Want to use the Eisenhower Method to prioritize what’s urgent and important?
Ever spend your entire day running around like a crazy person trying to get all the things done?
But later, when you think about it, you didn’t get any of the things done that were truly important to you.
We’ve all been there. You’ve got your own to-do list a mile long and then all the things that everyone else wants to pile on top. The worst part is that an average of 41% of the things on your to-do list won’t ever get done!
And if you’re having crazy days like the above example, most of the 41% that gets lost is probably what’s most important to you.
To help you prevent this from happening, try using the Eisenhower Matrix. It will help improve your productivity and time management. It helps you decide when, and in what order to work on each item. The best part is that it will help you ditch a bunch of tasks that you could be wasting your time on.
And the fastest way to complete a task is to not have to do it at all. The Eisenhower Matrix helps you realize this!
What is the Eisenhower Matrix?
Dwight D. Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States and considered to be one of the most productive people in history. He had a hand in our highway system, the internet, NASA, and alternative energies. He was also a 5-star general, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II, and served as President of Columbia University. And on the side, he happened to enjoy golfing and oil painting.
Talk about getting it all done.
In a speech he gave in Illinois, Eisenhower said that another college president told him “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”
He may have heard this technique through the grapevine, but this is the quote that sparked a productivity revolution. And thus the Eisenhower Decision Matrix was born.
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Eisenhower Revolutionized Productivity
It has since been visually represented as a grid and popularized by several authors — the most well-known being Stephen Covey. He talks about the matrix in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People which has sold over 25 million copies and is still one of the most popular nonfiction books of all time.
No matter how many times it’s explained and reprinted, it all comes down to organizing your tasks into whether they are urgent or not and whether they are important or not.
What Does Urgent and Important Mean in the Eisenhower Matrix?
The Eisenhower Matrix can be visually represented as a grid where we first decide whether something is urgent or not and then whether it is important or not.
This grid looks like this:
On the top of the grid left to right, we have a box for urgent and important and another for not urgent but still important. On the bottom, we have what is urgent but not important and what is neither urgent nor important.
Before we go into sorting, let’s first talk about it means to be urgent or important.
An urgent task is something that must be done RIGHT NOW. It may not have any meaningful impact on your list and may not even be something that you want to do. A boss or client coming at you with crazy demands at the last minute could be urgent to them, even if it’s not actually that important in the grand scheme of things.
An important task is something that will move the ball forward, but it doesn’t necessarily have a deadline. Perhaps you know that building a website would really help propel your dreams, but there’s really no one telling you when it needs to be completed. It’s important to you but could be done anywhere between tomorrow and a decade from now.
Dividing Your To-Do List Using the Eisenhower Matrix
Using the urgent and important definitions you can now sort your to-do list into the boxes of the grid. This will help you decide what to tackle first.
As much as you might want to just copy and paste your entire to-do list into the urgent and important box – this is where you need to ask yourself some key questions:
- How much time do you have to accomplish your tasks?
- What are your overall goals that you are shooting for?
- What tasks on this list will serve those goals?
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We all like to think that if we drink enough venti lattes and skimp on sleep that we can knock out this whole to-do list TODAY. But that’s not realistic and it will send you down the road to burnout (ask me how I know!) Using the Eisenhower Matrix will help you sort out the things that don’t really need your attention today. Or maybe ever.
Here is a breakdown of what things might fall into each of the categories.
#1. Urgent and Important
These are the things that actually need to be done right NOW. They get prioritized to the top of the list. For example, if you don’t pay the electric bill today, the power gets shut off. Or if you don’t turn in that project, you get fired.
Reserve this box for only the true emergencies. Just because someone has something that is urgent and important to them, doesn’t necessarily mean it is for you. Things that are other people’s priorities often get flung at us and we think we need to handle them immediately. But this can happen over and over all day long – causing you to get nothing done that’s truly important to you.
Before you drop everything to work on this new task, consider the ramifications of NOT doing this thing immediately. Is it something you can put on your calendar to handle after your priorities for the day? If it can’t wait, then handle it and get back to your list, otherwise plan when you can take care of it.
#2. Not Urgent but is Important
This is the segment that most of your work should fall into, and where you spend most of your time. The key is to plan these tasks onto your calendar and get them done before they become urgent.
Once anything that is urgent and important has been taking care of for the day, move straight to this box. As you will see in a moment, nothing else but these two boxes should have any of your work time.
#3. Urgent but NOT Important
This section is full of time wasters and productivity killers. The prime culprit that belongs in this box is all the notifications you get on your computer and phone. Text messages, social media, email, every app ever wants to grab your attention.
Every time you’re distracted you lose an average of 23 minutes of time in the attempt to regain your focus. Now consider how many notifications you get. Every time you’re distracted by one, the 23-minute clock resets. Ouch!
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But notifications aren’t actually important. And the urgency that is perceived is just what the designers want you to feel. Hurry up and get back in our app so we can make more advertising dollars! Making money for someone else via your attention is definitely not a good use of your time.
In a few cases, there may be times when something is urgent but not important to you – and you still want to help handle it. If you find this is the case, this is a great time to start delegating tasks.
- Maybe a coworker wants help on a project – does it necessarily have to be you?
- Is there someone else more suited to the task that might help them?
This is where you need to remember that just because someone requests your time doesn’t mean you need to grant it. Any invitations, opportunities, or even demands should be run through the matrix before you decide to agree to them.
#4. NOT Urgent and NOT Important
Can you say Netflix? I’m not knocking downtime here, but binge-watching 6 hours of a show isn’t relaxing, it’s escapism. The same thing with the endless scrolling of your social media feeds.
The irony is that frequently the reason we need to escape is that we’ve been living in the urgent quadrants and we’re completely fried. Cocooning in the blankets with our favorite device has become a national pastime due to the hectic pace that we live our lives.
This is not to say that we don’t all need time to chill out and relax, but most of the things that fall into this category are enormous time sinks. Even if that’s not necessarily a problem for you, the escapist tendencies don’t improve our mental wellbeing as much as we’d like to think.
Be Sure to Schedule Down-Town
Even though binge-watching is a relatively new phenomenon, it’s already been tied to depression, anxiety, loneliness and the very least, lost sleep. And phone addiction has gotten to the point that alcohol and drug rehab centers are offering programs to help you step away from your device.
When considering the things that you do to relax, these items should actually fall into the not urgent but is important category. Rest, self-care, and any other hobbies or practices that you use to take care of your physical/mental/emotional wellbeing are VERY important. And because they fall into that box they should be planned on your calendar.
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To eliminate wasting time on not urgent/not important items take a hard look at your schedule to see what time-wasting traps you’re falling into.
Watch out for TV Time
Personally, once I get started on a show I find it almost impossible to stop, which is why I have to be very judicious with my TV habits. I know that for myself watching TV doesn’t really relax me or make me feel better, so I’ve all but cut it out.
This might not be you. You may love hanging out for a couple of hours watching a show and it may bring about positive feelings. But if it doesn’t, or you have other activities that tend to deflate you rather than fill you up, those are the first place to cut back.
Then use that time on things that will make you feel better. Once you find those things, put them in the Important box and schedule them into your days.
Incorporating the Eisenhower Matrix Into Everyday Life
When you’re trying to improve your time management practices, adding in a new technique might actually slow you down a bit in the beginning. Just like moving from hunting and pecking to learning to type the right way takes time, so does implement a new strategy. However, in the end, you will end up being so much more productive on the things that matter.
Here’s a step by step way to help you incorporate the Eisenhower Matrix into your routine. Get your copy of the FREE Crush Your To-Do List Workbook and follow along.
Step #1: Write Everything Down
The first step in the process is to get everything down on paper. I recommend doing a brain dump to start, which is just putting everything that’s rattling around your brain on a page.
This has a calming effect because your brain relaxes now that it doesn’t feel like it has to hold onto remembering everything. It’s all right there on the page.
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Step #2: Remove Unimportant and Unurgent Tasks
Start by crossing off all the stuff that’s not urgent and not important. This will likely be a big chunk of the list. We tend to worry about all manner of things that in the end, really aren’t going to help you make progress.
Step #3: Sort the Remaining Tasks into Grids
Go through each item that remains and sort it into the grid. You may find there are even more not urgent/not important items on the list that you get to cross off.
Step #4: Get Started
Get started. If you have any urgent/important items get them done as soon as you can. Then go through and put times in your calendar for when you’re going to tackle the not urgent but important items.
If you’re struggling to justify finding time to do something, or simply can’t, then consider whether that task is truly important or not – and then re-sort it accordingly. Either it makes the calendar, or it doesn’t belong in the important box.
Step #5: Delegate or Delete
Whatever remains that doesn’t land on the top of the matrix should either be delegated (urgent/not important) or deleted.
When you are done doing this exercise with your brain dump, it’s a good plan to go through and turn off as many phone and computer notifications as you can. This will relieve your daily life of a lot of the distractions that are killing your productivity.
The Power of The Eisenhower Matrix
Instead of just tackling life as it comes or only doing the quick and easy tasks – but not the big ones that actually matter – you can use this tool to get a handle on what’s truly going to propel you forward.
Get Your Printable Eisenhower Matrix
Ready to finally figure out what’s important and urgent? To start using the Eisenhower Matrix to sort out your priorities? Sign up below for your FREE Printable Crush Your To-Dos Workbook, that includes a Printable Eisenhower Model Worksheet.
After you take the time to practice sorting out whatever comes your way, it will become second nature. You will quickly be able to decide how, when, and if you should even do a task.
Before you know it you will be racing towards your goals at light speed.
Do you use an Eisenhower Matrix?
More About Guest Contributor
Jes Dickerson is a coach, speaker, writer, serial entrepreneur, wife, and homeschooling mom of two — so she understands how difficult it can be to find balance, take care of yourself, and still do all the things. You can find her writing about managing stress, increasing productivity, and improving your mental wellbeing on her site at jesdickerson.com.
Last Updated on January 13, 2020