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How to use ‘daily quadrants’ to get more done each day

It’s worth considering your natural rhythms when writing your to-do list.

How to use ‘daily quadrants’ to get more done each day
[Source Photo: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels]

Creating a to-do list can be a useful tool for organizing your day by defining what you need to accomplish. However, when you do those tasks is critical, because it can impact how well you complete them, says Donna McGeorge, author of The 1 Day Refund: Take Back Time, Spend it Wisely.

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“Pay attention to the clock in your body, not just the one on the wall,” she says. “Human beings have circadian rhythms. We were designed for mental alertness in the morning and physical dexterity in the afternoon. That’s just how the body clock works.”

Instead of randomly tackling to-dos, McGeorge breaks up the day into four quadrants, each lasting about two hours. And each quadrant can be an ideal time to tackling different types of work.

The first quadrant

The first two hours of the day are for high intensity, high-impact work. These tasks are the most important things you are paid to do, and they require the most brainpower.

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“As knowledge workers, that’s when our genius is turned on,” says McGeorge. “That’s the best time to do things that require a lot of mental intensity.”

This could be the time to write proposals or create new business strategies. This is not the time to be in your inbox. If you’re spending the first two hours of your morning on email, you’re wasting the best part of the day,” says McGeorge.

“I know that sounds counterintuitive to a lot of people, but 90% of your email doesn’t need a lot of smarts,” she says. “Most of us use up all that valuable time in the morning doing email. Then in the afternoon, when we’re tired, we’re suffering from decision fatigue. We make bad decisions because we’re tired.”

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It can be challenging to change your default habits, like checking email first thing in the morning. McGeorge suggests glancing at your inbox to make sure there isn’t an emergency that requires dropping everything. Then, later in the day, go back to your email to handle them.

“Scan for what’s come in, but resist the urge to respond until later in the day,” says McGeorge. “Then you’re only making one or two decisions. It’s a fallacy to say, ‘If I just get that out of the way, then I’ll be able to do great work and concentrate.'”

The second quadrant

The next two hours of the day should be dedicated to high intensity, low-impact work. “That doesn’t mean that it’s not important work; it just may not be as impactful to you as it might be impactful to others,” says McGeorge.

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This is the time to have one-on-one and team meetings around projects where you still need your smarts. Or, if an employee or colleague needs advice or input on a situation, late morning is a good time to schedule this conversation.

The third quadrant

Use the two hours after lunch for low-impact and low-intensity tasks. These are things that you don’t think of as important but still have to be done, such as filing, reviewing reports, and processing your email.

“If you have any control over when a routine informational meeting happens, do it after lunch,” says McGeorge. “This is a meeting where it’s usually just a check in from others, but not necessarily problem solving. It’s perfect for that quadrant. And some research suggests attending training or learning activities during this time is also good.”

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The last quadrant

At the end of the day, when your mental agility and alertness drop, this is the time to do low-intensity, high-impact work.

“This is when you can have the greatest impact, wrapping up your day, tidying up loose ends,” says McGeorge. “Review the meetings and activities you have tomorrow so you can do any quick preparation that you might need to.”

This time can also be used to do things that will help your mornings go more smoothly, such as deciding and laying out what to wear or packing a lunch for you or your children.

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“Whenever anyone feels overwhelmed by their schedule, out of control, or at risk of failing, I always have them start in the fourth quadrant,” says McGeorge. “Rethink how you end your day. You’re setting yourself up for success for the first two hours of the next morning.”

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