The 4 Stages of Productivity

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” –Stephen R. Covey

The 4 stages of productivity as outlined in ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People‘ by Stephen R. Covey, and while you are on the journey to self-improvement you should consider picking up a copy yourself, highly recommended.

Productivity FirstImage

1st Stage: Notes & Checklists

The first stage takes an effort to give some semblance of recognition and inclusiveness to the many demands placed on our time and energy. We come to realize that we are unable to remember everything that needs to be done, so not only do we eliminate the stress of some tasks going incomplete, but also the stress of trying to remember said tasks.

2nd Stage: Calendars & Appointment Books

This stage is where you start to look ahead, to schedule events and activities in the future. In addition to the first stage, checklists and notes, this stage utilizes calendars and appointment books.

3rd Stage: Prioritization

The third stage reflects where the majority of the current ‘time management’ field is. It adds to the preceding stages the important idea of prioritization, of clarifying values, and of comparing the relative worth of activities based on their relationship to those values. In addition, it focuses on setting goals, specific long term, intermediate, and short term goals. It also includes the concept of daily planning, scheduling dedicated time slots for specific tasks.

4th Stage: Self-Management

This stage is different in kind, it recognizes time management is really a misnomer, the challenge is not to manage time but to manage ourselves. Rather than focusing on things and time, the fourth stage expectations focus on preserving and enhancing relationships and on accomplishing results rather than tasks.

This can be better understood with a time management matrix (aka priority matrix). Urgent matters are usually visible, insist on action, usually right in front of us, and are often easy and pleasant to do. Importance on the other hand, has to do with results. If it is important it contributes to your mission, your values, your high priority goals.

Priority Matrix

Quadrant 1 is both urgent and important and deals with significant results that require immediate attention. As long as you focus on Quadrant 1 it keeps getting bigger and bigger until it dominates you. A huge problem comes and knocks you down and you’re wiped out, you struggle back up only to face another one that knocks you down again.

Quadrant 3 and 4, urgent but not important & not urgent or important, is where you should spend the least amount of time, and those who spend the majority of their time in basically lead irresponsible lives. The issue is that many spend a great deal of time in Quadrant 3, urgent but not important, thinking they are in Quadrant 1. They react to things that are urgent assuming they are also important, but the reality is that the urgency of these matters is often based on the priorities and expectations of others.

Quadrant 2 is the heart of effective personal management. It deals with things that are not urgent but are important, such as making that phone call to a  family or friend, taking the time to determine your goals, and even exercise. We often compromise these tasks for Quadrant 1 tasks. If we spent more time in this quadrant not only will we lead more productive lives, but we will also find ourselves happier and more fulfilled. We will complete the tasks that we know will create the greatest impact on our lives, but due to the urgency, never get around to them. Quadrant 2 must be acted on, while Quadrant 1, because of its urgency, acts on us.


It is not to say with this knowledge that you should directly skip to the fourth stage and master Quadrant 2, if you feel that you are up to it by all means go for it. These stages should guide you on your path to time management, a.k.a self-management. You might need to start at stage 1 and build your way up, or maybe you have been stuck at the second or third stage and were unaware of it and it is now time to step it up.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *