You’ve heard about time management since you were young. You had to learn how to balance school, homework, playtime, and extracurricular activities. Then as you grew older, you had to start learning how to balance work with studies and relationships. As you continued on in your career, it was about balancing all of the tasks at work with all of the tasks at home.
Time management is directly linked to your work-life balance, and thus it’s directly linked to your stress, health, happiness, and productivity. How you manage your time proportionally influences how you manage your life.
This means time management is more than just managing the hours on the clock.
There are 24 hours in a day. You can’t change that.
So how do you manage time if you have no control over it?
You don’t. Time management is a myth.
It’s all about decision management.
Do you ever wonder why it feels like some people have more time than others? Why do some people achieve so much more than their peers?
They too only have 24 hours, but they know how to make better decisions on how to use that time. These individuals don’t manage their hours—they manage themselves.
They manage their time management tree.
The Eisenhower Decision Matrix
The Eisenhower Decision Matrix was popularized with Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” This tool helps you become more effective in how you use your time—by teaching you how to make time-related decisions. It four quadrants that describe different sorts of activities based on importance and urgency.
We like to break up these four quadrants into the four elements: fire, water, earth, and wind.
The first quadrant is important and urgent. We call these the “fire” tasks. They need to be attended to right away, like a fire that needs to be put out. These include deadlines, problem-solving, and managing crises. Although these are important, they tend to be reactive. In this way, they don’t push your life forward; they keep you steady so you don’t burn down.
The second quadrant is important but not urgent. These are the “water” tasks. You need them in order to survive and grow further. These activities include strategy, planning, leading and coaching others, training yourself, and setting goals. Water tasks are directly related to your personal vision, mission, and goals. Don’t forget to water both your work and home life!
The third quadrant is not important but urgent. These “earth” tasks ground you, but they take away from growth upwards. These tend to include meetings, phone calls, and other distractions. They help to maintain relationships and meet the needs of important activities, but these tasks themselves are not going to help you grow. These tasks should be delegated if possible.
The fourth quadrant includes non-important and non-urgent tasks. These are the “wind” or “air” tasks. They blow you around and change your focus away from what’s at hand. These tend to be the easiest to accomplish, but they’re also time wasters and busywork. You want to avoid wind tasks as much as possible, as they gobble up your time without adding anything productive to your work-life balance. These tasks should be removed entirely from your schedule.
Think of yourself as a tree.
You need to put out the fire tasks immediately, or your trunk and branches will be destroyed. If you neglect these tasks, your entire foundation is ruined—and nothing else can get done. Accomplish these first so you can then tend to your tree without any looming sparks.
The water tasks nurture you and give you energy. It’s this water that helps you grow up towards the sky, making your tree big and tall.
The earth tasks keep you grounded and nourished, but they hold you down rather than push you up towards the sky.
The wind blows your branches, causing important leaves to fall off. These leaves can equal relationships, health, happiness, fun, financial security, and more. The wind comes by and slowly starts to shake these off your branches one by one.
Making wise time management decisions helps to cultivate your tree. Your relationship leaves will be large and green. Your professional branches will be sturdy and strong. Your work-life balance trunk will continue growing upward and outward. If you make the wrong decisions, however, the leaves fall and your branches start to wither.
Making Time Decisions
Take a look at your work-life balance tree. What does your tree look like? Is it charred from constantly reacting to fires? Does it have a strong root system (earth tasks), but it doesn’t have a tall trunk with strong branches (water tasks)? Is it bare without relationship leaves because you’ve permitted windy distractions?
Or is it tall and strong with plenty of room for growth?
Are you watering your time management tree? Are you making decisions that are going to help you grow personally and professionally?
The Bottom Line
Time management is a choice. Which element do you choose to put into your tree? The decisions you make about what goes in directly influences what comes out. How you choose to spend your time and energy will impact what you get done during the day, how stressed you are, how productive you are, and ultimately how successful you are.