Using the Eisenhower Matrix for Productive Decision-Making

Posted on - in Productivity Hacks

Making a decision isn’t always easy, especially when you’re balancing lots of them at once. The same goes for those of us who deal with crisis control on a daily basis since every single request can start to feel vital. How are you supposed to juggle it all?

No matter how indecisive you are — or how many tough calls you have to make — there is a simple decision-making method that can help you move mountains. It’s called the Eisenhower Matrix, and it’s about as simple as strategies can get.

Differentiating Urgent and Important

The Eisenhower Matrix gets its name from one Dwight D. Eisenhower, the former general and president of the United States. He is quoted as saying, “What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.”

The Eisenhower Matrix led him through his many successful years leading armies and, later, the free world. If he could get through that without the pain of overthinking, you can handle your day-to-day with ease, too.

To understand his methodology, let’s start by examining the very minute differences between urgent and important:

  • Urgent: Urgent means something needs your attention right this very second. When you’re handed an urgent task, you go on the defensive — you focus, and you work quickly to pass it on ASAP.
  • Important: Important tasks, on the other hand, have more to do with the company’s values and goals. Lots of times, an essential project has a far-off deadline, which gives us plenty of time to complete them. We’re usually calmer and more calculated as we tackle important tasks — we have the luxury of time to do so. These are the types of to-dos we can do ahead of time, so as not to struggle with decision fatigue down the line.

You might be thinking, “Of course I know the difference between urgent and important.” But, sometimes, a to-do that is presented with urgency isn’t necessarily something that’s essential. You’ll do it, of course, but not with the same eye to detail as you would on a long-term project.

The Eisenhower Matrix

Now that we’re clear on what’s urgent and what’s important, here is the very simple, four-quadrant Eisenhower Matrix:

If a task is… Urgent Not Urgent
Important DO PLAN
Not Important DELEGATE ELIMINATE

Quadrant 1: Urgent and Important

Obviously, this is the most critical quadrant of the Eisenhower Matrix. Not only are these tasks due ASAP, but they’re vital to the health and advancement of your career. As such, complete them first — they could incur negative consequences if they’re not at the top of your list.

Quadrant 2: Not Urgent and Important

An important task isn’t always presented with a hard-and-fast deadline — especially not one that’s looming within a few hours or days. So, you’ll have to figure out the right time to make non-urgent but important to-dos happen.

If the task-at-hand is a big project, break it down and create little benchmarks so by the time your far-off deadline approaches, you’re ready. Or, look at your calendar and see where it fits in the grand scheme. This is especially applicable if you need an additional certification or degree to advance in your career — you don’t have to have it now, but you should be thinking about when you’ll get it done in the future.

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Quadrant 3: Urgent and Not Important

Now, delegating might not be your forte — if not, you should consider a career for indecisive people, so you don’t have to worry about this task. Everyone else should remember that unimportant-yet-urgent tasks are perfect ones to delegate.

If you find yourself regularly dealing with tasks that are pressing but not critical — such as phone calls or emails from clients — then consider hiring an assistant. That way, someone else can deal with urgent inquiries that don’t have to do with the most important projects you’re finishing.

Quadrant 4: Not Urgent and Not Important

This quadrant is the simplest one to deal with. If it’s neither important nor urgent, you can eliminate it without worry. The more you get rid of, the better able you’ll be to finish quadrant two tasks with ease. You won’t be able to get rid of everything — people complete unimportant and non-urgent to-dos every day. But they don’t have to take over your life, and they shouldn’t be filling your schedule.

Make It Work

With the Eisenhower Matrix on your mind, decision-making should no longer be a laborious process. Instead, you can quickly determine whether it’s urgent and/or important, as well as what that combination of qualities means for you.

Soon, you’ll be working more efficiently than ever, and never wondering if you’re missing out on something more important or urgent — you’ll have that completely under control. Thanks, Mr. President.

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Kayla Matthews writes Productivity Theory and is constantly seeking to provide new tips and hacks to keep you motivated and inspired! You can also find her on Huffington Post and Tiny Buddha, and follow her on Google+ and Twitter to stay up to date on her latest productivity posts!

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