How to be More Productive by Using the “Eisenhower Matrix”

Throughout his life, President Dwight D. Eisenhower was well known as a man of productivity. Before he was president, he was a five start general of the US Army, being a key strategist for many invasions against the Nazis in World War II. On becoming President, he launched many of the significant projects and departments that are still integral to the USA today, such as the interstate highway system, NASA and DARPA.

His productivity became well-renowned and researched, and by far one of the most useful strategies he's credited for devising is the Eisenhower Matrix. A simple method to deploy in our everyday lives, it can help you increase productivity, avoid procrastination, and order your workflow. So, what exactly is it and how does it work?

Illustration of person watching on Eisenhower Matrix and thinking

What is the Eisenhower Matrix?

The method begins by creating a 2x2 matrix. On the X axis of our matrix we have Urgent and Not Urgent. On the Y axis, we have Important and Not Important. With these different boxes, we have four quadrants, each with a different value, and as such, each to be handled very differently.

The four quadrants are essentially divided into the following categories:

The Eisenhower Matrix teaches us to swiftly recognise the importance and urgency of tasks on our to-do lists. By categorising the tasks in the above way we can figure out which ones to prioritise, which to put on the back-burner for later, which to delegate, and which to eliminate. This will both put your to-do list in an order of priority, and shrink it down.

But how do we distinguish between “urgent and important” and everything in between?

What Are "Urgent" and "Important" Activities?

Important things are, well, important.They are the things that move us closer to our defined goals, dreams, and aspirations in life. They have meaning and impact to what actually matters to us in our lives. Running in alignment with your values, important things include, going to the gym, spending time with your family, or coming up with a strategic plan for your business.

On the other hand, we have urgent things. Urgent things require your immediate attention like a call from an angry customer, or picking up your kid from the nurse's office at school.

More often than not, things don’t tend to be both important and urgent. A lot of the time we mistake urgent tasks as being inherently important, with their acute timeframe masking the true value of what they actually represent in our lives.

The Eisenhower Matrix is an amazing tool to combat this frequent “mislabelling” of tasks in our workflow, and by mapping out a matrix of urgency and importance, we get a clearer picture of what’s on our slate.

How to Use the Eisenhower Matrix Effectively

In order to implement the Eisenhower Matrix effectively, one must identify which of the four quadrants a task or a project sits in, and then give it the appropriate action. So what are the traits that come with each category, and (having filed the task appropriately) what should you do with it?

Quadrant One: Urgent and Important

These are tasks that are not only important, but also time sensitive. These might include taking care of a sick relative, addressing an order-dispute for your biggest customer or fixing a crucial bug on the company website. Hopefully you shouldn’t have too many of these but something landing in this box should be done immediately with everything else put aside to make space for it.

Quadrant Two: Important, But Not Urgent

This is where some of the most important things in our lives live, and yet many people will see tasks piling up here. Why? Because these jobs are not urgent we often let them slide or delay into the indefinite. Whilst they might not have the immediacy of Quadrant One tasks, it’s important to recognise they are truly no less important.

These tasks include long-term strategy and planning meetings with your team, performing regular website maintenance, exercising, spending quality time with your friends and family, meditating, and sleeping enough.

These things won't pop out at you with red flashing lights, but there's no denying that they are extremely important. Indeed if not taken care of, they could soon turn into a hoard of urgent jobs bashing on the door of Quadrant One.

When it comes to Quadrant Two tasks, stop procrastinating and make a decision. Ask yourself, “When will I sit down and do these things?”. If you're a business owner or a manager in a company, these tasks are probably the most significant part of your job. It’s tempting to ignore Quadrant Two for the sake of addressing Quadrant Ones and Quadrant Threes, but come under no illusions, these need to be tackled, so schedule them in and stick to those deadlines.

Quadrant Three: Urgent, But Not Important

We all hate to admit it, but a lot of the stuff we do, whilst urgent, is actually not important at all. For example, monitoring comments on your website or social media, attending a quarterly business update, or scheduling a Zoom meeting. Of course these are worth doing, but they’re just not important. Certainly not enough for you to actually do them yourself. That's why the answer to Quadrant Three tasks is a simple one: delegate. Find a technological solution, an automation, or a human being who can help you with this task and pass it off to them. Ideally you want to spend as little of your time as possible in Quadrant Three.

Quadrant Four: Not Urgent, and Not Important

These represent a large category of tasks that aren't worth your time or anyone else’s for that matter (not even that programme or person you got to help you out in Quadrant Three). Some of these may be enjoyable, but they're not moving you towards your desired goals in any way, shape, or form. Things like watching television or scrolling through social media for example. While Quadrant Four tasks inevitably pervade our lives, look to try and eliminate these activities as much as possible.

How to Use the Eisenhower Matrix To Increase Productivity

The Eisenhower Matrix is especially useful if you find yourself dealing with excessive amounts of work. With an overabundance of tasks, taking a bit of time to categorise your jobs into the four quadrants above can restore order to an otherwise chaotic workflow.

It’s also good to incorporate the overarching philosophy of this time management matrix into your daily workflow. Whether it’s on a daily or weekly basis, the Eisenhower Matrix will help prioritise the items on your to-do list. Look to commit to scheduling or prioritising your tasks as per the above, and you’ll find yourself with a clearer and more effective work-day

Conclusion

The nature of our work-environment today, as shaped by email, instant messaging and the like, means we feel constantly in need of prioritising our requests in order of when the message was received. However, this approach often leaves us with a feeling of dissatisfaction with our own productivity, finding that the majority of the day has been spent handling items we could have delegated or just eliminated, and jobs that don’t progress our life-goals or objectives.

Instead, the Eisenhower Decision Matrix provides an excellent framework to help you cut through the clutter and finish your most important work in record time, whilst making sure you’re not wasting precious hours and minutes on things that can either be done elsewhere or just not at all. By giving you the skill of distinguishing between which tasks truly demand your attention, and those that don’t, the Eisenhower Box will keep you focused on what’s important, and in doing so change not just the output you see in your day or your week, but also your life.