Stop Racing Against the Clock: How to Invest Your Time in College

Ever seen this diagram? The Four Quadrants of Time is a time management matrix popularized by Stephen Covey in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Read it if you haven’t done so.

Eisenhower Matrix

Time is the most precious resource that any of us get, this side of heaven. It’s the one resource we can’t get back. Benjamin Franklin once said, “You may delay, but time will not.” Since time is so limited, it’s something we must invest and steward to the best of our ability. Time is a gift God has given us to spend in ways that fulfill us and bring Him glory.

I frequently hear college students claim, “I don’t have enough time. I wish there were more hours in a day.” The reality is you don’t need more hours in a day. God has given you all the time you need to accomplish his purposes for your life. An even larger dose of reality is the fact that you likely have more free time as a college student than you will have for many years down the road. Trust me. With that said, college is a great time to set a foundation for time management that will tee you up for success in college and for a lifetime.

The Four Quadrants of Time is a tool I would like to introduce, so you can begin building habits that will allow you to use your time well. I want you to be thriving in college, not simply surviving.

Everything you do in life can be classified as :

Urgent or Not Urgent and Important or Not Important

Let’s peek at some examples of people living in these Quadrants and what their lives consists of.

Quadrant 1: The Firefighter

Eisenhower Matrix Quadrant 1

Living in this quadrant, your life is filled with things that are Urgent and Important – crises, real hard deadlines for important project, health & family emergencies, final exams, etc. These are things you cannot and should not ignore.  Living your life in this quadrant will lead to stress, anxiety, and burn-out. You will be trapped in a cycle of crisis management and firefighting. Yikes.

Quadrant 1 Example:

You have a Biology exam tomorrow morning, and you haven’t even picked up a book to study.Welp, time to cram, pull the all-nighter, and blow off everything but this test…

The way to reduce the time you spend in this quadrant is to be proactive and to spend more time on the important things BEFORE they become emergencies. We’ll get to that quadrant next.

Quadrant 2: The Peaceful Warrior

Eisenhower Matrix Quadrant 2

Living in this quadrant, your life is filled with things that are Not-Urgent and Important – planning, prevention, personal development, relationship building, recognizing new opportunities, investing in others, taking a vacation, etc. Living your life in this quadrant will lead to clear vision, balanced life, peace, discipline, and very few crises moments. Ahhhh, a great place to be, right?

Quadrant 2 Examples:

  • Eating healthy and exercising to avoid future health issues
  • Preventative maintenance on your car or bike
  • Studying, Reading, Learning, Mentoring
  • Sharing life with friends and family while strengthening the relationships
  • Restorative activities that inspire and uplift you, like hobbies and interests
  • Carving time every day to spend in quiet prayer with God


Quadrant 3: The Busy Body

Eisenhower Matrix Quadrant 3

Living in this quadrant, your life is filled with things that are Urgent and Not-Important – interruptions, ringing phones, emails, texts,  , some projects or meetings, etc… Spending too much time in this quadrant leads to a very short-term focus with continual crisis management but on unimportant things, even worse than Q1!  You will begin to see strategic planning and goal setting as useless since, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”  Your relationships, school work, leadership ability, and reputation will suffer since you are a victim to Not-Important opportunities you think are Important.

Quadrant 3 Example:

Your best friend is coming from out of town to visit you on Friday night. You only get to see one another in person a few times a year, so you really look forward to it. However, you make the mistake of keeping your cell phone on and in sight while at dinner. Every time it buzzes or dings, you politely say, “Excuse me,” or “I’m sorry I just need to check this quick.” When the phone rings halfway through dinner, you look at it hesitantly, knowing you have already been far too distracted this far, but you can’t help it…you know the person calling has a question about Chemistry class, and you don’t want to let them down. You again take the call “quickly” and apologize. This time, you can visibly see the hurt on your friend’s face, and you are angry that your life is so crazy.

People spend a lot of time in Quadrant 3, confusing urgent things for important things. As technology continues to weave its way into our everyday lives, it takes discipline to use it with balance and moderation, lest we fall into a Q3 lifestyle of endless emails, busy work, and meaningless conversations.

Quadrant 4: The Time-Waster

Eisenhower Matrix Quadrant 4

Living in this quadrant, your life is filled with things that are Not-Urgent and Not-Important – busy work, watching too much TV, mindless web surfing, gossip magazines, random useless facts and information, etc. If you are spending a majority of your time in Q4, you risk job loss, flunking out of college, being kicked out of clubs and organizations, dependence on others for planning your life, laziness, and irresponsibility.

Quadrant 4 Example:

Instead of studying or hanging out with friends, you sit on Facebook cruising the newsfeed for a few hours a day, then you watch a couple hours of television and movies on Netflix or HuluPlus, topped off with a two hour nap during a time you were supposed to be at a group project but hey, you were tired. They’ll understand .

Just get out of this, now. Life may feel carefree in Q4 but it’s not fulfilling or truly restorative.

Congratulations, you made it!  Now what?

  1. Identify all your Q1 and Q3 Urgent activities and brainstorm ways you can plan and prepare for them, so they don’t become emergencies or creep up on you constantly. Now you can move that preparatory work into Q2 and wipe out the need for most of the Urgent claims on your time.
  2. Learn how to say “no” to Q4 Time Wasters and Not-Important Q3 activities. This may include saying “no” to others as well as to yourself. Once these are out of your life, you will have more time for Q2! Yay!
  3. Get a planning and organizational system. I don’t care how sophisticated or simple it is. Benjamin Franklin said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” Building a habit of writing down Q2 activities far enough in advance and sticking to the plan will help you live as a Peaceful Warrior and reduce your Q1 load.
Amanda Teixeira
Amanda Teixeira
Amanda Teixeira hails from Nebraska, aka "The Good Life." She graduated from University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a degree in Nursing in 2008. She and her husband, Jonathan, are in their sixth year as staff members in the FOCUS apostolate.

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