The Eisenhower Matrix: A presidential productivity tool
By: Liza Rubinstein
September 11, 2018 | Reading Time: 5 mins
“That can’t be right”, you think to yourself, reading the message again.
“…we need it by end of day.”
But it’s 4 o’clock. It is the end of day!
No matter how much you get done, sometimes it feels like your to-do list is constantly growing. Like a boat full of holes, you cover one just to have another start leaking. It’s a game of Tetris where nothing’s fitting together.
“Take a deep breath,” you think to yourself. “You can do this. Inhale. Exhale.” You lean back in your chair, sigh, and run your fingers through your hair, which reminds you… you were supposed to book a haircut for that wedding this weekend.
What do you do? How do make sense of your to-do list and prioritize the tasks in the best way?
This is where The Eisenhower Matrix comes in.
WELCOME TO THE MATRIX
The Eisenhower Matrix is a productivity and time management tool that has been around for decades. The idea originates from, you got it, Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States. Good ol’ Ike made a powerful statement once upon a time, saying “I have two types of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are never important and the important are never urgent”. And ta-da, the matrix was born.
SO HOW DOES IT WORK?
The framework helps you prioritize tasks by splitting them between 4 quadrants with different levels of importance and urgency. Before we get into the quadrants let’s clearly define and differentiate these terms.
- Important tasks contribute to achieving long-term goals. They set us up for success by allowing us to evaluate a situation and thoughtfully plan and execute the best solution. Say you’re making a pizza, and you want it to be really impressive. An important task would be choosing the right kind of cheese. With your goal in mind, are you using that opened bag of pre-shredded trash in your fridge? No way! You’re taking the extra time to hit up Whole Foods, reaching for that expensive cheese you can’t pronounce or afford.
- Urgent tasks call for immediate action. This is when you get distracted by Netflix and leave your really impressive pizza in the oven for a really long time. When the smoke detector goes off, you drop everything to save that pie.
All too often, people blur the two together. As a result, we unintentionally fall into the trap of believing all important tasks are urgent and all urgent tasks are important. The ultimate goal is to manage your time so tasks don’t become urgent. Don’t leave your trip to Whole Foods until 9:30 pm when you know they close at 10 pm. This type of poor planning destroys productivity.
That’s where the Eisenhower Matrix comes in. By categorizing your tasks into the four quadrants of the matrix, you’ll reduce the number of fires that are created out of poor prioritizing.
Q1 – DO
These are important and urgent tasks that need to be done immediately – like saving our burnt pizza. In marketing, these tasks are the ones with hard, immediate deadlines. Carrying out last-minute client requests, preparing presentations for tomorrow’s meeting, etc.
With proper planning, this quadrant should be light. If that’s not the case, you need to analyze your tasks and ask how and why they keep sneaking up on you. Is there a way you can get in front of them? If they’re reoccurring, can you section off time in your calendar to get a head start? With a little bit of foresight, we can move some of these stress-inducing jobs to Q2.
Q2 – PLAN
Q2 activities are key to achieving your goal but don’t have the same pressing deadlines as Q1 tasks. As tough as it may be, this is where you want to spend the majority of your time, limiting the items you deem Q1 worthy. We’re naturally inclined to focus on the most pressing tasks, so this mental shift can be tough – but it’ll be worth it. These tasks are the ones that set you up for long-term success, like rounding up all your pizza toppings. In the workplace, these tasks could be the steps that go into setting up a campaign, updating organizational strategies, researching business development opportunities, etc.
Q3 – DELEGATE
These tasks are relatively unimportant but need to be done immediately. The catch here is whether or not you’re the right person for the job. Can you pass it off to someone more fitting? Is there someone with more spare time who can handle it? You’ve spent your evening slaving over this pizza – someone else can cut it into slices. Attending meetings in which you are not essential, replying to emails where several team members are CC’d, or proofreading are all examples of tasks that need completing but don’t require you specifically.
Q4 – ELIMINATE
Tasks that are neither important or urgent belong in the fourth quadrant – which is a fancier way of calling them “time-wasters”. Reading articles and scrolling through social media are great examples. Now, I’m not telling you to eliminate them from your life because, “hello sanity!?” But rather, schedule them in a way that doesn’t take from tasks in other quadrants. Read that article while you’re waiting for everyone to hop on the conference line, check social media on your lunch, cancel that needless meeting, and so on.
SO WHAT’S THE END GAME?
When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. With the Eisenhower Matrix, you should spend most of your time checking off Q2 tasks and limiting Q1 emergencies as well as Q3 disruptions. More importantly, the matrix should lead to reduced stress and greater efficiency. At the end of the day, you can clock out feeling good about your accomplishments. You got $h!t done! Now you can move on to those backlogged Q4 tasks – like binge-watching videos of dogs acting like humans.
No? Just me? Moving on…
At Stryve, we’ve been using Jira for planning daily, weekly, and even monthly tasks. The software allows us to assign priority levels, due dates, time budgets, and more. While it’s a bit more complicated than the matrix, it sets us up for the same end goal, keeping us organized, efficient, and on track.
So go ahead and channel your inner Eisenhower. If this strategy was good enough for a president, it must be worth a shot.