Police Psychology | The Time Management Matrix as a Mental Health Concept

Posted: February 4, 2016 in Avoiding Being a Missing Person
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Police Psychology | The Time Management Matrix as a Mental Health Concept


Anyone involved in police psychology knows how important it is to understand proper time management. However, the technique I use can be applied to anyone in any field.

Basically I had come up with this technique years ago after reading Steven Covey 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, although it may have originated in the business literature way before Covey.  He uses the Time Management MatrixPolice psychology: time management matrix only as an idea of how to manage time.  What a narrow-minded idea!  I use it as a mental health concept.  Quite frankly, it is a tremendous way to get people to focus on what is going on in their life and how they may be doing some things wrong with prioritizing the activities of their lives.  I find it useful for all my patients, but the superior officers tune into this so much that sometimes it is many sessions before I can get them to stop talking about it.  I know it is on the bulletin board in many offices in our department.  So print out the time management matrix from below and follow along.

Time is divided into two distinctions:  Urgent and Important.  If you work that into a 2 x 2 matrix with ‘Urgent” and “Not Urgent” across the top and ”important” and “Not Important” down the left side you end up with essentially four Quadrants:  Urgent and Important, Not Urgent and Important, Urgent Not Important, and Not Urgent and Not Important.  Again, print out from below and you can understand this better.  (I draw it out for my therapy patients.  I find the act of drawing holds their attention better than if I just hand them a printed copy of it.)

In Quadrant I, Urgent and Important, you have pressing emergencies, and high stress crisis situations.  Little time is spent there but it is important and urgent time.  In Quadrant II, Not Urgent and Important, you have the real meat of life, like exercise, relationships, friendships, self-development, all the things that give you real long-term pleasure and happiness in life.  In Quadrant III, Urgent but Not Important, you have activities like most meetings, ball games (except Notre Dame games), text messages, etc.  And in Quadrant IV, Not Urgent Not Important, you have activities like doing drugs, watching Gilligan Island reruns and playing video games, sort of the time-passers category.   A good life handles the few Quadrant I things first, living most of the time in Quadrant II, handle some Quadrant III things, and reserve Quadrant IV for times to just numb out.

Police officers tend to push Quadrant III into Quadrant I and ahead of the important things in life, skipping quadrant II.  So they mistake the urgency of a situation with the importance, “Blurring the Priorities.”  When this happens too much, Quadrant II activities tend to push into Quadrant I also by becoming more urgent:  your relationship start falling apart, health start to go, mental health falls down.  So we hear thing like, “If you don’t pay attention to me, I’m leaving,” or see things like panic attacks.  This is an “Attention Seeking” state.  Finally, the person just wants to sit around and drink or watch old F-Troop reruns and stay in Quadrant IV – a final “Desperation” state a person goes in just to survive.  This can all be seen on the slides that are attached.  I tend to draw each of them out and spend more time describing each state.

When a person is always in the Urgent categories (Quadrant I and III) they face “Burnout,” or I like to call it Rustout, since it is a slower process than a burn.  When a person is in Quadrant IV, they head toward “Lethargy. “ It is only when you are in Quadrant II and focus much of your attention there that people reach a “Centered” feeling about themselves and their life.

Teaching people about priorities and where to focus their pleasure in life is important for cops.  If you teach it enough, you may even learn it yourself as psychologist and mental health workers seem to have a similar problem.  This technique is a way that really makes the topic hit home for most police officers and helps them learn because it attacks them visually, spatially, as well as hearing it.  Practice with the Quadrants and bring it into therapy with you.  If you do it right you will be surprised at the results.


Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP

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Click on the time management matrix to print out a .pdf

time management matrix


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