Productivity – How to Spend Your Time and Make the Right Decisions


In the last article I introduced, or rather I attempted to clarify, the difference between efficiency and effectiveness as they relate to productivity. If you haven’t read the previous article or you need a quick reminder just click HERE.

Hopefully I have convinced you that in order to be truly effective you must make sure that you are first of all doing the right things. What I mean by this is that you are looking at your undoubtably long list of things that you have to do and making a decision about what needs to be done first. The problem is that often we chose to do the wrong tasks or certainly not the ones we really should be doing.

Why is this?

Often the really important tasks or activities are the ones we might enjoy doing the least. We often put off the tasks we don’t like doing for those that we might enjoy more. Working in the health and beauty industry you are likely  a naturally creative person. Let’s say you have two major tasks to complete on the business management side of your to do list. One is accounting based work, to go through your invoices and receipts that need to be filed for an upcoming tax return at the end of this month. The other task is to design a poster or flyer for an event that you have coming up next month. I know which one sounds more fun and which one I would chose to work on.

The problem is that there will always be something you prefer doing and it is often the things that you don’t enjoy that you put off until you reach a deadline and suddenly you are scrambling to get them done or face some sort of negative consequence?

How can you avoid this and make sure you are doing the right things?

There is a fantastic book called “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” written by Stephen Covey back in the 1980’s which has become the definitive work on this subject. As great as it is, it can be a little heavy going. I know myself, it took me a few attempts to make it all the way through the book even though I knew it was all helpfull information.

There is one idea in the book that I have made part of my daily and weekly routine which has made a huge difference to my productivity and I will attempt to share this with you now in my own simplified way.

They key is not to prioritise what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.

Stephen R. Covey

In the book Mr. Covey describes the Time Matrix™ which contains 4 sections or quadrants labeled important, not important, urgent and not urgent. The matrix looks something like this:


The idea is that all of the tasks and activities we complete in any given day will fall in to one of these 4 quadrants. The problem is that we probably spend too much time working on tasks in the wrong quadrant.

As a busy salon manager or owner, you have many different tasks to do and roles to fulfil. It is no surprise that we spend most of our time working on quadrant 1 type activities. Dealing with things that suddenly become critical, bills that suddenly need paying, organising for that piece of equipment to be fixed because it finally broke down or filing those invoices and receipts, because the final demand letter has arrived from the tax man.

The 4 Quadrants

Quadrant 1 – Urgent AND Important

OK . . . a task has got to the point where it is both important and now urgent. You can’t avoid or ignore this anymore so you need to do this now. This should be your top priority task and it needs to be done today, even if it is the only thing you do. This is the quadrant of stress and anxiety, the one that will keep you up at night and probably is most likely to mean you spend your time worrying rather than doing?

Examples: Crises, pressing problems, deadline related projects, bills and the unexpected

Quadrant 2 – Important BUT Not Urgent

These are the tasks that must be done, but not necessarily straight away. Unfortunately these are the ones that we tend to put off for another day. However, if we spend our time more effectively and work on the tasks in this quadrant first then they will never shift over to Quadrant 1 and we will have more control over our time, less stress and less anxiety.

Examples: Planning, prevention work, preparation, relationship building, brain storming, new opportunities

Quadrant 3 – Urgent BUT Not Important

These tasks are often things that are important to someone else, but not vital for you to complete. They are often the hardest to identify, because when someone calls or emails you with something that they need RIGHT NOW it is easy to mistake this for a Quadrant 1 activity. Be wary of these tasks.

Sometimes it can be beneficial to complete one of these tasks, usually for someone else, because it might help them and they may be able to help you with something in the future, but you should only work on Quadrant 3 tasks once all your quadrant 1 and 2 tasks are taken care of!

Examples: Interruptions, some phone calls, most emails, most mail, some meetings and popular activities

Quadrant 4 – Not Urgent AND Not Important

This is the quadrant of time wasting and busy work. This is the one to eliminate from you lives completely. It’s tough, really tough and learning to identify Quadrant 4 tasks does take time, but believe me it is worth it. The amount of time you will free up in your daily lives by eliminating Quadrant 4 tasks will truly astound you!

Examples: Trivial work, busy work, some mail, some phone calls, time wasters, pleasant but pointless activities.

How to use the Time Matrix to do the right things

However and whenever you plan your time, start by drawing a simple matrix on a page of paper. Take your list of To Do’s and put each item in the quadrant of the time matrix that it fits in to. Don’t worry to start off with if you have a lot of items in Quadrant 1. Usually the point at which we realise we need help organising our time is when lots of tasks have caught up with us. If you need to you can create a special matrix just for the items in Quadrant 1 to get things under control that looks like the one below:


You MUST get these main Quadrant 1 tasks under control before you do anything else. The sooner you do so the sooner you can take control of your time and start to work on Quadrant 2 activities thus minimising the number of future Quadrant 1 activities you have to deal with.

Note: You can never totally eliminate Quadrant 1 activities, there will always be the last minute staff illness causing you to have to reorganise all your appointments or the unexpected boiler breakdown even though you have kept the thing serviced properly. The point is to do all you can to minimise these activities, reduce your stress levels and allow you to control your time.

When you start out using the matrix you need to ignore all the Quadrant 3 and 4 activities entirely. This will be hard . . . Extremely hard, but trust me it will pay off. By removing these activities entirely from your daily schedule will free up time for you to work on the Quadrant 1 activities (Urgent AND Important) to get these under control so that you can then start to spend more time addressing the Quadrant 2 activities (Important but Not Urgent).

Once you have Quadrant 2 activities under control, then you can bring back in some, not all, of the Quadrant 3 activities as these can have some benefits as described, however they should never take priority over the Important tasks of Quadrant 1 and 2 as these arise.

Putting the Time Matrix System to Work

Putting any new way of working in place is always difficult, it takes time and dedication, but this will make a huge difference to your effectiveness and the amount of time you have available. If you find yourself working until midnight after your salon closed several hours ago to get everything done, then why not give the matrix a try.

If you want to see for yourself just how much of a difference using the Time Matrix™ will make in your life, then try this simple activity.

For one week, keep a note of all the tasks you perform and how you spend your time working in your salon or on your business – make sure you account for every task, try using 15 minute blocks like your appointment book if that helps. At the end of each day assign each task to the relevant quadrant and note down the amount of time you spent that day working in each of the 4 quadrants. Do this for the whole week and then at the end of the week add up the time you spend working in each of the 4 quadrants.

How much time did you spend in Quadrant 3 and 4  . . . How much time would this free up each week if you removed these tasks from your daily life?

Be Honest – To get the most out of this task it is crucial to be honest with yourself. You can always justify some way of a Quadrant 3 task being more important than it really is. If you struggle or find yourself justifying tasks more important than they are, go back to the examples earlier in this article and compare your tasks to these. If you are still stuck then try asking the question “What is the worst that would happen if this task never got done?” This will usually clear up just how important (or not) a task really is?

I am pretty sure that you will find a large amount of your time is spent in Quadrants 3 and 4 with another large chunk of time in Quadrant 1, the quadrant of stress and worry. It would not surprise me at all to find that you spend the least amount of your time now working in Quadrant 2, which is exactly where the most of your time should be spent – I know it was when I first did this activity.

Take the test and see how you get on. Let me know what your results are by sharing them in the comments section below. If you have any questions you can also leave them in the comments or you can email me at and I will respond as soon as I can. I do read every email and comment I receive.

Image by: CollegeDegrees360

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Hi
    Don’t be so afraid.
    Just keep and calm and make a right decision.
    Thanks for sharing important update.

    1. Hi Karen – Thanks for your comments and encouragement!

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