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Time Matrix

As the demands of work and home life continue to escalate, people are feeling more overextended, overwhelmed, and overstressed than ever before. However, at the same time, people want to be more meaningfully productive and live personally fulfilling lives. In The 5 Choices, Kory Kogon, Adam Merrill, and Leena Rinne explain how extraordinary productivity and personal fulfillment is attainable for everyone–it just requires making the right choices when it comes to managing decisions, attention, and energy. The authors present a matrixed and logical process for choosing, on an ongoing basis, how and where to best spend one’s time and attention in order to create a productive and fulfilled life.


In today’s technology-driven world, there are more opportunities and more obstacles for extraordinary achievement, both personally and professionally. People are increasingly caught in a productivity paradox, in which they find themselves struggling to manage the onslaught of demands for their time and attention. At the heart of the productivity paradox are three critical challenges:

  1. How to effectively manage an ever-increasing number of decisions.

  2. Where to focus attention for the best return on investment.

  3. How to generate an ongoing supply of mental and physical energy.

The irony is that in the midst of numerous opportunities to achieve and succeed, people spend almost half their time and energy on things that are either unimportant or irrelevant to achieving their goals. While people are very busy, they are not very productive. This is costly both financially and emotionally.

The good news is that by making the right choices about where and how to spend their time, attention, and energy, people can shift the equation toward a much higher ratio of valuable productivity, creating lives in which they make their best contributions both at work and at home. This kind of extraordinary productivity is achievable by anyone–it just comes down to five choices.


People make decisions all the time. Many of them are unconscious, or almost automatic. However, those decisions impact their lives in a variety of ways. Even a decision as simple as what time to get up in the morning has an impact.

Decision making takes place in one of two areas of the brain. The Reactive Brain drives the automatic decisions, such as driving a car or avoiding danger. The Thinking Brain drives the more conscious decisions, like many of the decisions people make in their jobs and their personal lives every day.

One of the keys to better decision making in terms of creating a more productive and fulfilled life is to bring intentionality to the process by moving from reactive to thoughtful thinking regarding how to spend time, attention, and energy.


The Time Matrix is a very useful tool for bringing intentionality to decision making. The Time Matrix divides all activities into four quadrants that are based on an assessment of their urgency and importance:

1. Q1: Activities that are both urgent and important. This is the quadrant for true emergencies, such as a trip to the hospital.

2. Q2: Activities that are important but not urgent. This is the quadrant where activities that lead to extraordinary productivity lie, such as working on a high-priority project or spending time with family.

3. Q3: Activities that are not important but they feel urgent. This is the quadrant where people get distracted and often spend time responding to unnecessary “fire drills” or others’ demands, such as running an errand for a manager or joining unimportant meetings just for the sake of being there.

4. Q4: Activities that are neither urgent nor important, but they are attractive because they are entertaining. This is the quadrant of excessive relaxation–such as binge-watching TV or gossiping. Q4 activities are generally time wasters, but they can be used (in moderation) as a way to replenish energy.

The objective in using the Time Matrix is to thoughtfully and deliberately address and assign every decision and activity to its appropriate quadrant. Time Matrices are living documents, and they will change and evolve as activities are added and eliminated.

Ultimately, the goal is for people to primarily act on the most important activities (Q2) on a regular basis. Any progress in this direction is good progress and will resort in greater productivity and satisfaction. By defining to which quadrant activities belong, time, attention, and energy that might be spent on Q3 and Q4 activities can be freed up and applied to Q1 and Q2. In fact, spending more time in Q2 can reduce the amount of time that is spent in addressing many Q1 emergencies.

Essential Skills for Getting into Q2

Common traps that cause people to slip into Q1 and Q3 behaviors include:

*The notion that better work gets done under pressure.


*The tendency to overly accommodate the needs of others.

*The fear of saying “no.”

The Pause-Clarify-Decide (PCD) process is a deliberative method for ensuring that efforts are spent on the right activities and that the majority of activities fall into Q2. When considering any specific activity, people must stop and ask themselves one key question: “Is it important?” If not, it is not a Q2 activity. The more effort that can be rerouted and applied to Q2 activities, the greater the chances are of extraordinary productivity.

Being truly productive (not just being busy) is a choice. How and where to spend time and energy is in large part a personal decision based on accurately assessing what is most important and what will yield the greatest returns.

People can create their own Q2 cultures by:

*Personally practicing the principles of the Time Matrix.

*Sharing the principles with others.

*Verbally identifying activities in terms of which quadrant they belong to.

*Collaborating with others to use the PCD method to determine where to spend the most time and effort.

Following these practices will create a more productive environment, moving from the ordinary (busy work) to the extraordinary (work that truly makes a contribution).


Living an extraordinary life means giving the most effort and attention to those activities that create the most value. It means spending time every day in such a way that brings feelings of satisfaction and accomplishment. There is also a relationship component to living an extraordinary life. Just as individuals perform many activities each day, they also play many roles in their lives. These roles influence one another. However, an imbalance or a disconnect between the most important roles and where efforts are actually spent can develop over time.

The Life Wheel

Similar to identifying the most important activities through the Time Matrix, by creating a Life Wheel, individuals can map out their various roles and make conscious decisions regarding the most important ones. By evaluating their performances in each role (i.e., underperforming, ordinary, or extraordinary) and plotting the roles and their connections to each other on the Life Wheel, it soon becomes apparent where attention is lacking. This honest appraisal is the first step in making adjustments in how and where time and attention are spent.

Next, by crafting Q2 Role Statements for each valued role that spell out very clearly what success in that role looks like and committing to specific actions within specific time frames, individuals can both create more balance between roles and improve in the roles that are most important to them.


A plan, a schedule, and a process for execution are what turn wishful thinking into life-changing action. Once decisions have been made about where to devote time and energy, individuals must take deliberate steps to put those decisions into motion. Planning and scheduling are key and should be done on both a daily and a weekly basis.

Activities can be viewed in terms of gravel and BigRocks. The gravel are all the little daily chores and activities that are inevitable, including email, laundry, shopping, checking phone messages, etc. The Big Rocks are the important Q2 activities that are essential to achieving extraordinary productivity. Thinking in terms of a bucket, the gravel should fall into spaces around the Big Rocks, and all the Big Rocks should make it into the bucket. If there is extra gravel left over, it has to be let go. Big Rocks should never be left outside of the bucket to make room for gravel.

The Master Task List

The Master Task List is an essential planning tool that ensures Big Rocks get scheduled first. It is one list, not a lot of smaller note cards scattered about. Creating the Master Task List allows people to get tasks out of their minds and onto paper, where they can be integrated into a Time Zone calendar.

The first step in using the Master Task List is to identify which quadrant activities belong to as they come along. The activity-sorting mechanism is simple. With the Time Matrix in mind, as tasks arise they either go on the list that contains Q1 and Q2 items or “on the floor.” The floor should only contain Q3 and Q4 items. This list will be ever-evolving as activities will come and go.

Once Q1 and Q2 activities are identified, they can be scheduled into Q2 Time Zones, or blocks of time within an individual’s weekly calendar that are specifically devoted to Q1 and Q2 activities. This scheduling ensures Big Rocks get completed. The gravel activities will then fall into place around the Big Rocks in the weekly calendar.

Daily and Weekly Q2 Planning

Ten minutes a day and 30 minutes a week of planning is all that is required to significantly improve productivity and a sense of accomplishment. With the Time Matrix and Master Task List in mind, individuals should find a quiet place without distractions, then:

On a daily basis:

*Close out the day. Review the day’s plan to make sure Big Rocks were accomplished; reschedule if necessary.

*Identify the “must-dos.” Plan for the things that absolutely must get done the following day and schedule accordingly.

*Organize the rest. Make adjustments to the next day’s schedule based on new information and must-dos.

On a weekly basis:

*Review roles and goals. Make a conscious connection with Q2 roles and goals, envisioning the future. Keep this vision top of mind.

*Schedule the Big Rocks. Sort the week’s activities, placing Q1 and Q2 activities on the calendar.

*Organize the rest. Schedule the gravel into the calendar.


While technology offers great benefits in terms of facilitating communication, connecting people, streamlining processes, and opening opportunities, it can also be extremely distracting, a source of constant interruption, and a real productivity drain. To make the most of technology, individuals must have control over it, not the other way around.

Turning technology into a powerful tool in support of extraordinary productivity begins with honestly assessing one’s own relationship with technology (i.e., “addiction” or “enablement”), then taking steps to make sure technology usage supports a Q2 mindset.

The Core 4 and the Rule of One

Technology plays an important role in driving extraordinary productivity through its ability to help manage the Core 4 information individuals must address in Q2 planning. The Core 4 include:

  1. Appointments

  2. Tasks

  3. Contacts

  4. Notes or documents

No matter how an individual chooses to manage the Core 4–digitally, on paper, or a combination of the two–there can be only one location for each. This is the Rule of One. For example, contacts and appointments on a cell phone must sync with contacts and appointments on every other device. There are myriad digital applications that can automate sorting, syncing, and storage of the Core 4.

To support productivity and avoid overload, as information comes in it should be either acted upon (i.e., scheduled as a calendar appointment or task), filed for the future (i.e., contacts or project documents), or discarded (i.e., junk mail).

Three Master Moves

The email inbox is often the primary source of incoming information, and it can be a major stumbling block to productivity. There are three master moves that can significantly reduce the email burden and drive better organization. These master moves also apply to information that comes from other sources.

1. Win without fighting: Automate email management by using filters and rules, designate specific times to check email instead of responding to messages as they come in, and create folders for emails that need to be stored.

2. Turn it into what it is: Assign every email to a Core 4 category and deal with it accordingly; discard everything else.

3. Link to locate: Make electronic connections between information (for example, embed background documents in a calendar appointment) so information is readily available.


Time management programs and processes abound. While they can be helpful in making the best use of the time available, time is finite. Often what is more needed than time management tips is the energy to accomplish what needs to be done in the amount of time available.

Many people today are experiencing personal energy crises, whether they have too much work, too little time, poor diets, sedentary life styles, or too much stress. Exhaustion syndrome affects the body and the brain, compromising both physical health and decision-making abilities.

The good news is that developing a Q2 mentality fuels both the body and brain with energy that can be applied to the important things, is used and replenished continually, and leads to extraordinary productivity.

The Five Energy Drivers

Mental energy has two sources: a deep sense of purpose and a healthy physical state. These two work in combination to achieve extraordinary results. However, possessing one alone is not enough. Achieving this type of balanced energy comes from the following five drivers:

1. Movement: Sitting at a desk all day zaps energy. It is not enough to simply add one period of exercise to a daily routine; the body needs movement throughout the day to function well.

2. Eating: The quality of the food people eat is like the gas that goes into a car’s gas tank. Healthy, high-quality, nutritious foods consumed throughout the day fuel the body and the brain.

3. Sleep: Many people skimp on sleep to try to add more time to their days. However, this time is wasted because a lack of quality sleep compromises performance. Both the body and the brain are doing important work during sleep. Individuals need an average of seven to eight hours of good sleep at the same time every night.

4. Relaxation: Managing stress, even in difficult circumstances, is critical to staying energized. Meditation, deep breathing, and other relaxation techniques, especially those that can be called on at a moment’s notice, go a long way toward conserving energy that would otherwise be drained due to stress.

5. Connect: Humans are communal animals–they need social connections to thrive. Relationship building is good for the soul, body, and brain.


The changes that turn people’s lives from ordinary to extraordinary do not have to be extraordinary themselves–even the smallest changes can make a big difference. The first step is paying attention and being conscious in the moment. From that consciousness comes the ability to make the right choices and implement changes.

An extraordinary life is one lived in the moment with a sense of purpose, accomplishment, and fulfillment. Simply making these five choices can make all the difference.


All people are potential leaders who are capable of influencing others. True leadership is bestowed through action, not titles. Leaders who carry both titles and the desire to improve the lives of others can take the steps below to bring a Q2 culture to their organizations.

1. Act on the important, do not react to the urgent. By making a public commitment to Q2 principles, sharing Q2 principles and tools with their organizations, and modeling these principles at every opportunity, leaders can create a context for thoughtful decision making that drives extraordinary productivity.

2. Go for extraordinary, do not settle for ordinary. Leaders who share their own Q2 planning processes reinforce authenticity and provide a model for others. By taking the next step and requesting that others use the planning process as well, leaders will set their organizations further along the path to create Q2 cultures.

3. Schedule the Big Rocks, do not sort gravel. Organizationally inclusive Q2 planning ensures that the right things get done. The more the process is used, the better the organization will get at doing it.

4. Rule technology, do not be ruled by it. By setting common ground rules and providing the right technology tools, leaders can get everyone on board and enable greater productivity.

5. Fuel the fire, but do not burn out. Leaders set the bar for how to manage energy, both in terms of their own behaviors and the support they provide for others. Leaders who first take care of themselves, then provide opportunities for others to “fuel their fires” through healthy food options, restorative breaks, and a balanced energy ethos, ensure an energized culture.


Senior-level leaders have the opportunity to institutionalize Q2 cultures within their organizations. They should consider Q2 cultures as operating systems that underlie everything their organizations do. Successful Q2 cultures get results, and not at the expense of the employees within them. Study results show that implementing a Q2 culture can raise Q2 activity anywhere from a quarter to a third in just a few short months.

Creating a Q2 culture can be likened to an operating system installation and takes place in the following sequence:

*Leadership-team orientation, for introducing the process.

*Champion-team certification, for staffing the organization with trained facilitators.

*Leader training, to help leaders and managers lead their teams according to the Q2 principles.

*Team-member training, to orient the rest of the organization to Q2 principles and begin implementation.

*Leadership accountability and report-out, to share results of the roll out.

*Reassessment, to calibrate results from using the Q2 principles.

*Sustainment, ongoing assessments, and recalibration (if necessary).

Although similar to an operating system installation, this process should be organic and human-driven. Therefore, leaders must be committed and true to the principles on an ongoing basis. For success, the Q2 mindset must become deeply embedded into the culture and adopted by all.

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