The Time Management Matrix that Saved Me from 16-Hour Work Days

When I was just starting out as an art reporter, I was overwhelmed with the freedom and the responsibility of a flexible schedule. It was wonderful because I didn’t have to clock in and clock out, but if I worked longer than 8 hours a day, I wouldn’t be paid for overtime. The result was having work days that lasted 16-hours or more. Yes, you read that right, or more!

I wrote a lot of articles, more than what was necessary, many of which were not published because of the newspaper’s space constraints. I was able to go completely overboard with my work only because I wasn’t sleeping anymore, I didn’t have time for my friends and family, and I stopped myself from pursuing my other passions outside work. I was so miserable; I wanted to resign.

I realized that this way of working wasn’t sustainable, but I couldn’t imagine how I’d be able to change my situation. I spent around two years doing that, and I am surprised that my health did not collapse. Finally, I figured things out, and I started changing my ways. Many things helped me rehabilitate my life, and one of these things was reading 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey.

In the book, Mr. Covey talks about the Time Management Matrix. The way we spend our time can be divided into four quadrants. Quadrant I: important and urgent activities such as deadlines and crises. Quadrant II: important but not urgent, which are activities that will have long-term effects that will have a lasting impact on our growth but have no specific deadline. Quadrant III: not important but urgent such as e-mails, interruptions, calls, etc. Quadrant IV: not important and not urgent, which are time-waster tasks that make us busy but does nothing for our career or our growth.

I realized that many of the things that packed my day could be categorized under Quadrant III or IV like answering or erasing e-mails and other little tasks, while it had been months since I last read a book. According to Mr. Covey, doing unimportant but urgent work makes us feel accomplished. It’s instant gratification–answer the e-mail and you’re done! But the positive effects of doing important but not urgent things like reading does not have an immediate impact so we underestimate the value of doing it, but in reality, not doing these things will hugely depreciate our skills and strengths.

Reading a book is not an urgent task, but I knew that by scrimping on reading, I’d be paying a bigger price in the long run. A writer who does not read will soon deteriorate, and I did not want that to happen to me. So I started evaluating all the things I did for the day, and began prioritizing reading over  the other tasks. This took a long process, and I have so many strategies now in place. I promise to write about all of the things I’ve done, so stay tuned for my future posts! In the meantime, start by re-evaluating your to do lists. Is it packed with unimportant but urgent tasks? Are you prioritizing the truly important? Answering these questions changed my life, and I hope it will also change yours.

More Habits and Routines:

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Note: For some entries in this blog, a few names and details have been deliberately and willingly changed by the author. This is a personal decision made by the author for specific reasons known to her and is not an endorsement for censorship.

All the opinions expressed in this page and in this blog are my own and do not represent the official stances of the companies, institutions, and organizations that I am affiliated with. I am a person. I’m not just a manifestation of corporate interests. I have an identity that is separate from my company because even if human beings are paid for a service by corporations, human beings are not owned by corporations. 

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