The Eisenhower Matrix is a powerful mental model that helps you work on the most important thing and get more done. Let’s explore how it works so you can put it to use today.
Dwight Eisenhower wasn’t only the 34th President of the United States. Before that, he was a five-star general in the Army, responsible for command of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II. He was also the Supreme Commander of NATO and President of Columbia University.
Eisenhower’s time management was legendary. No matter the role or the environment, Eisenhower consistently delivered for decades. The simple tool he created so he never confused the important with the urgent helps us prioritize our time.
How did he accomplish so much?
The most urgent decisions are rarely the most important ones.Dwight Eisenhower
Eisenhower used a simple tool called the Eisenhower Matrix. You can draw it on a blank sheet of paper and start using it today.
The Eisenhower Matrix
The Eisenhower Matrix has four parts, which you use to categorize the work in front of you:
- Important, but not urgent
- Urgent and important
- Urgent but not important
- Not important and not urgent
The Eisenhower Matrix helps you prioritize your time. The real value of the tool is how it helps you distinguish between what is important and what is urgent. As Eisenhower said, “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”
The Difference Between Urgent and Important
Urgent tasks are time-sensitive and require attention. These tasks can be anything from responding to emails and returning phone calls, to realizing you have a report due in 20 minutes.
Urgent tasks often cause us to be reactive. We’re stressed. We’re under pressure. The time is ticking. As a result, we’re rarely thinking optimally. So … we rush. And because we rush, we often make poor decisions. Decisions that will have consequences in the future and destroy our future productivity. Nothing zaps productivity like fixing problems because we were reactive and rushed through a decision.
Important tasks move us forward. They are things we want to get done, that move us toward our most important goals. These tasks are deliberate. They require focused attention.
Most of us default to working on what’s urgent and important. These tasks scream for our attention and immediate action to solve today’s problems.
When all of our time goes to solving today’s emergencies, we inadvertently create tomorrow’s problems.
The Eisenhower Matrix in Practice
The Eisenhower Matrix helps eliminate nearly everything so you can focus on the best use of time.
Here is how you can put it to use for you.
Drop all non-important and non-urgent tasks that don’t give you energy.
Schedule important and non-urgent tasks into your calendar. Block off 60-90 minutes a day of your best time and make it untouchable. This time is when you create value.
Work on important and urgent tasks next. These should also be scheduled. When you have too many of these tasks, it’s a sign to step back and think. Something is going wrong.
Delegate the non-important urgent tasks. These require attention but it doesn’t have to be your attention. Hire a part-time assistant. Delegate to someone on your team.
It might help to think about your day in three equal parts. The first part is the best time of your day. Put this on your biggest opportunity (important and non-urgent). The next part goes to what’s important and urgent. The final part is for all the non-important urgent tasks that you can’t delegate, like meetings. In practice, we often do the exact opposite schedule. The non-important urgent tasks, like meetings, take up our mornings. The important and urgent tasks are worked on in the cracks of time between meetings and in the afternoons. And only once everyone has left the office and we’re mentally exhausted do we have time for the important and non-urgent.
If you want to supercharge your productivity, invest the best time of your day in the biggest opportunity, not the biggest problem.
Still curious? Check out The Decision Matrix: How to Prioritize What Matters.