Using the Eisenhower matrix is the secret to improving your productivity.
There are so many things we want to do and accomplish in our lives, but there is only so much time. How to increase our productivity, therefore, is incredibly critical in ensuring that we can get the highest return of investment (ROI) on our time.
Of course, we also want to make sure that we spend our energy on things that matter the most or deliver the most value. How do we decide on that?
We should use the Eisenhower Matrix to help with our task management.
What is the Eisenhower Matrix?
Eisenhower matrix, also known as the Urgent-Important Matrix or the Eisenhower Box, is a prioritization framework pioneered by Dwight D. Eisenhower. It is a very simple decision-making tool that can have immense benefits because it gives you a clear picture of what your important activities should be.
Stephen Covey popularized the Eisenhower’s matrix in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, stating that we live the fourth generation of time management, “more effective”. Managing time itself is no longer the aim, but rather managing where to focus at any particular time.
If you are into books, you may also want to check out James Clear’s New York Times bestseller, Atomic Habits.
Who is Dwight Eisenhower?
Eisenhower was an American politician and soldier who served as the 34th president of the United States from 1953 to 1961. He was also a five-star general in the United States Army during World War II. Eisenhower left active duty in 1948 to become the president of Columbia University but rejoined the army in 1951 to become the first supreme commander of NATO.
You can imagine how busy a man Eisenhower was and how he had to make tough decisions continuously. How was he able to accomplish so much when he had the same amount of awake time as the rest of us? The secret is that he knows how to prioritize tasks.
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.Dwight D. Eisenhower
What does the Eisenhower Matrix look like?
The Eisenhower box is a powerful tool. The great news is that this time management matrix is also very simple.
It is made up of four quadrants and two axes.
The axes are:
Based on the degree of urgency and importance of all the tasks, they can then be divided into the following quadrants:
Do (Urgent & important)
The first quadrant, the “Do” quadrant, houses all the things that you must do and demand immediate attention. These are your top priorities for the time you are planning. These urgent tasks have clear deadlines that are approaching, and there will be clear consequences if you don’t take immediate actions.
Examples of “Do”s:
- Studying for your final exam that will take place in three days
- Finishing a project or assignments that you already requested extension for
- Responding to urgent emails from your CEO
- Calling 911 if you see someone requiring immediate medical assistance
- Making phone calls to close important business deals
Schedule (Less urgent but important)
The “schedule” quadrant houses items that are important but less urgent. These are mostly your long-term goals.
Examples of “Schedule”s:
- Professional development for your career
- Networking to know more people and expand your horizon
This is also the quadrant that we tend to procrastinate the most. Why do we procrastinate? Because these items tend to take quite a bit of effort without immediate payback in the short-term. But if you schedule them into your calendar, set reminders for yourself and commit to making progress on them, no matter how small, then you will reap the benefits eventually.
However, at the same time, this quadrant is also the quadrant that has the most potential. Professional and experienced time managers leave fewer things unplanned. Therefore, they manage most of their tasks in this second quadrant, reducing stress by placing as few items as possible in the “Do” quadrant. They do most of their planning by scheduling important tasks out to the near future whenever a new task comes in. They also set up specific due dates and stick to them.
Delegate (Urgent but less important)
The “Delegate” quadrant is for things that are urgent but less important. The items housed in here are little recurring things and daily tasks that need to be done but don’t require specific skills. If you have means, this is the area where you should consider outsourcing to someone else.
Example of “delegate”s:
- Meal prep (I recommend batch cooking to help you with time management)
- Scheduling meetings
- Clearing your inbox
- Household chores, errands and routines
Technically, these “delegate” tasks can be done by yourself, but outsourcing or suggesting a better person to complete the tasks can improve teamwork. It also helps you leave enough time to stay focused on your “Do” and “Schedule” quadrants.
Delete (Less urgent and less important)
Finally, we have the “delete” quadrant. This quadrant is for all items that are not urgent and not important. They are the time-wasters in your calendar.
Examples of “Delete”s:
- Social media use
- Watch TV
- Play video games
- Eat unhealthy food
Ideally, we should eliminate all the items that are not urgent and not important. However, our minds are wired weirdly. We love doing these things because they bring us joy.
I am all about balance. You can still have these items in your life, but you must do so in moderation. After all, too much productivity and no rest can backfire, right?
How do we use the Eisenhower Matrix?
All you need is a piece of paper and a pen, and you can start drawing out your matrix.
Of course, if you want to track your progress, I recommend that you get a notebook or journal specifically for all the Eisenhower matrices that you create.
Alternatively, you can also use Excel to create the matrix.
Here are the steps that I recommend:
- Find your preferred way of drawing out the matrix. It can be simple paper a pen, Excel, an app, or a template
- List out all your tasks on hand on a separate piece of paper. Write them all down, regardless of how big or small they are.
- Score your list of tasks based on the two criteria mentioned above: urgency and importance. You can score them on a scale from 0 to 10
- You can then place your tasks into the quadrants based on their relative degree of urgency and importance.
- Focus on the tasks that are urgent and important, and go!
When should you use the Eisenhower Matrix?
I find that this time management tool is most useful when I have a huge task list on hand that I find it difficult to focus. The matrix helps me narrow down my to-do list dramatically so that I can focus my attention on the things that need to get done. With the completed matrix in hand, I no longer feel overwhelmed.
The benefits of the tool
When used properly, this decision-making tool can help clarify your priorities and boost your productivity. It enables you to focus on the most important and urgent task, so you will not fall behind.
The drawback of the Matrix
You may find this a bit ironic because classifying tasks on your to-do list in itself is an additional item that needs to be done. However, smart prep work can improve your efficiency, because it allows you to not be distracted by things that are not as important.
Important notes when using the Eisenhower Matrix
You must be honest with yourself with the importance and urgency of the tasks
The method won’t work if you classify everything as urgent and important. You will end up with a duplicate copy of your to-do list if you do it this way. I recommend that you focus on the relative importance and urgency of the tasks on hand, instead of just tasks by themselves.
You must also be honest with the relative importance and urgency of the tasks. You cannot cheat and tell yourself that watching your favourite TV show is more urgent and important than preparing for the client meeting tomorrow.
Do not let others define your priority
Block out the noise from others. Often, people want to express their opinions on anything they can get their hands on. But these are your priorities and your tasks, so you must listen to your inner voice instead of getting distracted by others. Ask yourself, what is important to me? Only you know your priority level.
You must go through with the results of the Eisenhower Matrix
If the Matrix tells you that you must go do your homework now instead of playing that newly released video game, then you must go do your homework. You cannot give excuses for yourself.
Complete important work first regardless of your feelings. Take immediate action and your future self will thank you. Say “no” to all other distractions.
The Eisenhower Decision Matrix is a great personal time management tool that can help you effectively prioritize your life. It is simple but powerful, and can be used anywhere, from improving your morning routine to helping to improve time management techniques. Use Eisenhower Matrix today to reduce stress, help with decision making, and boost productivity.
Bella Wanana is the blogger behind bellawanana.com, a personal finance and lifestyle blog. She loves sharing with her readers the best tips and tricks on personal finance and how to live a balanced but fulfilling life. She is also a freelance writer, and she has been featured on sites like MSN.com, Reader’s Digest, The Financial Diet, Yahoo Finance, and GOBankingRates.