Busy — but not productive? While “busywork” feels like you are taking steps towards your ultimate goal, without a strategy to prioritize time spent, you likely aren’t producing measurable results. Why? Because we often confuse what’s urgent and what’s important.
When looking at the past year, what percentage of your time was busywork, make-work, maybe even good work, but not in alignment with the goals that you wanted to achieve?
For decades, the Eisenhower Matrix has helped connect actions to goals with a simple concept spotlighting focus on what matters most, and alleviating this confusion.
What is the Eisenhower Matrix?
Derived from the 34th U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Eisenhower Matrix is an effective decision-making tool for increasing productivity by determining top priorities and by eliminating the behaviors and habits that waste time, lead to burnout, and ultimately keep you from long-term goals.
By doing fewer tasks, but those that were of the utmost impact and importance first, Eisenhower became famous for his military leadership and decision-making throughout his presidency and as supreme commander of the Allied forces in western Europe during World War II.
This time-management framework, commonly known as the Eisenhower Box, was established with his core principle of distinguishing important and urgent tasks in order to focus on actionable items of highest priority in four segments. The concept was popularized by Dr. Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and became a solidified method of prioritizing tasks and time management, for all professions.
This and other leadership approaches are also covered by Predictable Success founder Les McKeown here:
Distinguishing between urgent and important tasks is a critical step when connecting actions to goals as it’s easy to misinterpret which tasks help us, and which hinder us. It’s so easy to get caught up in the ‘merely’ urgent, and forget what it means to do something that is truly meaningful – something that genuinely changes lives (yours, or others, or best still, both). Even more so, stressors that stem from having “too much to do, and not enough time” significantly impact the mission — but also the demise of the overall outcome if not properly considered.
Urgent tasks are tasks that require timely action, quick response, or have a rapid deadline. Although these items typically beg for immediate attention, we tend to spend an unavoidable amount of time on them to alleviate an undesired consequence. These tasks are usually at the top of your usual to-do list.
Important tasks are those that have long-term consequences to our goals if action is not taken. However, these are also the tasks that get shuffled to the bottom of our usual to-do lists as they are not as time-sensitive, but ultimately, these tasks contribute the most impact on our mission.
Labeling your day-to-day tasks with this in mind leads to the next layer of the matrix — the quadrants.
Understanding the Eisenhower Matrix Quadrants
Each of your daily tasks and projects is evaluated and based on two axes (important/unimportant and urgent/not urgent) and fall into one of these four boxes of the matrix:
Urgent & Important tasks – to do first
Not Urgent & Important tasks – decide to do later
Urgent & Not Important tasks – ideally to be delegated to someone else
Not Urgent & Not Important tasks/projects – to delete or remove from your plate
The “Do” Quadrant
Tasks that are labeled “Important” & “Urgent” and demand immediate attention and should be tackled first.
Examples of Important and Urgent Tasks:
Urgent “big” client call or request
Safety or quality issue
Unprojected project deadlines
Emails from your boss
The “Decide” Quadrant
Tasks that are labeled “Important” and “Not Urgent” and have a due date, but can be scheduled for completion at a later date.
Examples of Important and Not Urgent tasks:
The “Delegate” Quadrant
Tasks that are labeled as “Not Important” and “Urgent” can be delegated to others if possible and are often a distraction from your day-to-day success. This can be also known as merely important because of their urgency.
Examples of Not Important but Urgent tasks:
Unexpected texts or phone calls
Leak in warehouse
Updating email lists
Unannounced family requests
Scheduling marketing automations
The “Delete” Quadrant
“Not Important” and “Not Urgent” tasks that you do not need to prioritize, and can be deleted from your to-do list, and day. These are often distractions from your mission.
Examples of Not Important and Not Urgent tasks:
Scrolling social media
Micromanaging your team
Painting the office
Surfing the web
Browsing junk mail
Playing card games
Purchasing non-essential items
Why you should be using the Eisenhower Matrix to achieve your goals
As outlined, the Eisenhower Matrix has effectively one of the most popularized decision-making frameworks in business and personal endeavors. By reevaluating your time and focusing on the ladder of tasks suggested by this model, you’ll:
accomplish meaningful results efficiently
scale your business
manage a successful team
spend time with the ones you love
rediscover your values
stay on track
bridge the gap between goals and actions!
What about you? Will you add the Eisenhower Matrix to your toolbox for success?
To get started, join the FREE Predictable Success Leadership Center and download a BONUS worksheet for using the Matrix! Learn more here.
Creating an organized task list using the Eisenhower Matrix sn’t itself much of an achievement. The critical next step is to use it to ensure that your daily actions — the non-trivial tasks that you and your team do each and every day — lead to the goals you’re actually pursuing.
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