The Eisenhower Matrix is a powerful tool 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 avoided the trap that so many of us fall into when we confuse effective and efficient.
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?
Eisenhower used a simple tool called the Eisenhower Matrix. It’s an effective time management strategy you can put to use 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, returning phone calls, or even picking up groceries on the way home so you can eat dinner. If you can’t eliminate urgent tasks, they are best accomplished with ruthless efficiency.
Important tasks, on the other hand, move us forward with vision and meaning. They are the things we want to get done but also bring us meaning because they are aligned with our values and goals. Important tasks call for effectiveness.
We tend to feel stressed and overwhelmed when we focus on urgent but unimportant tasks. While these things are easy to check off our list, when left undone, there are little to no consequences.
We get into trouble when we confuse efficiency and effectiveness.
The key to productivity is doing more of what matters and less of what doesn’t.
The people who do this best are the ones who consistently understand what is urgent and important and eliminate the rest. By concentrating their mental and physical energy in the right place, they dramatically improve their impact.
Reducing the surface area of your attention means asking yourself the difficult question of whether what you are doing really matters to the outcome you want. If you are ruthless, you can eliminate 20-40% of what you are doing today without impacting the most important things. All that time you save can then be invested in the most important things.
The most urgent decisions are rarely the most important ones.Dwight Eisenhower
The hard part is that admitting you’re doing something that doesn’t matter means you’ve been wasting your time up to now. It’s much easier to keep doing what we’ve been doing and tell ourselves that if we just had one more productivity hack, we’d make more progress.
Being busy and being productive are not the same thing. It’s easy to be busy. It’s hard to be productive.
The real “work” of productivity is less about improving efficiency and more about improving effectiveness.
Being productive is not about doing more; it’s about concentrating the most energy possible on the things that matter.
Using the Eisenhower Matrix in Practice
I’ve found the Eisenhower Matrix helps me eliminate the unnecessary and separate my time into two buckets: effective time and efficient time.
Drop all non-important and non-urgent tasks. This one is easy.
Effective time. Schedule important and non-urgent tasks into your calendar. Block off the best 60-90 minutes of your day and make it untouchable. This is when you are effective and create long-term value. This time is for your biggest opportunity.
Efficient time. Important and urgent tasks should be scheduled. Block 60-90 minutes in your afternoon and go through your list as efficiently as possible. When you have too many of these tasks, it’s a sign to step back and think. For the last 1/3 of this time, I ruthlessly tackle all of the urgent and non-important tasks that I can’t delegate. While these tasks often require attention, they don’t always require your attention.
Understanding the difference between tasks that should be done effectively, ones that should be done efficiently, and ones that shouldn’t be done at all will help 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.