Time Management Skills: How To Organize Your Life

How many to-do lists have you started, only to see them grow infinitely long and end up in the dust-bin? Projects to build, assignments to finish, letters to write, friends to call, bills to pay, diapers to buy, and before you know it, you don’t know if you’ll ever finish anything! When your to-do list has more chores than the Library of Congress has books, even thinking about organizing it is enough to make you faint.

Consider that thought: how would you organize the Library of Congress? Home to over twenty-two million books and older than the Dewey Decimal System, the task would be terrifying. Organize by author? By topic? By age? By color or size? Whatever path you chose—and according to math there are literally trillions of possibilities—would take a lifetime to sort out.

Your to-do list doesn’t have a lifetime. You need to know where to look now. Fortunately, there’s a way out. There’s a way to see exactly what you need to do today, tomorrow, and what needs to wait. To find out, you must enter The Matrix.

Fortunately, you don’t have to battle evil agents once you enter. Instead, you just have to learn from Stephen Covey, the late author of world-wide bestseller Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. In addition to many other insights, Covey pushed one important theory that can organize your life quicker than a Librarian of Congress can find Covey’s book: important and urgent are not the same, and recognizing the difference will change your life.

Important vs. Urgent

What’s important? Calling your best friend from college, paying your rent, and getting your flu shot are all important! But while you can pay your rent this week, get your flu shot next month, and call your friend next summer, you can’t call your friend this week, get your flu shot next month, and pay your rent next summer. Well, you can try, but your landlord probably won’t approve.

To organize these tasks–and others–you need to focus on urgency as well as importance. Rent is urgent, rekindling friendships is perhaps more important but certainly less urgent. Recognizing that urgent and important are not the same will enable a substantial reorganization of your life.

To illustrate, it’s not really very important in the scheme of things whether you can win the World Cup in Fifa 14 playing as New Zealand. In fact, it’s not important at all. But when you’ve played through the group stages, won the semifinals, and are facing down Brazil for all of the glory–I can assure you that the urgency is off the charts.

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The UrgPortance Matrix

Enter the Matrix. The UrgPortance Matrix. Popularized by Stephen Covey, it makes sense of your life, and helps you understand why you might waste time on Twitter while neglecting that email from your boss. What you need is clarity about where in The Matrix your tasks belong: are they top-tier Box 1 activities or Box IV bottom-feeders?

Urgent

Not Urgent

Important

I

II

Not Important

III

IV

Box I: Top Tier Activities

The Top Tier is where you need to be right now. If your wife is having a baby, for example, or your rent check is due tomorrow you might want to consider putting those happenings in Box I.

Box II: Getting where you want to be

Box II is reserved for getting where you want to be in life. Put things in this box that you know will put you on the path to awesomness. This means things that fall under long-term planning, skill development, family therapy, strengthening relationships with friends: things that will get you where you want to be in the long run.

Clearly your relationship with your friends is valuable and important, but probably not as important as being there for your wife while she’s having a baby. That’s why it’s in Box II.

Box III: Your general social life

These days much of our social lives happen on the internet, and we love staying in touch! Things like checking your Facebook or sending a hate tweet to Cheetos for ruining a great experience seem really really important in the advent of the internet and social media. Think about it though, if you were really missing out on something important someone would call you and tell you so! In the meantime, your mundane social life and social media checking belong in Box III because we know that they feel important, but in the grand scheme of your life they’re probably not.

Box IV: Relaxation Time

Box IV is reserved for the sheer joy of relaxation. Take this time to watch TV, or take your dog on a long aimless walk. Activities that belong in Box IV are not urgent or terribly important in comparison with everything else you have to do.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t make any room at all in your schedule for Box IV activities, however. Relaxation is important for revamping so that you can compete the more important tasks in your life. Your having energy matters, so make time for it when you don’t have more urgent or pressing issues to deal with.

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