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How to Stop Procrastinating with One Simple Trick

Don’t you hate when you have so much work to do, you can’t figure out where to start?
by Sarah Moriarty | Mar 3 2015

Do you ever feel like your incessant creation of to-do lists is in itself a form of procrastination? Don’t you want to just quit thinking about ways to start working, and just start working?

how-to-stop-procrastinating-with-one-simple-trick

The topic has been discussed almost endlessly: a quick Google search will show you hundreds of articles with time management methods. But almost all of these articles boil down to the same basic tip: just do it. What if we told you there was a better way to manage your time?

Say hello to the time matrix. In her new book, The 5 Choices, Kory Kogon describes this innovative time-management technique. The time matrix helps you quickly categorize your tasks into different priority levels, so you can spend less time thinking about what you should be doing, and more time simply doing. It just takes a couple steps to set up.

Making a time matrix

Take a piece of paper and draw a square on it. Then, divide that into four equal quadrants so it looks like a window. This is your time matrix. You’ll fill each of these quadrants with your tasks based on how important and urgent they are.

  • Quadrant 1 – top-left: This section is for your urgent tasks, last minute requests, and fires that need extinguishing. These are the things you absolutely have to take care of right away.
  • Quadrant 2 – top-right: Daily, but non-urgent tasks. In essence, your job: the thing you were hired to do. Tasks here are your daily, non-urgent, but nevertheless important tasks (for example, preparing a deck for that meeting you have next week).
  • Quadrant 3 – bottom-left: Time sensitive, but unimportant tasks, like staying on top of email and reading page 19 about awesome time-management methods.
  • Quadrant 4 – bottom-right: Time-wasters like Facebook or talking to your colleagues about the game last night.

Fact: On average, only about 30 % of our time is spent in the most productive Q2 quadrant.

Now, here’s the trick. Spend as much time as possible working on tasks in Q2. It might seem strange to have three non-critical categories for your tasks, but the fact is, you do your most productive work on Q2 tasks. That’s why, according to Kory Kogon, you should be spending as much of your time as possible working in Q2. Q1 and Q3 will occasionally demand your attention, but it’s important to keep your eye on the prize: Q2 is your job.

How to prioritize tasks on the fly

According to Kory Kogon, there are three simple questions you need to train yourself to answer about every single thing that comes your way:

  • Who is this email from?
  • What’s it about?
  • Does it need urgent attention?

If you answered “no” to the third question, mentally file it into Q2 or Q3 (as appropriate) and go back to what you were working on. This is the Pause-Clarify-Decide method, also described in The 5 Choices. Over time, this method will become second nature, and you’ll prioritize tasks without even thinking about it.

Next time you find yourself in a Q3 kind of mood, take a moment to outline and prioritize your tasks, and see how long you can spend on Q2 tasks before you get interrupted. We think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Learn more about how to manage your time and beat procrastination in Kory Kogon’s The 5 Choices. You can also read the (10 minute!) book insight summary in blinks.

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