As Dwight Eisenhower once said, “Most things which are urgent are not important, and most things which are important are not urgent.”
He was a former US President, and one who was deeply respected due to the large amounts of work he accomplished during his tenure, from developing the Interstate Highway System in the United States to the launch of the internet (DARPA) to so much more.
And yes, this productivity hack is named after him.
This hack was one of the reasons behind his immense productivity as President, and is something you can apply into your life to elevate your productivity.
However, first of all, let’s discuss what this hack is about.
The Eisenhower Matrix is about categorising your tasks using two main indicators: importance and urgency.
Based on this categorisation, they each fall into different quadrants, thereby demanding different actions to take.
Quadrant 1: Important and urgent (Do first)
Quadrant 2: Important but not urgent (Schedule)
Quadrant 3: Urgent but not important (Delegate)
Quadrant 4: Not urgent and not important (Eliminate)
You may be thinking, what’s the use of going through such a painful process of sorting out your tasks?
Well, this is because of the well-documented mere-urgency effect, which shows that people would likely choose to perform urgent tasks with short completion windows, instead of important tasks with larger outcomes.
In other words, it is natural to focus on what is urgent, yet by doing so, it is going to kill your productivity.
Hence, you need a system to be consistently focused on your “important tasks”, which is where the Eisenhower Matrix comes in.
There are 4 quadrants, now what?
The 4 quadrants weren’t actually created equal. There is one quadrant that is above the others. Do you know what it is?
Well, it is quadrant 2, otherwise known as the “sweet spot” one should aim for.
As Stephen Covey points out in his famous book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, when we constantly spend our time in quadrant 1, we find ourselves stressed out very easily, putting out fires every now and then. Should we spend our time in quadrant 3, we would appear busy, but in reality not work towards our key goals. Finally, time spent in quadrant 4 is simply wasted time.
On the other hand, when the bulk of your time is spent in quadrant 2, you find yourself constantly in control of your time, and are working towards the goals that are most pertinent. This ensures that you are on track to achieving your long-term goals by putting in effort day after day.
Here are some examples of quadrant 2 activities:
- Weekly planning
- Long-term planning
- Family time
- Meeting up with close friends
I am sure you don’t really have a “deadline” for exercising. Your boss isn’t going to yell at you for not doing so. However, it is crucial to your long-term well-being, even though it may not be urgent at the moment.
How to begin integrating this into your life
As much as you want to believe it, just reading about this won’t improve your productivity. (If that were the case, everyone would already have been extremely productive!)
You have to actively integrate this method into your life.
There are many methods that you can do it, but below are 2 of the methods I advocate.
The first one is rather old-fashioned, yet it is really useful. It involves keeping a small notebook where on each page, you have a box divided into 4 squares.
From there, categorise your tasks into a specific quadrant, and write them in one of the boxes on that page.
Upon doing this, a question may arise. What kind of tasks should I focus on? Weekly ones or daily ones?
The answer to this question very much depends on your schedule. If you have large amounts of tasks daily, it may not be feasible to have one box for the entire week.
It would thus be more useful to use one page (assuming there’s only one Matrix on each page) for each day’s tasks.
This concept can be used even if you have very few tasks daily. This means that you can perhaps use the same matrix for a few days, or even the entire week.
Writing your tasks on a piece of paper may not seem very convenient. Just think about it, you would have to keep this paper with you all the time, and also constantly write your tasks down!
However, unlike the second method, the box is staring at you such that it becomes almost impossible not to think before putting your task down into a particular box.
The second method I am suggesting is using the app Todoist.
Todoist is an app that can be installed on either your mobile phone or your laptop. It is pretty much an app that allows you to keep a checklist of tasks.
To implement the idea of the Eisenhower Matrix using this app, you would have to make use of the function of “priorities”. (This can be accessed even though you may be using the free version of the app.)
There are 4 priority levels in Todoist, each with differing colours.
You can hence match the quadrants to the corresponding priority levels. This is how I do it:
Quadrant 1 (Important and urgent): Priority 1
Quadrant 2 (Important but not urgent): Priority 2
Quadrant 3 (Urgent but not important): Priority 3
Quadrant 4 (Not urgent and not important): Priority 4
From there, after you have selected the priority level for that particular task, you would be able to tell from a glance which quadrant it belongs to, thus you know the action you should be taking.
The Eisenhower Matrix is a very useful productivity hack that anyone can apply to their lives.
However, just as it is with many things in life, it requires time to integrate it into your life before it can achieve its full effectiveness.
I hope you give this hack a shot because it may very well be the hack that raises your productivity to the next level.
What do you think of the Eisenhower Matrix? Do you think it will work for you? Let us know in the comments below.