February 28, 2018

The Eisenhower Matrix

Be more productive – use the Eisenhower matrix

 

It feels like you have 1,639 things to do but there are only 24 hours in the day. Where do you start?! Many of us feel this way on a daily basis, and it can paralyze us from tackling our multitude of tasks with structure and efficiency.

Stress no longer! There is a simple and effective approach to time management that will exponentially improve productivity and help you check-off that to-do list. It’s called the Eisenhower matrix.

Take it from the man who achieved incredible things in his life by applying this approach. Here is just a small excerpt of his achievements:

  • He was a 5-star general – only 9 people in the U.S. military have ever achieved  that rank
  • He later went on to become the 34th president of the United States (for 2 terms)
  • He led allies to victory in WWII by planning and supervising, not only the allied invasion into North Africa between 1942-43, but also the invasion of France a year later
  • He served as the first Supreme Commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
  • He ended the Korean War
  • Signed and act to create NASA in 1958
  • Sponsored the bill that led to the creation of the US Interstate Highway system
  • He balanced the federal budget – 3 times!
  • Most importantly, he kept America at peace

Obviously we are talking about Dwight D. Eisenhower, who not only became a role model for leadership, but was also noted for his ability to manage HUGE tasks (see list above) with a proven prioritization model. Once he famously said: “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.” So let’s take a look at how he did it?

Important vs. Urgent

In a nutshell: he classified his tasks as Important or Urgent, with the help of a matrix (later called Eisenhower matrix or Eisenhower box). You can find an excel template for his matrix at the end of this blog.

Eisenhower famously stated in a 1954 address, “What Is Important Is Seldom Urgent and What Is Urgent Is Seldom Important.” Before we take a look at Ike’s matrix, let’s briefly clarify the difference between important and urgent – because there are many who still have difficulties understanding the difference:

While an important matter is one of “much or great significance or consequence”, an urgent matter is “compelling or requiring immediate action or attention; imperative; pressing”.

In other words, carrying out important tasks a littler later will not do any harm, but postponing an urgent task can have serious, immediate consequences. Here is a business example:

  • Task 1: Customer meeting in the afternoon
  • Task 2: Preparation for an investor meeting the following day
  • Task 3: Write a Blog

For me, Task 1 is urgent because it’s in the afternoon. Task 2 is extremely important because you’re not usually afforded many opportunities to meet with an investor,  and the meeting is also the next day. I would definitely feel some time-pressure (=urgency). Writing the blog is also important as it creates traffic on my company’s website, but a little less important in the scheme of things.

The Eisenhower Matrix

The Matrix forces you to classify your tasks according to their urgency and importance and it will tell you what to do with the task and in which sequence / priority:

  1. Not urgent and unimportant tasks are eliminated – this is my favourite: No task is finished faster than the one you don’t even have to start
  2. Urgent but unimportant tasks can be delegated
  3. Important but not urgent tasks can be executed later
  4. Only tasks that end up being urgent and important are executed immediately by yourself

 

 

Task 1: Delegate (obviously, it is an urgent task but compared with the preparation of the investor meeting, it is less important).

Task 2: Do Now! (there is almost no time left for the preparation and it trumps the customer in terms of urgency)

Task 3: Do later (digital marketing is important as it can be a source of organic growth, but having the blog online 3 days later will not harm you)

This all looks very simple, and frankly, it is! For me personally, it made the prioritization of my tasks very straightforward and easy. However, you have to be able to simply eliminate tasks. If they end up in the bottom right quadrant, don’t touch and forget them. Therefore, it is important to mention that you need to have your overall goal in mind when applying the Matrix. Without it, it is almost impossible to classify tasks.

Particularly appealing in my opinion is the fact that the Matrix can be applied to all sorts of situations and not only to a business environment. Event organization, a job, vacation planning, or even “life” can be applied to Eisenhower matrix.

 

A closing note: be mindful with tasks that fall in the “Delegate” quadrant. They often come with two traps:

  1. They can often appear to be important tasks if they are handed over to you by a co-worker or colleague. Be aware of this or your run the risk of becoming a victim of the “Nice Guy Syndrome”. Being more efficient and productive sometimes also means having to say no.
  2. They are generally uncomprehensive and don’t require much time to complete, so we like to tackle them early. Checking them off is easy and gives us quick positive feedback (because checking a task off your to-do list always feels good, right?!).
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