I don’t know about you, but I almost always have more on my to-do list than I can possibly get done. I write my daily to-do list in my daily planner. I also have a running to-do list in Asana of tasks that haven’t made it onto my calendar yet.
And let me tell you, I’ve always had a really freaking hard time figuring out which of those tasks need to be at the top of the list.
I’ll admit that on quite a few occasions, this indecision has led to procrastination. It’s not that I don’t want to get to work. I just don’t know where to start!
The Eisenhower Matrix has become my favorite way to narrow down my to-do list and figure out which tasks really need my attention.
In this post, I’ll be sharing how you can use the Eisenhower Matrix (otherwise known as the Eisenhower Box) to accomplish your most important and urgent tasks every single day.
What is the Eisenhower Matrix?
The Eisenhower Matrix was made famous by Dwight Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States. He was known for being incredibly productive, and the Eisenhower Matrix is the tool he used to manage his tasks.
The Eisenhower Matrix has four quadrants that break down your tasks into four categories:
- Important and urgent
- Important, but not urgent
- Urgent, but not important
- Neither important nor urgent
Here’s a look at what the Eisenhower Matrix looks like:
The Difference Between Urgent and Important
Before we dive into how the Eisenhower Matrix works, let’s first talk about the difference between urgent and important tasks.
Way too often, people confuse the two. We assume that anything that’s urgent must also be important. And even worse, we assume that tasks that aren’t urgent just aren’t important.
There’s a quote from President Eisenhower that says, “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”
Most of the time, this is true!
Important tasks are those that allow us to be proactive toward achieving our goals, both personal and professional.
Urgent tasks, on the other hand, are reactive. We’re reacting to something in our lives that is demanding immediate attention, even when it may not be important enough to warrant that attention.
Knowing the difference between these two is the true goal of the Eisenhower Matrix.
How the Eisenhower Matrix Works
IMPORTANT AND URGENT
The first box of the matrix is for tasks that are both important and urgent. Not only are they time-sensitive, but they’ll also likely have a significant impact in the long run.
These are the tasks that should be moved to the top of your to-do list. In your business, they would probably be the big money-making tasks such as closing a sale.
Personal emergencies would also be both important and urgent and would immediately become your top priority.
The tasks that go in this quadrant are probably also energy and time-intensive tasks. They’re the ones you procrastinate starting because you know how much work they’ll be, but they’re totally necessary because they are what move the needle.
In my business, tasks that are both important and urgent include articles that have upcoming deadlines.
When I’m crafting my schedule every day, I always try to make sure these are the tasks I work on first thing in the morning. That is the time of day I have the most energy and motivation, so I know they’ll get my best work then.
I would never recommend saving these tasks for the end of the day because if something comes up that pushes you off course, you won’t get them done.
IMPORTANT, NOT URGENT
The tasks in the second quadrant of the matrix are important but not necessarily urgent. These tasks will certainly have a big impact in the long run, but they don’t need to be done immediately.
In your career, this would include the time you invested in getting your degree. In your business, this would be your long-term business strategy and future product launches.
In your personal life, maintaining relationships is important. Making time to spend with those you love may not be time-sensitive, but it certainly has a great impact in the long run.
This quadrant would also include the things you do to maintain your health. Exercising and healthy eating may not be urgent, and often they get moved to the bottom of our to-do lists, but in the long run, they’re incredibly important.
The tasks that fall into this category often get put off in favor of urgent tasks. But in the long-run, these are the tasks that are going to help you reach your goals – so make time for them! If they aren’t on your calendar, add them.
I always make sure these tasks are scheduled on my calendar ahead of time, that way I’m not likely to set them aside in favor of something else.
For example, I schedule my workouts on the calendar one week at a time. When the time comes to work out, I’m pretty unlikely to talk myself out of it because there’s nothing else I should be working on during that time. I’ve made a commitment to myself and I’m going to keep it.
URGENT, NOT IMPORTANT
The tasks in the third quadrant are urgent, but they aren’t important. However, they are mistaken for being important tasks way too often. This quadrant includes tasks such as answering phone calls and responding to emails.
People way too often think that because these tasks are “urgent,” they have to do them right away. Well, I’ve got good news – you don’t have to do them right away!
Think about phone calls. When the phone rings, it’s urgent. You only have a limited amount of time to answer it before the call gets sent to voicemail.
But how often do you get a phone call that you would consider important? For me, the answer is almost never. So I don’t answer the phone when I’m working on something else.
The exception would be if my fiance or a family member is calling during a time I know they would only be calling in the case of an emergency – then it’s important as well as urgent!
These tasks can be scheduled for later. But even better, they can be delegated.
In the example of the phone calls, you’re “delegating” that task to your voicemail. In other cases, it might be an actual person you’re delegating to.
NEITHER IMPORTANT NOR URGENT
Let’s be honest, most of us fill our calendars with a lot of things that aren’t necessary as well. Some of these we do as a form of laziness or procrastination, and some we do because we genuinely think they’re important, but they really aren’t.
Things like watching TV and scrolling through social media are activities we know aren’t important or urgent, but we spend a lot of time on them anyway. I’m not saying you should never do these things. Having balance in life is important, and it’s fine if those are activities you want to enjoy in your free time (I certainly do!) – but don’t use them as a crutch for laziness or productivity during work time.
There are also some activities that fall into this quadrant that you might think you need to be doing, but when you think about it, they really aren’t important or urgent.
When I started my business, there were a lot of tasks I made time for because I read they were things I “should” be doing. But they didn’t benefit my business at all or bring me any closer to my goals. By identifying the tasks that weren’t having an impact, I was able to eliminate them from my to-do list.
The good news is you’ll be saving yourself a lot of time by getting rid of these tasks.
How to Use the Eisenhower Matrix in Your Own Life
Hopefully, you’re reading this and thinking the Eisenhower Matrix sounds like exactly what you need to finally organize your freaking to-do list. But how do you go about using it in your own life? Here are some practical tips for applying the Eisenhower Matrix to your tasks.
1. Make a list of every project and activity you have to do. Try to be super comprehensive, even for tasks that don’t seem relevant. Anything that takes up your time is relevant here! Include tasks for both your professional and personal life.
2. Assign each task to a quadrant on the Eisenhower Matrix. You can just use paper and pencil to sort them. Be honest with yourself to avoid elevating the importance of any task. A good way to do this is to honestly ask yourself, “What is the immediate result of this task?” If the immediate result is your child being fed when they need to be or closing a sale in your business, that task is pretty darn urgent and important!
3. Cross off every task in Quadrant 4. These tasks are neither urgent nor important, and you should only be giving them your energy during downtime.
4. Create a plan for tasks in Quadrant 3. Is there a person, app, service, etc., that can do this task for you?
5. Pull out your calendar and schedule your tasks for the week. Tasks that you put in Quadrants 1 and 2 should be added right to your calendar. Scheduling them for a specific time ensures they actually get done!
6. Eliminate distractions. When you’re working on the tasks on your calendar, put everything else away. Focus is the key to successfully getting it all done!
7. Repeat with new tasks. Any time a new task ends up on your desk or in your inbox, figure out where in the Eisenhower Matrix it belongs and act accordingly. You can seriously use this matrix for everything!
Why the Eisenhower Matrix Works
The best way to reach your goals is to ensure you’re focusing your time on the tasks that are truly going to move you forward and have an impact.
The Eisenhower Matrix works so well because it forces you to identify which tasks you should be focusing on and which are a waste of time.
I have always found myself procrastinating by spending too much time on tasks that are either urgent but not important or even those that aren’t urgent or important. Using this method has really forced me to get honest with myself and move those tasks to the bottom of the list in favor of the more high-impact tasks.
Pretty often, I find that the reason I’m not focusing on important tasks is fear. I’m afraid of going for something big and failing. I’m afraid of putting something out, whether it be a new blog post or a digital product, and being judged.
Using the Eisenhower Matrix has really forced me to take a hard look at those important tasks and take away every other excuse for finally doing them.
If you’re not as productive as you’d like to be, the Eisenhower Matrix is the perfect tool to help you take an honest look at your to-do list and focus on the most important tasks.
And by using the Eisenhower Matrix on a regular basis, you’ll ensure that your most important and urgent tasks are getting done every single day.
Sure, it will be hard at first. It’s not easy to admit you’ve been spending time on tasks that aren’t worth your attention! But once you get past the hard part, you’ll eliminate so much wasted time and energy and find that you’re getting more done in less time and achieving all of your goals!