A Simple System for Time Management

I often get questions about what to time block for.

That’s why I like the Eisenhower Decision Matrix.

In 1954 Dwight D. Eisenhower was then a former President and during a speech he quoted Dr J. Roscoe Miller, president of Northwestern University, who said: “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, the important are never urgent.”

Thus was created the decision matrix you see below. It’s a guide for organizing your workload and priorities.

Important activities are those of significance to us. The accomplishment of important activities leads us to the achievement of our goals.

Urgent activities are those that need immediate attention, and are usually deemed urgent by someone other than ourselves. The consequences of not dealing with these urgent activities are immediate.


Make a list of everything you have to do today or this week. Include everything that takes up your time. Even things like going to the restroom, eating lunch, and having personal conversations with coworkers will be on the list.

Now, write next to each activity which quadrant it falls under.

Then use the strategies describe below to time block your activities. I’ve given examples of several activities for each quadrant, but let’s break them down in the order of priority.

Quadrant I: Important and Urgent

There are two types of Important and Urgent activities. Those you could not have predicted, and those that you’ve procrastinated on and left until the last minute.

Obviously you can eliminate last-minute activities by planning for their completion ahead of time.

But you will always have things that pop up that are outside your control. Whenever something like this happens, I like to do a postmortem on what happened to see if it’s something I can prevent from happening in the future. For example, if I receive a phone call that says we’re not going to close on time because the buyers didn’t sign the right paperwork three days prior to close, is that something I can prevent by reminding the buyers at the three days until closing mark that they should have received paperwork from their lender with all the final numbers and that they need to sign it and get it back to the lender ASAP? Then I will add that reminder to my closing checklist.

Clearly there are some things you can’t prevent from happening. Like when the seller leaves a big pile of trash in front of the house and the buyers are supposed to take possession in three hours. In that case, you simply scramble to get 800-GOT-JUNK or some similar service over there to take care of it.

Of course, you can’t really time block for these activities because you don’t know when they will come up. So leave room in your schedule to move your time blocks around. That way if you have to postpone working on something else for thirty minutes while you put out a fire, it won’t wreck your more important time blocks; ¬†you can simply move them to later in the day or week.

You have to be cautious too. Some people will tell you things are urgent when they really aren’t. In that case, you can inform them that you’re working on other important matters and you will have time to work on their activity in about an hour (or whenever your schedule allows).

Quadrant II: Important but Not Urgent

This is really where you want to spend 80% of your day if at all possible. Yes I know, some days you spend nearly all your time in Quadrant I, and that’s ok. I’m just asking that you challenge yourself to get to the point where 80% of your day is spent on the important but not urgent things.

What is your most important work? The goal of any real estate business is to increase the number of people your team can help with the purchase or sale of their home, right?

So how do you contribute to that increase in sales? By providing such great customer service that the clients are happy to leave a positive review and to send the team their referrals.

And what do you need to provide great customer service as an executive assistant? Answer that question and those are your most important activities.

Perhaps you need a streamlined CRM that allows you to process transactions quickly and easily.

Perhaps you need a killer library of email templates that fully explain each step of the process to the clients so they are always fully informed.

Perhaps you need a system for following up with past clients to make sure they are still happy with their home purchase and to see if they need vendors that you could recommend.

All of these are things you can time block for. Big chunks of time. Two to three hour chunks where you turn off email, turn off your phone, hide from your teammates and accomplish your goal of creating those things.

Quadrant III: Not Important but Urgent

These activities are usually at the request of other people. The new executive assistant down the hall stops by with a “quick question”. Your buyer’s agent is having trouble finding something in the shared drive and needs your helping looking it up.

This is where it takes courage to say, “I can help you with that when I’m done here. Can I get back with you in an hour?” Or whatever works for your schedule.

Here’s the truth: It is always your choice as to whether to help someone when they ask for it, or to fit them into your schedule elsewhere. You have the power here. Please don’t ever think otherwise. No one is going to hate you for helping them later instead of now.

These activities are not important to you, but it’s urgent to them and they are trying to make it urgent to you. You can’t let them.

Quadrant IV: Not Important and Not Urgent

These activities are all the distractions you get sucked into.

You go to post a question in the executive assistant Facebook group and afterwards you check your feed and get sucked into watching cat videos.

The executive assistant down the hall catches you coming back from the bathroom and asks you how your weekend went.

These things happen. The key is to be aware of when they are happening and to stop yourself or severely limit the amount of time you give to them.

What could have been a five minute chat can easily turn into a twenty minute discussion if you aren’t aware of what’s happening.

Key Point

Create blocks of time for your important tasks, but don’t fill up your entire day with them. Leave gaps in your schedule for dealing with the stuff that pops up and now you have a system for dealing with everything that comes you way!

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