Juggling an endless list of responsibilities is no doubt an overwhelming task. Whether it’s an important project you’re working on, meetings you have to attend, emails you have to send, or even activities unrelated to work, you must organize and prioritize these tasks in order to move forward successfully. With so many tasks, it’s common for employees to feel overwhelmed and paralyzed, unable to do even a single task, and instead, end up procrastinating. Of course, this only makes the situation worse and it becomes a cycle of chaos and unproductivity. Employees who suffer from this stress caused by a lack of task organization and time management are more likely to experience workplace burnout. But how can we combat this? It turns out, our 34th president of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower had the solution all along. It was later named the Eisenhower Matrix.
History of Eisenhower
In Eisenhower’s two terms in office, he achieved a number of accomplishments such as leading the construction of the interstate highway, signing the Civil Rights Act of 1957 into law, ended the Korean War, created NASA, and so much more.
But how was he able to accomplish so much in his short time as president? Eisenhower was able to determine his priorities by understanding two key factors: what was urgent and what was important. By recognizing these two things, he was able to maximize his efficiency and productivity immensely by organizing his tasks and the order in which he would take them on.
Eisenhower was known widely for his ability to maintain productivity not only for a short period of time but for decades, before and after his presidency. That is why so many look to him for methods of task management, time management, and productivity overall.
Years later, the Eisenhower Matrix was built from Eisenhower’s philosophy about the urgency and importance of tasks. It was condensed into a simple tool used to compartmentalize and prioritize your tasks.
In this article, we will be explaining what the Eisenhower Matrix is, each of its components with examples of when you should use it, and tips to use the tool most effectively.
What is the Eisenhower Matrix?
The Eisenhower Matrix also referred to as the Eisenhower Box, Eisenhower Decision Matrix, or Urgent-Important Matrix is an effective tool in managing and prioritizing your tasks and responsibilities. It allows you to consider the urgency and importance of each of these tasks in order to focus on the ones that encourage you to be the most productive and efficient. At first glance, the Eisenhower Matrix may seem like an unnecessary tool because of its simplicity, but the point is to pay a bit more attention to the often neglected task of stepping back to manage your time and effort. This matrix allows you to create not only a physical but also mental space for you to manage your goals.
What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.
How to Use the Eisenhower Matrix?
The Eisenhower Matrix is a visual framework of all your tasks; it is divided into four quadrants based on their urgency and importance. The top left quadrant is called the “Do” quadrant, the top right is the “Decide” quadrant, the bottom left is the “Delegate” quadrant, and lastly, the bottom right is the “Delete” quadrant.
Mapping out your tasks visually is the key importance of the Eisenhower Matrix. It forces you to think about everything that is on your plate, and to organize them into a quadrant by importance. With so many tasks, big and small, it’s easy to lose track of what you are doing or what you are supposed to do. Sometimes you might find that you’ve devoted too much of your time to one project and later realized you should have been working on another important task as well. So having a visual map of your responsibilities and their importance allows you to have space where you can manage and keep track of them. Each task will fall into one of the following quadrants.
- Do First – These are your most important and urgent tasks. They should be prioritized and completed as soon as possible.
- Decide – These are important tasks but not urgent. You may have a long term goal but not a deadline for it. You should decide when to schedule these tasks and do them after you’ve completed everything in your “Do” quadrant.
- Delegate – These are not important tasks but urgent. These tasks can be delegated to others or you can accomplish them yourself, but only after you have completed your more important tasks in the “Do” and “Decide” quadrants.
- Delete – These tasks are neither important nor urgent. Depending on how little urgency and importance these tasks hold, you should eliminate doing them as in most cases; they are just a waste of your time.
The distinction between what is urgent and important is very much a grey area and is different for each person and their situation. In general, though, urgent matters are those that require immediate attention with consequences for not completing those tasks. Important matters are ones that contribute to long term goals or your personal values; what is important depends on each individual’s goals whether personal or professional and is different for everyone. We will be talking about each quadrant of the Eisenhower Matrix in-depth to help you understand what kind of tasks you should be putting in each of the quadrants.
Breakdown of Each Quadrant
Tasks in this quadrant are often inevitable. Whether you decide to procrastinate them or not, you’ll need to get them done, otherwise, there will be consequences. These tasks therefore should be placed high on your list of priorities and completed first before taking on other less important or urgent tasks. Remember that these tasks don’t have to only include your work responsibilities; if you have urgent and important personal matters that require your attention, also add them to your list. Some examples of tasks that would be in the “Do First” quadrant are:
- Writing an article for today
- Covering for a colleague’s project
- Fixing a car problem
- Last-minute deadlines
The “Decide” quadrant is filled with tasks that may not be urgent, but important to your long term goals or personal and professional values. These tasks may not have a set deadline so scheduling them for a later time in order to complete more urgent and important tasks is most efficient. These tasks however are still important to your long term effectiveness so they should be prioritized as soon as you complete all of your tasks from the “Do” quadrant. Some examples of things in this quadrant include:
- Building personal and professional relationships
- Learning/researching a new skill
- Attending an event
The “Delegate” quadrant of the Eisenhower Matrix is filled with tasks that may be urgent, but not important to your long term goals or values. It’s a good idea to try to delegate as many of these tasks if possible, such as asking someone else to send out urgent emails instead of doing it yourself. Focusing lots of your efforts in this quadrant can feel like you are not contributing to your long term goals and can be extremely demotivating and lead to burnout. Some examples of tasks in this quadrant may include:
- Attending certain meetings
- Taking notes
- Sending/responding to messages or emails
- Scheduling interviews
Additionally, when delegating tasks, don’t just throw a project or task on somebody else; make sure they understand the responsibility and check up on them and their progress. A few tips when delating are:
- If possible, give them ownership and responsibility for the whole task
- Help them understand what exactly you want them to do and be clear about your needs
- Determine beforehand how you will measure the successful completion of the task
- Make sure to thank them in some way for their time and hard work
Tasks in the “Delete” quadrant are those that are neither important nor urgent and simply waste time that could be spent doing tasks that benefit you in the long run. These are usually leisurely activities that may act as a distraction from your stress in the short run, but are ultimately unfulfilling and only affect you negatively by taking up important time and causing you to further procrastinate more urgent and important responsibilities. Of course, everybody needs some leisure time but an excessive amount of distraction activities, such as the following, only worsen employees’ stress and efficiency in their work:
- Watching hours of TV
- Scrolling through social media for hours
- Eating junk food
- Playing video games
Is the Eisenhower Matrix Right for You?
The Eisenhower Matrix is a simple productivity tool and can be used by anyone and for anything whether it’s personal or professional tasks. However, this tool can be especially useful to some people who constantly feel overwhelmed by all of their responsibilities and feel like they have task paralysis. If you experience any of the following things, the Eisenhower Matrix might be a tool for you if you:
- Are constantly busy but don’t feel like your work is fulfilling
- Have many long term goals but no time to make progress on them
- Feel overwhelmed by all the tasks calling for your attention and you don’t know where to start
- Find it difficult to delegate tasks or you don’t know what tasks you can delegate to others
- Procrastinate a lot due to stress
Tips to Help You Use the Eisenhower Matrix Most Effectively
Color code your matrix
This may seem like a small change, but color coordinating your matrix will make it easier to identify your key tasks in a single glance. This is a visual framework after all and should be visually appealing to the eye so it is easy for you to understand. For example, a color such as red can be used for the most urgent and important tasks in your “Do” quadrant, and you can colour-coordinate your “Delete” quadrant grey to signify that it should be ignored.
Cut out as much as possible
The Eisenhower Matrix is meant to be a tool to optimize your efficiency and productivity. In order to do this, you must clearly evaluate your tasks to determine what is a priority of yours and what is not, what you can delegate, and what you can delete. Trimming down the tasks on your to-do list and making your quadrant as concise as possible will allow you to accomplish more and be the most efficient.
Set a limit of tasks per quadrant
Following the previous tip, it’s a good idea to set a limit for the number of tasks in each quadrant to prevent being overwhelmed and stay on schedule. A good number that many people follow is about 8 tasks per quadrant.
Consider what you should do first
To increase your productivity, think about the order in which you take on the tasks in each quadrant. Some tasks will give you momentum and inspire you while others, which may still be important, may require less energy and can be done at the end of the day rather than the start.
During your productive hours, try to eliminate as many distractions as possible to optimize your efficiency. Things like having a clean workspace, turning off your phone, putting in headphones, eating healthy and getting lots of sleep, will allow you to have a clear mind, free from distractions in order to work well.
This is much easier said than done, but try to avoid procrastinating. All of the things listed above will help you manage your tasks in order to not overwhelm or stress you out, preventing the likelihood of procrastination. But it is still up to each individual to take on these tasks listed on their Eisenhower Matrix in order to be efficient.
The Bottom Line on the Eisenhower Matrix
The Eisenhower Matrix has been a tool used by professionals for decades. It may be a simple idea, but will benefit you immensely by creating a physical and mental space for you to understand, compartmentalize, and prioritize your potentially overwhelming tasks, whether in your personal or work life. When applying the practices of doing, deciding, delegating, and deleting as talked about in this article, you will be able to increase your effectiveness, productivity, and greatly reduce your stress levels caused by any feelings of being overwhelmed by your tasks. It may be a simple matrix but can help you achieve your long term goals with more ease and efficiency.