Updated: Aug 8, 2019
You probably have a To Do List but you always feel that you are behind. Whenever you remove one task, it seems that you add two more and you keep asking yourself where you should start.
Your problem may be the difficulty to differentiate what is important from what is urgent and as a result, you may assign the same priority to all tasks you log in your To Do List. If this resonates with you. the Eisenhower matrix may be a good time management technique for you.
The Eisenhower matrix has its origin in an address by Dwight Eisenhower at the second assembly of the World Council of Churches:
“I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent”
More recently, Steven Covey, author of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People popularized the matrix and softened Eisenhower statement. Time Management gurus use to say that:
“What is important is seldom urgent and what s urgent is seldom important”
Until I discovered the Eisenhower matrix, I was prioritizing my To Do List based on the urgency of the tasks. Learning from the Matrix, I realized that the tasks I was prioritizing were usually benefiting the achievements of other people’s goals, not mine. Boosted by this discovery, I decided to totally review the way I was managing my time. I started to immediately work on actions from Quadrant 1, plan better actions from Quadrant 2, delegate as much as I could in quadrant 3 and finally delete as many tasks as I could in Quadrant 4
Q1 - Urgent and Important – Do it now
Important tasks require immediate action. They are linked to an unpredictable firefight (a breach of your IT security system or your baby crying) or they were predictable but you did not take action on time (a presentation for a board meeting or the management of your tax return).
Urgent and important tasks create stress and you have to manage them as soon as you can.
The Pomodoro Time Management technique is a good way to manage the tasks of this quadrant. Check it out here
The tasks in this quadrant should be limited. If you take good care of your quadrant 2, you should only have to deal with unexpected urgent and important requests.
Q2 – Important but not urgent - Schedule
These tasks are part of the achievement of your long-term goals. Quadrant 2 is where you should spend most of your time. If you plan well, these important actions will not become urgent. Consider the payment of your rent for example, if you plan it well, you will write and send the check enough in advance to avoid the stress of the approaching deadline. You can even consider setting a bank transfer which will remove the task from your To Do list and the stress of doing it almost forever (at least until you move into a new apartment).
Time Boxing or Time Blocking is a good Time Management technique for this quadrant.
Q3 - Not important but Urgent – Delegate or automate
In Eisenhower mind, what is urgent is what you need to do today. We cannot multitask (read more on multitasking here). Since you cannot manage all urgent tasks, you need to delegate some, those that are less important.
This quadrant is challenging since it relates to your assertiveness and your ability to make someone else actually does the task. Email follow up functionalities offer easy and efficient way to follow up actions that you have delegated.
Q4 - Not important and not urgent
James Clear, author of Atomic Habits wrote:
“It is much easier to remain busy and tell yourself that you just need to be a little more efficient or to "work a little later tonight" than to endure the pain of eliminating a task that you are comfortable with doing, but that isn't the highest and best use of your time”
Surfing the web, watching TV or following your favorite influencers fall in this quadrant and you should try to reduce these activities as much as you can.
Concretely, when you look at your To Do list, you should check for any non-important and non-urgent tasks that you should not have logged in the first place. If you find one, delete it. I have been practicing it for some time and I know it is not easy but you have to trust the process, this will free you up a lot of time. Now that you have cleaned up your To Do list, check your calendar and do the same. Did you accept any non-urgent and non-important invitation? Bingo, decline them all.
Time is a finite resource. Too many people are busy managing the wrong tasks because they don’t have a proper task prioritization technique. Now that you understand the Eisenhower Matrix, how will you make the best use of your time?