As a freelancer, time management is even more important than usual. Your day often consists of juggling your personal and professional responsibilities in a disorganised mess – with the occasional emergency thrown in for good measure.
However, you likely perform all of these tasks in an order that seems natural to you, rather than actively classifying them.
This is where the Time Management Matrix comes in. These 4 so-called quadrants offer a simple way to break down your day-to-day activities, and help optimize your efficiency and productivity.
The Time Management Matrix – 4 Quadrants
Interestingly, it was President Dwight Eisenhower who originally came up with the concept of the matrix (or 4 Quadrants). He famously divided up his tasks so he could focus on only urgent or important tasks that arrived in his office – with important ones taking priority.
As a freelancer, you can easily become overwhelmed with tasks that seem crucial to your day, but that don’t actually help achieve your goals. This basic framework can help you alleviate this and see things in a different light.
The 4 different quadrants are as follows:
Urgent and Important – Top Left
Examples: Crises, emergencies, urgent deadlines, last-minute prep
Result: Do These First
Tasks in this quadrant are those that require imminent attention. It could be a task that needs to be completed immediately to achieve a goal of yours (or avoid some form of failure), or simply an unexpected emergency occurrence. Tasks in this quadrant are often also highly stressful, so it’s important to give them the time and attention they need to get them off your plate ASAP.
Important but Not Urgent – Top Right
Examples: Health, personal growth, building relationships, future planning
Result: Schedule For A Better Time
These tasks are important and directly linked with achieving your goals, but aren’t urgent or have a tight deadline. Spending a lot of time in this quadrant is associated with success and fulfilment. Think along the lines of learning new skills, exercising, or networking with people with a similar mindset.
Unfortunately, most people usually don’t have enough tasks in this quadrant in the first place. Try to build more tasks here, while minimizing those in the other quadrants.
Not Important but Urgent – Bottom Left
Examples: Interruptions, replying to some emails or calls, unnecessary meetings
Result: Delegate If Possible
Tasks here are quite urgent, but not important to you achieving the goals you’ve set out. In fact, this quadrant is often more about helping others achieve their own goals.
It can be easy to fall into the trap of spending too much time in this quadrant. Since tasks have a sense of urgency to them, they seem important, but they’re not actually helping you progress in reaching your larger goals.
Not Important and Not Urgent – Bottom Right
Examples: Checking your social media, some calls/emails, gossip
Result: Eliminate Them
Nothing in this quadrant is helping you achieve your goals, nor are these tasks particularly urgent. The majority of items that end up here are purely distractions and should be removed from your schedule, or at least severely limited.
How To Benefit From The 4 Quadrants
A good way to analyze how your days fit into the matrix is by spending a week tracking which tasks you’ve done and how much time you spent on them. Note down into which quadrant each task belongs, and by the end of the week you’ll have a good idea of where your priorities lie.
It’s likely you’re not spending as much time in Quadrant 2 as you’d think.
If this is the case, take a look at the other quadrants, and think about how you can reduce your tasks in them. Personally, this is how I do it:
- Quadrant 1 – Plan more, and try to get ahead of deadlines before they truly become urgent. If you’re noticing that a particular client or co-freelancer is the source of a lot of quadrant 1 tasks, consider how you can solve this – or potentially cut ties if it’s impossible.
- Quadrant 3 – Delegation is the name of the game here, which isn’t as easy for a freelancer as it is in an office. Replying to unimportant emails is a major annoyance of mine, but I try to push through it fast by letting them build up for as long as I can before getting through replies all at once.
- Quadrant 4 – Having a lot of activity in this quadrant might speak to a larger issue. Knowingly spending most of your time on time-wasters and other distractions might come down to stress, or simply not having a more interesting quadrant 2-style alternative. Try your best to cut down on or eliminate tasks here – generally through sheer discipline.
4 Quadrants of Time Management Template
If you’d like your own blank template of the 4 Quadrants of Time Management, just click the button below.
As I mentioned above, it’s worth tracking a few days of your activity and seeing how your tasks fit into the matrix. You might be surprised to find how you can rearrange things!
The Time Management Matrix isn’t a hard and fast way to become super productive. However, the system helps you to take a good look at how you spend your time, and whether your day-to-day activities are set up in the best way for you to both find fulfilment and achieve your goals.