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  • Jeremy Cooper

Wasting time on the unimportant stuff

Over the next few weeks, I want to talk about time management.  With IT being fast paced with high demands it’s so often that you feel under pressure for deadlines along with overwhelming demand.  The danger here is that you go into super delivery mode where you lock yourself in your office and work all hours to deliver.  Now on occasions that’s going to be required, however, it must only be for the truly important things otherwise everything becomes an emergency and also people’s expectations are that you will do every task with extreme urgency regardless of how important it is.  This is setting you up for future pain and potentially a breakdown “A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life” – Charles Darwin One of the important first steps for your list of deliverables is working out their urgency and importance and this is where the FranklinCovey Time Matrix comes it. The Time Matrix is a framework for helping you manage your time in order to focus where to spend your time, energy and attention As I mentioned before it based on urgency and impact, and how those 2 areas interact.  They define these words as: Urgent: Something that feels like it has to be done right now, whether or not it makes a difference in terms of results

Important: Something that, if not done, will have serious consequence in terms of results I think just reading those 2 definitions helps focus your way of thinking. Once you understand these definitions it is then applied to a matrix model shown below



Quadrant 1 – Necessity This is for things that are both urgent and important.  Examples would be:

  • Resolving a major incident/priority 1 ticket

  • An urgent report the CIO needs for a board presentation

  • Pandemic response

These need to be done right now and will have a serious consequence if not completed.

If you spend time in Necessity you will feel very productive and also driven as you’re delivering a lot and hitting deadlines, however over time you will start to feel stressed and then lose your creativity as you’re continuously flighting fires.  You’ll see people that do a lot of work here have a short term jump in their attention of senior staff as they are fixing the fires, but sometimes they are also causing them as they are having to cut corners or work at breakneck speed, and it’s eventually noticed Quadrant 3 – Distraction This is when things that are urgent but not important.  Due to the urgency you’ll feel they need to be done right away but often there isn’t a serious consequence if they aren’t done as they aren’t important.  These can be thinks like:

  • A regular status report for management when nothing is going on

  • Meetings to check in

  • Fixing issues that others could do

  • Unimportant emails

Any time there is a meeting it feels urgent as there is a time bound element to it e.g. start and end time, however often there isn’t even the need for the meeting.

A lot of Distraction can feel like Necessity as it’s often how the other person portrays the urgency; you’ll be asked to provide data urgently only to find out it’s not required for a few weeks or the decision has already been made.  If you spend a lot of time here, you will be busy but you won’t achieve much.  Sure, you’ll have a full calendar but you’re not actually moving the important stuff forward, you’re just dealing with noise Quadrant 4 – Waste Here the work is both not urgent and also not important.  A brain loves to come here, especially if it’s feeling unfulfilled from Distraction and Necessity as it wants to slow down and not be taxed.  Things in this area are:

  • Scrolling social media at work

  • Playing around with spreadsheet formats, reports etc. but not really sure what you’re after

  • Gossiping with peer or other staff

Waste is actually an important area to let your brain decompress and relax, however, spend too long and it becomes highly unproductive.  Having a 10 minute gap at the end of a busy set of meetings where you check social media, read the sport etc. can be great, but if that turns into an hour, you’ll soon be beating yourself up as you missed a deadline.

Spending too long here and you start to feel slow and inefficient and then that becomes how you operate.  You’ll look back at your day and see you didn’t do a lot and then decide you’re not productive or not good at your job and then you start to feel low and even depressed.  Any time spent here creates no value for you and therefore needs to be limited Quadrant 2- Extraordinary Productivity Activities are no urgent but important.  This is exactly how you want it as you’re working on high value activities but have the time to dig deep into them, be creative, engage with others.  Activities here are things like:

  • Strategy creation

  • Engaging with business partners and teams

  • Learning and development for you and your team

  • Taking a bigger picture look for areas of opportunity

Time spend on activities here is high value and will return greatly in the long run,  It feels great being in this area as value flows out of you and there isn’t a tight deadline making you cheat a process or feel like you haven’t done your best work Now the problem people often have is that Extraordinary productivity sounds lovely but when do we get to do that in IT?  We can be so interrupt drive, especially in IT with high priority work flying in.  How many times have you set your day and then your boss drops something urgent on your plate? Firstly, you need to cut yourself a little slack as there are always going to be fires to put out.

After that there are a couple of things I highly recommend you focus on


1. Challenge the priority

When work comes in you need to work out the importance and also urgency for yourself.  Often you will be given a task to complete with a deadline and you need to consider/ask if the deadline is valid and achievable.  There is a tendency for people to put an arbitrary deadline into a request, especially an email as an open-ended request usually never gets completed.  Ask why the timeline is what it is.

For importance you need to work out or again ask what the value is of doing the task.  If it’s a report, try to understand what decisions will be made from it. Using the chart you can then work out what area it’s in and how much focus to give it


2. Set time aside for Extraordinary Productivity

A great way to be productive is to block time on your calendar to do the Extraordinary Productivity work.  This can be an hour per day or maybe 3 hours on a Friday afternoon.  Ideally don’t try to fit in lots of small blocks as your mind will struggle to be productive in the small slot.

During this time, you only focus on the important and not urgent work.  It’s great for your brain and emotions and working in this area will help the other quadrants.  Less will come into Necessity as you’re competing important work in advance of a deadline, so it doesn’t become urgent.  Also, if you’re working on proactivity, developing your team etc. A lot of work will never make it to you in the future as you prevent it occurring or you can empower your team to do the work for you Go give these ideas a try and try to start to think about tasks as they come in. What is the importance and how urgent is it? If you liked this newsletter, please share and let you friends and colleagues know about it as I’d love to help more people!