Read any self-help book on time and the message comes across loud and clear – there is no such thing as time management. You can’t control time. Just as you can’t stop the waves from crashing on the shore. 


As human beings, we are all gifted 24 hours each day to do with what we choose, though we don’t often stop to reflect on that perspective. So, when it comes to time how do we manage ourselves and set boundaries to ensure we are living the type of life we want? Where do we get in our own way when it comes to getting those things that matter done? 


Time has to be in the top three topics that clients bring to focus on in a coaching session. “What do I do when everything is urgent? I don’t know where to start?” Whether they’re a senior executive, an early career manager, a doctor or an entrepreneur, in our 24/7 always-on culture it makes a regular appearance. 


When a client arrives at a coaching session in overwhelm helping them to unload their head is a good starting point. One of my “go-to” tools to help sort out the “urgent” is the Urgent Important grid. 


The technique was introduced by Stephen Covey in his bestselling book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.


I have used it with healthcare professionals, lawyers, scientists and even a TV celebrity! 


Covey explains that urgent tasks cause us to react. We stop what we are currently doing or have planned to work on the urgent task instead. 


Important tasks lead us towards our goals, they are key actions often requiring planning and organising although not required to do right now. Covey explains that every task that we have to do falls into one of the four boxes in the matrix:


Urgent Important – these tasks are urgent and important they need to be actioned right now. 


Not Urgent Important – these tasks are not urgent but important such as time for relationships, personal development, business planning, and looking after our own wellbeing. 


Not Urgent Not Important – tasks that fall into this category speak for themselves. 


Before I share the fourth box, I want to take a moment to share what happened when I introduced the Urgent Important grid to a team. Recently a headteacher and his senior leadership team asked me to facilitate a team development session around their vision and objectives. 


They had prioritised their goals (a top tip by the way) yet still, things weren’t moving forward at the pace they had hoped. Whilst discussing the question “how does this team prioritise? I introduced them to the Urgent Important matrix. “In which box does this team spend most of its time?” 


What they discovered was that although everyone had a slightly different opinion on what was a priority that most of the team was spending most of their time in the fourth box.


The Urgent – Not important to you. This box relates to all those tasks that are urgent to other people but not to you. The individuals in this team spent a lot of time doing other people’s urgent tasks.  “I have an open-door policy – my people can contact me anytime” “I like to be helpful” “It’s easier to do it myself”   


And they aren’t alone. We all like to be helpful. How often do we get distracted by interruptions – jumping in to do things that aren’t on our own priority list to help someone out? Responding to emails, attending meetings that you don’t need to be at etc. And it might be necessary sometimes although not always helpful when we are trying to get our own stuff done. 


So, if you are looking to start to manage the relationship you have with time in a different way here are a couple of ways to help. 


1. Use the Urgent Important matrix
Do a short audit of your daily tasks so you can identify where you are spending most of your time. What do you notice? Being aware of which box you are spending your time in and what has you there can be a good first step.  You can download for free here.

2. Get clear on what is important to you.
Set professional and personal goals so you know where you are heading and make sure they are SMART. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound)  


3. Prioritise the goals.
You can’t do everything all at once and it becomes much easier to prioritise tasks 


Helping clients identify patterns and get clear on what they want to change is at the heart of my job role as a coach. If you want to be spending more of your life doing things that are important to you and could do with some support, I would love to hear from you please get in touch. 


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