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February 09, 2022

Everything you need to know about Covey time management matrix

Project Management
BigPicture Team

Stephen Covey is best known as a motivational speaker and the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, considered in some circles as a cult classic. Covey passed away in 2012, yet his legacy still lives within the management world and with the Covey time management matrix – a popular tool to organize and filter your tasks.

What is the Covey time management matrix?

In this case, the definition is the best example of popular in the movie world saying – show, don’t tell. The Covey time management matrix consists of four quadrants that look like this:


The four quadrants of the Covey time management matrix

  • Urgent and important – first thing to do every day, week or month.
  • Not urgent, but important – can wait, but must be done, especially tricky, as procrastination can turn this quadrant into a nightmare.
  • Urgent, but not important – usually work we don’t want to do, but it’s a natural element of life. Do it and move on with your life, or consequences will haunt you later.
  • Neither urgent nor important – always considered as a waste of time, these tasks are usually menial tasks that serve no purpose. Dismiss if possible.

Why is the Covey time management matrix important?

Like with every time management tool, Covey time management matrix helps you manage your time efficiently and effectively, as well as better recognize the importance of your tasks . It’s a learning process, so the first few times may be harsh, but the more often you use the time management matrix, the better you address upcoming issues and value its priority.

How does our brain behave?

Two scientists, Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick, described 16 of our mind habits, that include:

  • Persisting – not giving up until the task is completed.
  • Thinking and communicating with clarity and precision – a foundation of every Agile initiative.
  • Managing impulsivity – hold your impulses, think before you act.
  • Gathering data through all senses – listen, smell, taste, experience the reality around you.
  • Listening with understanding and empathy – don’t nod your head and ignore people, concentrate on their message.
  • Creating, imagining, innovating – foster your inner child and they will award you with an open mind.
  • Thinking flexibly – flexibility of mind is essential for working with social diversity, enabling an individual to recognize the wholeness and distinctness of other people’s ways of experiencing and making meaning.
  • Responding with wonderment and awe – enjoy your life and work, show passion to it. It’s a sign of the ability to learn your whole life.

  • Thinking about thinking (metacognition) – metacognition is our ability to know what we know and what we don’t know. It is our ability to plan a strategy for producing what information is needed, to be conscious of our own steps and strategies during the act of problem-solving, and to reflect on and evaluate the productiveness of our own thinking.
  • Taking responsible risks – calculate and measure, then take educated risks.
  • Striving for accuracy – perfect your craft, keep reviewing your product, your attitude and your approach.
  • Finding humor – it’s always a good sign to find a bit of light in the darkest of times. A good joke can get us through the day and point us in the right direction with a slight mock of our ideas or flaws.
  • Questioning and posing problems – yes-man attitude will not get you far. Ask questions, point out the flaws, talk about them.
  • Thinking interdependently – think with others, try to tune in with the rest of your group to open on a completely different point of view.
  • Applying past knowledge to new situations – those, who don’t learn from history, are doomed to repeat it. Drawing conclusions from your past mistakes and victories can bring fruits to your future.
  • Remaining open to continuous learning – thinking you know best is the worst trap. Each day can serve as an opportunity to learn new things or ideas. Just keep your mind open enough to not fear it, but embrace it.

There are many ways our brain can deceive us

How does our brain deceive us?

Our most powerful ally and, also, our potential biggest foe. Human brain has a great ability to lead us astray. Like confirmation bias – a way we look to confirm our beliefs instead of challenging them. We automatically look for the facts and information that confirm our worldview, interpret them in our favor and dismiss those that can distort our beliefs.

Another popular bias is a fundamental attribution error. Have you ever looked at a person that was late and thought “what an unreliable loser”, instead of asking them about traffic or potential problems with transportation? That’s a fundamental attribution error – we tend to focus on internal traits of people, instead of external factors that are often beyond anyone’s control.

Or the availability heuristic – a tendency to use information that comes to mind quickly and easily when making decisions about the future. This bias can lead to bad decision-making. Memories that are on-surface are usually bad advisors for future outcomes, and leave us with low-quality information to form the basis of their decision, warns The Decision Lab.

Finally (at least for this article), there are false memories. Brain isn’t a camera, it’s more of a notebook or a diary – it filters our recollections through our feelings, mood and other factors. Meaning, that we remember more of an impression than a one-to-one recall of a specific event.

The 7 Time management habit matrix

Speaking of Covey’s time management matrix, we can’t just omit the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:

  • Be Proactive – don’t react to your environment, bring fresh ideas to the table, innovate and push things forward.
  • Begin with the End in Mind – always think about the endgame. Every decision should bring you closer to it.
  • Put First Things First – learn how to prioritize your daily, weekly, and monthly tasks. The time management matrix is a great tool to do that.
  • Think Win-Win – find solutions and compromises that satisfy both parties.
  • Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood – be empathetic, learn how to listen to other people, then present your ideas in a clear and easy way.
  • Synergize – search and use your team members strengths together to create surplus business value.
  • Sharpen the Saw – take care of your body, find time for mind relaxation, learn new things.

Benefits of using the covey time management matrix

Covey Time Management

How to use the covey time management matrix?

According to Indeed, there are six steps to effectively use the time management matrix:

  1. List the tasks you need to complete – it’s a full list of tasks for a specific period.
  2. Include deadlines – point out the time they must be completed.
  3. Identify the most urgent tasks – do it with interested parties, like stakeholders and teams.
  4. Organize by importance – the trickiest one, you must prioritize specific tasks for the Covey time management matrix, which can be different for bigger groups.
  5. Place tasks in the correct quadrant – Covey time management matrix works, when you use it properly.
  6. Assess your productivity – after some time with the Covey time management matrix, review the productivity of you and your team.

Covey's time management best practices

Time management matrix

The Eisenhower Decision Matrix

Covey’s time management matrix best practices

  • Stick to the matrix philosophy – don’t postpone the do now tasks.
  • Delegate least important, but urgent tasks.
  • Assess the matrix’s influence on your workflow each week.
  • Drop the dead-weight job…
  • …but don’t skip the thankless work that needs to be done.
  • Turn it into a habit – it’s not an ad hoc solution, the Covey time management matrix works best when you use it on a daily basis.

Now you can try Covey’s time management matrix for yourself. That is, of course, if it meets your needs. The matrix is indeed a very simple tool – and also very insufficient. The more complex your product portfolio is, the more powerful tools you need to efficiently manage it. Fortunately, BigPicture is here to help you to plan, track, and optimize work at all levels, in any agile, predictive, or hybrid framework.