Quadrant 1: Important and Urgent – DO IT
Activities that simply must be done by you, with pressing deadlines and consequences if left done.
Quadrant 2: Important and Not Urgent – SCHEDULE IT
Activities that will help you accomplish what you want but that can be done from a place of calm.
Quadrant 3: Not Important and Urgent – DELEGATE IT
Activities that need to be done but not necessarily by you. Best to outsource to someone with a more appropriate skillset.
Quadrant 4 Not Important and Not Urgent – DELETE IT
These are activities that somehow crept onto your to do list but aren’t yours to do. Also includes activities that simply serve to distract you from more important work.
When and How to Use:
This has the twin benefit of allowing you to prioritise your work today but also look back over time to see in which quadrant the bulk of your activities lie. The idea is that the more you can be in Quadrant 2 (Important and Not Urgent) the more quality work you’ll get done at less cost to you.
The only issue is that it can be hard to track over time. I always suggest that you make a copy for each day or week (whatever works for you) and simply add your tasks into each quadrant.
One thing I have found is that at times it may be beneficial to explore what you understand by “Urgent” and “Important”. Urgent for whom? Important for whom? Important in what way? The clearer the bigger picture and how a particular task or activity fits into that picture the more you might get out of the tool.
Download a copy of the template here!
#4 Time Blocking
Time Blocking (also called time chunking) essentially involves scheduling periods of time for yourself (say 15 to 90 minutes) to work on your top priorities. In this way, instead of diving straight into your inbox and being led by other people’s priorities, you set aside time in the same way you would for meetings.
Rather than a 2D to-do list with a series of tasks but no obvious sense of when and where they will get done, Time Blocking requires you to answer the time question: When will this get done? The planning required (typically the day before) offers a reflective space that allows devotees to prioritise and strategise – what do I want to get done, how long will it take and when is the best time to do it? This creates a certain realism about what is achievable in any one day.
Combined with putting your phone on plane mode and placing a Do Not Disturb sign on the office door, you can create space to work on high-priority, high-value tasks. This offers a sense of control as you get to work on what you feel will make the greatest difference without being concerned about interruptions.
As Cal Newport, author of Deep Work, noted:
“A 40-hour time-blocked work week, I estimate, produces the same amount of output as a 60+ hour work week pursued without structure.”
The Pomodoro Technique works in a similar way but has traditionally used 25-minute intervals followed by a 5-minute break. It is also different in that it doesn’t place as much emphasis on planning ahead. 25 minutes is too short for much of what I work on. These days I also like to plan ahead so I can be realistic about what I will accomplish on a given day but it may be helpful for some. Learn more on Wikipedia.
When and How to Use:
I don’t apply this method all the time but there are days each week when I need to get into a place of deep reflection and time blocking is very helpful. On those days, I typically schedule 90-minute chunks as this allows me to achieve a state of flow where quality and creative work awaits. It also avoids the mental switching costs associated with interruptions and multitasking. I find being pulled out of a creative task almost painful so really value this approach.
Ultimately, however, like Benjamin Franklin, you could apply it to your whole working week and indeed beyond. One of the earliest recorded users, Mr. Franklin even used it to block out time for chores and sleep. Similarly, if you struggle to fit in ‘me time’ in the form of exercise, lunch or just plain lounging around, blocking the time in your diary can give you the necessary permission – “It is in the diary so I had better do it”.
When using this approach it is important that you:
- Have a really strong grasp on what you want to accomplish;
- Know what your priorities are;
- Know the right amount of time for each activity; and
- Plan ahead (at least the day before).
You also, equally, need to be able to keep the world at bay to some extent although you can get around this by scheduling interruption time. During this time, colleagues can pop into your office to ask questions, you can return calls and catch up on email. A nice trick for this, if you have a standing desk, is to work standing during this time.