Examining Stephen Covey's Time Management Matrix and how it applies to construction
March 7, 2023
7 min read
Founder at Buildr
Time is always of the essence, and in construction, it can feel like there's less of it available than in any other industry. Oftentimes, it's because contractors can get caught up in the tasks and projects that hold little weight in the grand scheme of things.
Be it an ulcer-inducing deadline, frustrating busywork, or meetings about meetings (that could have been emails) that seemingly never end—some tasks just aren’t worth the time or stress. But with the guidance of American author, businessman, and keynote speaker Stephen Covey and a new focus on the pre-construction process, GCs can make the most out of what little hours the day offers.
If you’re not familiar with Covey’s Time Management Matrix, it’s a way of managing your time according to how important and urgent a given task is. There are four quadrants in total:
Quadrant I: Urgent and important,
Quadrant II: Not urgent and important,
Quadrant III: Urgent and not important, and
Quadrant IV: Not urgent and not important
Simple enough, right? We'd argue reading this blog falls into Quadrant II, but we're biased.
Find out how the typical contractor workflow fits into Covey’s matrix, why Quadrant II is the sweet spot for GCs, and how polished pre-construction processes can keep you focused on the bigger picture rather than putting out fire after fire.
It can be easy to get stuck in the ping-pong between reactive and proactive activities, not to mention those end-of-day time killers. For general contractors, however, it all boils down to Quadrant II—those crucial planning phases that serve to build a profitable future while still balancing urgent matters.
Covey’s first quadrant is also the first area of concern for general contractors.
"Urgent and Important" sounds, well, urgent and important. You'd think these must be tasks that are high-priority and worth completing, right? Well they are, with an asterisk. While Quadrant I seems like it'd be the correct place to hang out, activities worked on in here tend to suggest symptoms of a lack of time spent in Quadrant II.
These are high-value tasks and worst-case scenarios that call for quick thinking, such as crises, projects with upcoming deadlines, and high-intensity situations. These are the most taxing scenarios for GCs, and if not addressed, the continuous fires will only spread. So, Quadrant I tends to throw GCs into a state of stress, burnout, and crisis management. They absolutely have to be done, but at a high cost over time.
General contractors with a capped level of success dedicate an inordinate amount of time in Quadrant I. Rather than bringing out the fire extinguisher time and time again, GCs can take a preventative approach by refining their pre-construction process, such as with a workforce planning-integrated CRM designed for general contractors.
The Buildr platform gives contractors the workflow insights they need to forecast and prevent crises before they hit the fan. That way, you can spend more time in Quadrant II—and cut out constant firefighting in the process.
Quadrant II is the sweet spot for general contractors.
There’s no pressure to meet a deadline with these activities, yet they’re still essential, forming the blueprint for your day-to-day tasks. For GCs, these tend to fall in the area of bolstering pre-construction; the forecasting, sourcing, and planning that sets the stage for a win.
Adopting a CRM is a proactive decision that helps funnel attention to activities that actually matter to your bottom line. This is why 91% of companies with more than 11 employees use a CRM.
One of the easiest arguments for CRM in the very one-sided CRM vs. spreadsheets debate (and in some cases, there's systems worse than even spreadsheets), is that the data that lives in spreadsheets is difficult to parse the more of it that there is. Eventually, that data parsing will bleed its way into Quadrant III and (worst case) Quadrant I time-wasting and inefficiency.
Some tasks and activities that fall into Quadrant II include prevention methods, capability improvement, and relationship-building. Other pre-construction tasks like hunting down new business opportunities, planning, and forecasting could fall into this quadrant as well, since they lay the foundation for your day-to-day. It’s like building a house of stone, rather than rebuilding with straw every time the wolf strolls by. Preventative versus reactive.
In short, dedicating more time to Quadrant II is an investment in the bigger picture, rather than burning hours on low-value tasks and projects with tight margins.
Quadrant III is another danger zone that can give you task whiplash.
Similarly to Quadrant I, these activities will claim your attention, but it’s not always warranted. They’re short-term and rarely focused on the bigger picture. But since they’re urgent, they could still stoke that crisis alert mentality. We urge you to resist and create a system for delegation lest you fall back into firefighter mode.
A few examples of GC tasks that fall into Quadrant III are pesky interruptions, low-priority emails and reports, or mid-day meetings during chaotic weeks.
Think low-value matters that can be put on the backburner, and don’t actually get anything done. These are nearly worse than the next quadrant because despite their lack of importance, they can still appear urgent. But with a bit of discipline and maybe lightening up on meetings during heavier weeks, these constant interruptions can be cleared.
The average employee spends a whole workday doing “non-work-related” activities each week.
Not that you’re being shamed for scrolling; most of us are addicted to our palm-sized best friends, be it for a dose of NBA Twitter, a flash of the latest crypto scandal news, or a quick TikTok For You Page binge. When you throw in busy work and nonstop emails, the time adds up.
These minor-yet-pressing tasks tend to fall into Quadrant IV for GCs:
Low-stress busy work not related to time-sensitive or overall goals
Scrolling on social media
Daily insignificant emails and phone calls
Other time-wasting activities like
As you can see, the Instagram Explore page isn’t the only culprit in Quadrant IV. End-of-day emails that can be sent the next day and irritating busywork could also qualify. And while these seem like harmless activities, they’re actually the most destructive in the long run.
Through a domino effect, spending too much time in this quadrant can quickly bring the whole ship down. Over-indulgence in Quadrant IV can lead to irresponsibility, wasted time and poor performance can cost GCs their employment, and a combination of them can dampen a company’s foothold in their market.
Seriously, you should sign up to be a construction insider. Everyone will be so jealous of you.