Many people complain about not having enough hours in the day. However, time is the great equalizer. Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg and Anthony Robbins all have 24 hours in a day, just like you and I.
What I love about this time management approach that I’m about to share with you, is that it helps you get things done AND feel happy and fulfilled at the same time. Your life will feel more meaningful and you’ll feel less like a machine that is churning out stuff!
It’s a method that I have used for over 20 years. I learnt it whilst I was an administrator at London Underground and have used it ever since.
Introducing The Eisenhower Matrix
The approach that I use is called the Eisenhower Matrix. The name is attributed to US President Dwight D. Eisenhower. This guy knew how to keep his cool when conflicting decisions and priorities were coming at him in all directions! One of his famous quotes is “what is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important”
The Eisenhower Matrix has other names too. It’s often called the Productivity Matrix or Time Management Matrix. Stephen Covey bought this approach to mass awareness by covering it in his classic book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”.
Watch the Video Demonstration
I recommend that you start by grabbing a piece of paper and drawing four boxes on it. Alternatively, you can do this on your computer using Word or PowerPoint. The 4 boxes are your quadrants. Name the boxes as shown in the diagram below.
Quadrant 1 : Urgent and Important
The top left quadrant is for tasks that are urgent and important. These are tasks that must be done as soon as possible and are an essential part of your job or business. Here are some examples.
- Following up on potential clients
- Getting a critical report completed for your boss
- Preparing for a speech or event that is happening today.
- Resolving an IT issue that is stopping users logging in or doing a key part of their job.
These are tasks that are important to your career or business. If you didn’t complete these tasks, you would soon have your boss or your clients on your back.
So, always complete the tasks in quadrant 1 first.
Quadrant 2 : Important but not Urgent
The top right quadrant is for tasks that are important, but don’t have to be done today. However, because they don’t have to be done today, it does NOT mean that you should put them off.
These tasks are important to your long term career or business success. They are often also the tasks that provide the most fulfillment and personal satisfaction.
Examples would include
- Creating a new website
- Developing a new skill that keeps you up to date for the future
- Preparing for the important speech or event that is happening next week.
- Progressing the main activities on your job description, so that when your next performance appraisal comes round, you can impress your boss and ask for a raise!
- Preparing for tests and exams well in advance.
You should start working on these tasks as soon as you have completed the tasks in quadrant 1.
I believe that Quadrant 2 is the most important quadrant. If you don’t complete these tasks (or procrastinate on them), they will eventually end up in Quadrant 1.
For example, if you keep putting off creating a new website, eventually customers and potential customers will get put off by your old ugly looking website and your revenue will drop. They will go to other people that have newer and more appealing websites. So the website then becomes urgent to correct, so it gets moved to quadrant 1.
The same goes with preparing for a speech, event or exam. If you leave it till a day or two before, it will then be the must do task in quadrant 1.
Splitting up Quadrant 2 tasks.
The Eisenhower Matrix is a daily planning tool. So large tasks such as building a new website should be split into smaller sub-tasks that can be achieved in a couple of hours or less. I use Evernote for my overall todo list and then transfer items to be completed today to the Eisenhower Matrix.
Another approach is to set a daily time limit for quadrant 2 tasks. More on this later..
Quadrant 3 : Urgent but not Important
The bottom left quadrant is for what I call “time-pressured distractions“. Its the tasks that are not really important to you, but are for someone else. These tasks tend to interrupt the flow of thought to quadrant 2 tasks. They also tend to be reactive and can easily suck up all your time.
Here are some examples
- Dealing with emails as soon as they arrive
- Responding to phone calls spontaneously (without assigning them to a quadrant first).
- Going to meetings that add little value.
- Doing favours for friends too often.
- Troubleshooting an IT or technical issue immediately, without checking whether it is a critical issue or not.
These tasks should be done after the quadrant 2 tasks. If you work on quadrant 3 tasks before quadrant 2 tasks, you will find that quadrant 2 tasks start moving into quadrant 1. You’ll feel stressed, frustrated, reactive and not fulfilled.
You want to complete quadrant 1, quadrant 2 and at least some quadrant 3 tasks everyday. If you have some big tasks in quadrant 2, then I would suggest setting a time limit on these tasks. For example, I will spend 2 hours on my new website and 1 hour preparing for my exam. This leaves you some time to complete quadrant 3 activities and the ability to drop everything if an urgent and important task suddenly lands on you.
Another good tip is to allocate small blocks of time to deal with emails, return phone calls and work on other quadrant 3 issues.
Also consider whether its possible to delegate some of the quadrant 3 activities. This may not be an option for everyone, but if it is for you, then take advantage of it.
Quadrant 4 : Not Urgent or Important
These activities have little value. Often they’re quite easy. You can do them when you want to take a break from something that requires more of your mental attention. If someone asks me to do something and its not important, I will put it in quadrant 4. Tasks in quadrant 4 would also include things like filing.
If I’m waiting on someone else to get back to me, I’ll put that task in quadrant 4. This will act as a reminder to chase them if necessary.
Eisenhower Matrix Apps
I would suggest using a Word or PowerPoint document to start with (or simply use a sheet of paper). Once you’ve got the hang of the fundamentals, then you can explore special apps that can make your life easier. Here is a link to the apps
I recommend that you give the Eisenhower matrix a go. I’m sure you’ll find it really useful. You will get so much more done and have greater satisfaction and fulfilment as well.
To your success