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“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”
– Dwight D. Eisenhower
60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, 365 days in a year.
Time exists uniformly for every single one of us. Have you ever really thought about just how incredible it is that some of the most massively successful people on the planet have the time they need to accomplish everything they do in life? It is absolutely astonishing when you think about it.
Most of us just struggle through our days hoping to get some things done and create some leisure time while there are people out there who quite literally make use of every moment they have to do mind-blowing things.
What we fail to realize is that setting ourselves up for productivity and accomplishment is less about “fitting things in” and more about getting organized and intelligent about how we plan our days.
Being busy doesn’t equal getting a lot done. On the contrary, being productive actually helps you avoid being busy.
The Eisenhower Decision Matrix was created by the 34th President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower, being the insanely busy individual he was, thought deeply about how to prioritize tasks on a daily basis in order to accomplish his every goal. He utilized his methods of productivity not for days or months, but for decades.
He left us a principle, which if followed with intention can help us prioritize our daily tasks by urgency, importance, and avoid spending unnecessary time on different obligations. It’s a to-do list on crack.
Using The Eisenhower Decision Matrix To Transform Your Productivity
It isn’t complicated. A simple box with four quadrants each designating both the importance and urgency of the different tasks, obligations and desires you currently have.
Urgent tasks: Those tasks and actions that must get done to avoid negative consequences, and simply to “stay afloat.” They’re maintenance tasks that you have no choice but to do right now.
Important tasks: Those tasks and actions that are extremely important to your overall vision of what’s necessary to create the life you want, but don’t necessarily need to be done this very moment.
Step One: Determining your highly important, highly urgent tasks
The upper left-hand quadrant is meant for the actions that you absolutely have to take today. They are important and urgent (highly time-sensitive).
I think of this section as my to-do list for TODAY.
What I love is that it really forces you to question what is of actual importance, and what is wholly unnecessary to focus on right now. It helps get your mind straight and prepared to do what’s necessary TODAY. You actively force yourself to let go of the stress of what you know doesn’t need to be done right now.
The answer will be different for all of us, but what should remain constant is putting down all of your maintenance tasks like answering emails, scheduling obligatory meetings, phone calls, bills, taxes, and any other maintenance tasks specific to your work and life.
Step Two: Determining your highly important, less urgent tasks
The second quadrant is meant for those activities you have decided are extremely important to your overall goals and the life you want to create for yourself, but are not time-sensitive.
The goal here is to really help you remember on a daily basis what is of true importance, and scheduling time for it so that you don’t keep it in the back of your mind and end up completely forgetting about it.
Here you can include things like working on a relationship you want to strengthen, when you want to exercise, time you can set aside for a side-project you’ve been wanting to work on, etc. Highly important activities that aren’t urgent, but that we have the tendency to simply forget about.
What’s really important here is actually setting a schedule for times you can work towards these important goals. Be very specific and don’t let yourself off the hook by setting unrealistic times you know you won’t end up taking action (sometimes we tend to put ourselves in situations in which we know we’re unreliable).
Step Three: Delegating urgent tasks that aren’t important
This third quadrant is really about getting smart with regards to what you need to do. What can you hand off to other people that you trust to create time for yourself? The activities listed in this quadrant should be very time-sensitive, but don’t need to be important.
Examples (and remember these are just examples) of what you should put in here are things like looking for flights/other travel accommodations, picking up kids from school, responding to emails, doing hands-on marketing work (beyond strategy), putting together data that doesn’t require mental power, etc.
My favorite thing about this quadrant is you’re really forced to get creative and intelligent about the things you actually need to use your own energy for. There are a lot of ways to hand-off work for cheap or no cost at all. You just have to decide what you’re willing to let go of personal control over because it isn’t nearly as important as other areas or tasks you can focus on.
Step Four: Eliminate it altogether
The fourth quadrant is about helping you dump actions that you take that aren’t important, aren’t time-sensitive, and quite frankly shouldn’t be on your list of daily actions.
When something is sitting in your head as a “task,” “obligation,” “necessary action,” or something that you “just do,” there’s a stress and anxiety that comes along with it no matter how little of importance or energy draining it actually is. That’s why getting rid of it altogether is really important to your overall well-being, productivity and efficiency.
These are things that are time-wasters, don’t have any real utility, and drain us of energy unnecessarily.
A good example of this is going through junk mail that you know is worthless. Another one is endlessly browsing social media outlets, watching fluctuations in stock prices for no reason, checking fantasy sports updates, etc.
Don’t get me wrong, watching T.V., and messing around with social media aren’t “wrong to do,” but if we can minimize the time we waste with unnecessary activities to the greatest extent possible, we’re well on our way to being way more productive.
Having these activities that you personally like to waste time with in what is effectively your to-do list helps remind you every single day that you have way bigger goals to work towards and much more important obligations.