for stuff like Facebook; in moderation it is a great communication tool, yet if you find you're checking it 17 times a day then I'm afraid you've slipped into Box 4.

Only you can determine what 'too much' actually is but if you're being honest with yourself you'll definitely know, and that's often the difference between Q2 and Q4.


The Time Management Matrix is a great way of very quickly working out of how effective you currently are and recognising the importance of the activities you are working on.

There are other ways you can use this most simple of tools including how to organise your to do list. I share this in detail on my Mastering Time Management Training Day.

If you'd like to know more about the Matrix and learn a host of other great ways of best using your time then why not book your place. If you book before 21st May then you can grab the buy one get one free offer.

Iain helps organisations get more done, in less time and reduce stress. He delivers inspiring training courses across the UK and abroad. You can contact him here.

He writes a weekly top tips newsletter that you can sign up for on this very page, or by visiting his website.

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