This article was originally published on the Access Engineering Blog.
Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States, serving two terms from 1953 to 1961. During his time in office, he launched programs that directly led to the development of the Interstate Highway System in the United States, the launch of the internet (DARPA), the exploration of space (NASA), and the peaceful use of alternative energy sources (Atomic Energy Act).
Eisenhower had an incredible ability to sustain his productivity not just for weeks or months, but for decades. And for that reason, it is no surprise that his methods for time management, task management, and productivity have been studied by many people.
His most famous productivity strategy is known as the Eisenhower Box (or Eisenhower Matrix) and it’s a simple decision-making tool that you can use right now.
Eisenhower’s strategy for taking action and organizing your tasks is simple. Using the decision matrix below, you will separate your actions based on four possibilities.
What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important. (P2)
Q1 – Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately)
They’re tasks that require our immediate attention and also work towards fulfilling our long-term goals and missions in life. They consist of crises, problems, or deadlines.
Example : Certain emails such as a job offer, a new business opportunity, Tax Deadline, Wife in Emergency Room, Car Engine goes out, Household chores, Serious health problem.
With proper planning and organizing, many of these tasks can be made more efficient or even eliminated outright. For example instead of waiting for something in your house to fall apart and need fixing immediately, you may follow a schedule of regular maintenance.
By understanding what work is important to you, you will be able to more deliberate moves in life to reach your goals. (P3)
Q2- Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later)
These are the activities that don’t have pressing deadlines but help you achieve your important personal goals in order to make sure that you fulfill your overall mission as a person.
These are typically centered around strengthening relationships, planning for the future and improving yourself. As a result we must always seek to spend most of our time on these activities as there are the ones that provide us lasting happiness, fulfillment and success. Instead we keep them forever on the backburner of our lives and keep on telling over selves “I ll get this done someday after I have taken care of the urgent things”. But that someday will never come.
Example : Long-Term Planning, Exercising, Family Time, Reading life-enriching books, Journaling, Taking a class to improve a skill, Spending time with a rewarding hobby, Studying, Meditation.
It is important to different tasks that are important to you, and tasks that are important to other people. (P4)
Q3 – Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else)
These are the activities that require attention but don’t necessarily help us achieving our goals or fulfill our mission. These tasks are interruptions from other people and often involve helping them meet their priorities and agendas, not ours.
Ex : Co-worker who comes by your desk during your prime working time to ask a favor, request from a former employee to write a letter of recommendation on his behalf .
Many of us spend most of our time on these tasks thinking we are working on urgent and important tasks (Q1). Since these tasks help others out, they definitely feel important and give a sense of satisfaction. But these tasks may be important to others but not to you. Therefore they need be balanced with your not urgent but important tasks. (Q2)
A lot of time is wasted between tasks. All those minutes of taking breaks between urgent tasks and other people’s tasks add up to a lot of wasted time. (P5)
Q4- Neither urgent nor important (tasks to eliminate)
These activities are not urgent and not important. These activities are not pressing nor do they help you achieve long term goals or fulfill your mission. They are primarily distractions.
Examples: Watching TV, playing video games, scrolling through Facebook, Instagram…etc,
The Eisenhower Matrix is not a perfect strategy but it could be considered as a useful decision making tool. By investing your time in Q2s planning and organizing activities, you can eliminate the crises and problems faced as Q1, balance the requests of Q3 activities with your own priorities and truly enjoy the idling item on Q4 activities by knowing that you have well earned the rest. Also by making Q2 activities your top priority, no matter the emergency, or the deadline you are hit with, you will have enough mental, emotional and physical wherewithal to respond positively rather than react defensively.
You can download the attached worksheet of Eisenhower’s box for you to assess your key tasks. Click here to download.