This is so simple, so obvious, it probably doesn’t need to be stated. Except that I first heard it a couple decades ago and have used it every day since. So maybe a brief mention:
The Productivity Matrix is a simple tool that helps you make sure you’re doing the right work at the right time.
Stephen Covey had a matrix like this in his iconic book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. That may be where I first saw it, though his is organized a little differently than the one here. But the point is the same: Everything you do fits somewhere within this matrix.
Items in Quadrant 1 are tasks that are not urgent and not important. It’s amazing how many of these come in each day by e-mail – and how easy it is become indentured to them. Working in Q1 is “Productive Procrastination.” You can tell yourself you’re getting something accomplished, but it’s never anything that matters.
Items in Quadrant 2 are urgent and not important. These are often other people’s emergencies – their failures to do the right thing at the right time. Regardless of origin, Q2 work is toxic – stressful yet pointless.
Items in Quadrant 3 are both urgent and important. Some Q3 work is an integral part of daily business – seating lunchtime customers at a restaurant, or doing the end-of-the-month billing. You can’t get ahead on this stuff.
But some Q3 activity exists because it simply didn’t get done sooner – like planning holiday sales promotions in mid-October. The work would have been more fruitful if it had been done in August. This kind of Q3 work can be tough on profits; it often results in extra expenses like expedited shipping and paid overtime. When big businesses undertake “process optimization” what they are really doing is figuring out how to reduce the number of tasks that end up in Q3.
Items in Quadrant 4 are the source of all things good in business and life. These not urgent but important activities are things that matter – things to be pondered, polished and perfected. It is in Quadrant 4 that businesses are transformed, partnerships are sealed, successes are made, happiness is achieved.
It’s easy to get so wrapped up in stuff from the other quadrants that you can go days or weeks without ever touching Q4 work. But if you can schedule time every day – even a little – to work in Quadrant 4 activities, you’ll find yourself spending more time on the things that matter and bring you joy. And as time passes, you’ll find that more of what you do works out well.