You’ve probably seen the classic important/urgent matrix
Some people have the axes the other way around, but however you view it you have box 1 for the urgent AND important crisis box (usually bad, but you CAN have good crises like sudden customer orders coming in), the hassle box – box 2 – which is urgent but not important (is this what we spend most of our days doing?), the planning ahead box – box 3 – (also doing anything that gets us ahead, like thinking and learning), and the “don’t do it” box 4 where it’s neither important nor urgent – though sometimes we do actually have to spend a little bit of time in this box doing things like housework which are not important, or urgent, but have to be done.
Anyway, what is the POINT of this matrix?
I think the point is to try to spend as much time as possible in Box 3 – important but not urgent – because that’s where all your happiness and success will come from. In order to do this you need to get more time, and although of course reducing boxes 1 and 4 would be a good idea, the biggest gains are going to come from box 2.
Say your current time allocation is like this:
The exact numbers aren’t important but I have found this to be the commonest. the 20% mostly comes from bosses and customers and is hard to avoid, the 60% is just all the emails and messages and interruptions that we have in our work, we can’t avoid 10% in box 4 (some of it is self inflicted like scrolling social media!) and that leaves us with only 10% of our day in the all-important box 3 to think, and to do the really productive parts of our life. Maybe 2 hours a day? Maybe one hour at work? I hope this sounds roughly right for you, as an example.
Then…. suppose you became great at time management, and you squeezed box 2 by getting better at delegating and saying no, and by setting up very efficient systems, and you could get it down to 40%. The extra 20% could be added to box 3, taking it to 30%, and with a third of your day thinking and planning you could probably reduce the amount of box 1 crisis from 20% to 10%. Then you’d have this:
I think this 10/40/40/10 is as good as you can ever get.
I think you’ll always have 10% crisis coming externally from customers (and bosses if you have one) and you’ll always have 10% in box 4 – because boring things like housework and buying food have to be done and there’s a limit to what you can delegate.
And I think the 40/40 split between the main boxes is hard to improve on, probably impossible.
Most of our days are spent on either things that are urgent but not important, or things that are important but not urgent. Many people have the ratio 60 to 10, or 70 to 30, but if you can get it to 50/50 you’ve done really well. You are now spending four times as much in box 3 as you were before, four times as much as most people do. You’ll achieve four times as much as the average person.
But I don’t think you’ll ever get box 3, the important box, to be greater than 40%.
And this is because I don’t think you’ll ever get the urgent box 2 to be less than 40% – because all the stuff in there comes from other people, and unless you’re living on a desert island you can’t avoid dealing with other people.
So there’s an upper limit of 40% on box 3, and a lower limit of 40% on box 2. The 40% limits.
a) aim for getting box 2 down to 40%
b) aim to get box 3 up to 40%
c) don’t beat yourself up if you can’t get beyond that point – you’re still four times as effective as most other people!