The 4 Quadrants of Time Management: A Student’s Guide to Prioritizing

Save time by getting more done, faster

For a lot of Branford Hall students, balancing a career training program with work and family can sometimes seem like a juggling act. The good news is an effective time-management system can help students prioritize more efficiently, while allowing for increased productivity along the way.

One popular time-management system was originally published in Stephen Covey’s 1989 best-seller, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey was a Harvard Business graduate, and his debut book has since gone on to sell more than 25 million copies.

Let’s take a look at how this system can be helpful for students.

How to utilize Covey’s system

All you need to make use of Stephen Covey’s system is a piece of paper and a pen. Divide the paper into four sections, or “quadrants,” by drawing two lines that intersect like a grid, creating a giant plus sign (see the image above). Title the top-left quadrant, “Urgent & Important;” the top-right “Not Urgent, But Important.” Title the bottom-left, “Urgent, But Not Important;” and the bottom-right, “Not Urgent, Not Important.”

Here is what each quadrant represents:

I. Important & Urgent. These are the high-priority tasks, ones that need to be handled ASAP. Putting them off will result in immediate repercussions.

II. Not Urgent, But Important. These are the tasks that need to get done, but have no definitive deadline. These tasks take a backseat to anything that appears in Quadrant I.

III. Urgent, But Not Important. These are the details, minor responsibilities like recharging a phone or paying minor bills. Ignoring them may not have an earth-shattering impact, but it could have a negative effect, all the same.

IV. Not Urgent, Not Important. These are usually personal items that don’t have any immediate bearing. Think of it like this: Quadrant IV is filled with the tasks that a person doesn’t need to complete, but would probably like to, all the same.

How to make the whole thing work

Here’s a brief example of how a career training student can use Covey’s system to maximize efficiency.

Imagine that a medical billing and coding student has a major test on Friday. Preparing for that test would belong in Quadrant I. Choosing the topic for a paper that’s due at the end of the month would belong in Quadrant II. Choosing a reliable study partner would more than likely fall in Quadrant III. Ancillary tasks like finding time to do a load of wash or catching up on emails would almost definitely belong in Quadrant IV.

Once you’ve gotten in the swing of setting up a four-quadrant list at the beginning of every week, prioritizing may become a matter of routine.

The best part? You’re likely to feel a sense of accomplishment every time you get to scratch an item off the list. At the end of every cycle, take stock of what you’ve accomplished before turning over a new list for the week ahead.

(If you’re struggling to prioritize your studies, make a point to speak to an instructor. Extra help may be available in terms of a tutor or working with a peer mentor.)