How to be more productive using the Eisenhower matrix
What is the Eisenhower matrix?
The Eisenhower matrix is a Time management tool that is effective in helping people prioritize their tasks based on urgency and importance. This Matrix improves productivity by helping people identify which of their daily tasks would be most beneficial to work on themselves now, schedule for later, delegate to someone else or disregard completely.
Where does the Eisenhower matrix come from?
The Eisenhower matrix is named after Dwight David Eisenhower (1890) who was the 34th president of the united states of America.
Before he was the elected president, he served as a general in the army and later he was also the first supreme commander of NATO.
Throughout Dwight’s journey, he has had to make some huge decisions that may have even left people’s life’s in his hands. With so many things to concentrate on, he could easily become overwhelmed and make a wrong decision that would be costly.
This is why he developed a method to prioritize tasks based on importance and, as a way of organizing his tasks in a more efficient order when choosing what needs to get done in a systematic fashion.
In the book 7 habits of highly effective people, the author Stephen Covey dubbed this technique the Eisenhower matrix.
Although this tool has shared many names from, The Time Management Matrix, The Eisenhower Box, to the urgent-important matrix, it has always had the same structure and core values in aiding people to be more productive.
Why you should use the Eisenhower matrix
There are two main concepts to consider when prioritizing tasks:
Urgency is the force that compels you to take action hastily, usually due to time constraints or pressure to do something.
Importance is how much value something has in the significance of achieving a desired goal. This usually requires more thought and planning.
As humans we are more inclined to focus on urgency over importance which isn’t always the most productive way to go about things. We’re always busy being distracted by our short sightedness, that we forget our long-term goals in the process.
Mr Dwight Eisenhower said it best himself: “Who can define for us with accuracy the difference between the long and short term! Especially whenever our affairs seem to be in crisis, we are almost compelled to give our first attention to the urgent present rather than to the important future.”
Here’s 5 circumstances of when it is beneficial to use this method:
- If you find yourself constantly “busy” doing nothing.
- If you are overwhelmed by tasks that you don’t believe have little to no value.
- If you find it hard to find balance.
- If you have long term goals but don’t have the energy to take action.
- If you struggle getting things done within their set limits.
If any of these apply to you and you want to find the best balance that works for you, keep reading!
How to create and use the Eisenhower matrix
The Eisenhower matrix is created similar to a math’s equation like division or times tables, you have important and not important along the side’s and urgent and not important across the top, this creates 4 quadrants in the middle as you can see below:
The 4 quadrants of the Eisenhower matrix in order:
- Urgent and important/do first (top left)
- Not urgent and important/schedule for later (top right)
- Urgent but not important/delegate to others (bottom left)
- Not urgent and not important/disregard (bottom right)
Let’s look at these in more detail!
Quadrant 1: Urgent and important/do first
The first quadrant which is both urgent and important is the things that you need to do straightaway. Completing these first is essential as they often have deadlines and time restrictions that are close that you will have to stick to.
Some examples of this could be:
- Fixing a popped tire on your car.
- Attending an important meeting where you are required.
- Covering a vital task for someone who is sick at work.
Although these require the most attention, the aim is to not have any tasks in this section at all. Although it’s a given that thing’s will pop up that will demand you to take action right now, people often use this space when they say things like “I’ll do it another day” and ignore tasks until the very last minute.
When this happens often, these tasks pile up quickly and put enormous amounts of pressure on you. Overtime this stress can lead you to get burnt out and start procrastinating. Focusing on these tasks can often draw you away from your long term goals as you always feel “busy”.
Quadrant 2: Not urgent and important/schedule
This quadrant is about tasks that aren’t so urgent yet, they are still extremely important. Although you should be working on these as a priority, they are classed as scheduling for later as they require more planning then simply diving head first with no understanding.
These are the tasks where you want to put the most output as they crucial to your fulfilment in life. They often don’t have an end date or a very long one at most and it’s because they are usually built up of smaller tasks.
Instead of being distracted and overwhelmed all of the time like in the first quadrant, you are able to process what needs to be done and offers you time to grow and thoroughly decide what options you have. This allows you to enter a flow like state where you are focused and fulfilled at the same time.
If you manage to keep your tasks in this quadrant the most, it will help you control any problems from popping up in the first quadrant. It’s about prevention over intervention.
Some examples of this are:
- Changing your tire before it pops.
- Planning a long-term project.
- Learning a new language so that you can travel.
Quadrant 3: Urgent but not important/delegate
Quadrant three is all about the tasks that you don’t really need to be there for, they need to be done but it doesn’t matter who completes them. These are often mundane similar to doing chores.
Some examples of this are:
- Sending out emails.
- Going to the shops to buy food.
- Creating content that someone else could do easily.
You might feel a bit of short term happiness out of completing these tasks but they don’t bring you any closer to your long term goals, this is why you should either outsource or automate them.
Outsourcing is the practice of having certain tasks completed by another individual or company instead of doing it yourself, usually this is because of a lack of time, resources and skill. An example of this could be a freelance graphic designer creating content for your social media.
Automation is the technique of making system or process work on it’s own without having to do anything manually. In some cases you might need to put a bit of work in the beginning to set things up but, after everything will be done automatically. An example of this would be setting up emails that are automatically sent every time someone signs up to your newsletter.
Quadrant 4: Not urgent and not important/disregard
These are the tasks that get way more time than they deserve. Things that aren’t urgent nor hold any value are huge productivity killers that waste a lot of your time. Spending time on tasks in this quadrant stops you from making progress towards your goals.
Some examples of this are:
- Mindlessly surfing social media or even worse, doom scrolling.
- Sorting through junk emails.
- Checking your phone all of the time.
It’s easy to say just stop engaging in these activities which make you procrastinate (which we are doing) but, the main reason why you are doing this is probably because you have nothing else better to do with your time.
Try to gain some new hobbies that fulfill you or start a new project that you can really sink your teeth into.
You should aim to stick to a constant yet steady flow like you do in the Kanban method, this will help you to stay on top of things even when you have a lot on your hands.
Overall the key to you being most effective in life is finding a balance that suits you.
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