How to use Eisenhower Matrix to get your most important work done

Do you ever feel like you’re scrambling around like a chicken without a head?

Tasks just keep piling up on your plate. You frantically try to get everything done, leaving you flustered. In fact, sometimes there’s so much happening that your brain just ends up shutting down instead.

No matter what you do, there’s that sinking feeling at the end of the day that you haven’t really achieved what you wanted to. Sure, you might have done a number of things, but you can’t shake the feeling that something is missing.

If this sums what you’ve been experiencing, there’s a method you should consider using to organize your day.

The Accomplishments of Dwight D. Eisenhower

Before we get to that, let’s look at the work of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34thPresident of the United States. Before he became President, Eisenhower served as a five star general and Supreme Commander of the Allied Control Council in the Second World War.

In 1952, he ran for President and won in a landslide victory. During his time in the presidency, Eisenhower’s policies led to the creation of NASA as a space agency and America’s interstate highway system. Even though he had already accomplished so much, Eisenhower considered his greatest achievement to be negotiating peace and ending the Korean War.

There’s no doubt that he achieved a lot in his life. Despite the pressing matters he had to tend to, Eisenhower still made time for his personal life and hobbies. Outside of his military and presidential work, Eisenhower was an avid golf player and enjoyed oil painting. He had a number of other pursuits, such as reading novels and playing card games.

Eisenhower was an expert at organization. He achieved significant work by keeping track of what needed to be done and by differentiating between urgent and important tasks. This is where the Eisenhower Matrix comes in.

The Eisenhower Matrix

The Eisenhower method separates out urgent and important tasks into four categories, which are as follows:

Important and urgent – tasks that need to be done immediately (i.e. deadlines and emergencies).

Important but not urgent – tasks that need to be scheduled in (i.e. goal planning and personal growth activities).

Urgent but not important – tasks that need to be delegated (i.e. distractions and interruptions).

Not important and not urgent – tasks that should be dropped (i.e. busywork and unproductive activities).

We tend to confuse things that are urgent with being important. While a task can be both, they’re more often exclusive of one another. We need to define the two so we can figure out which tasks fit into which category.

Urgent tasks need to be dealt with immediately. They are tasks that we respond to and attempt to resolve quickly. Important tasks, on the other hand, help us reach our long-term goals. They may or may not need to be handled right away, but if we want to get better at something, we need to pay attention to the important things.

Unfortunately, urgent tasks are easier to get started on than the important ones. They present themselves in such a way that we respond to them quickly. Important tasks tend to get placed on the back burner until some indefinite day in the future.

The Eisenhower Matrix helps us get our priorities in order. To see what it looks like in action, here are some activities placed on the matrix:

Fitting Tasks Onto Your Schedule

The Eisenhower Matrix can be used for various time frames, whether it’s on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Some activities might be done frequently, while others are periodic. For instance, I will probably check my email on a near-daily basis, while I plan work strategy on a weekly basis.

You should ideally have only one or two activities in the top important/urgent quadrant on a daily basis. Focusing only on a couple tasks keeps you from feeling overwhelmed and helps you save your energy for the activities that matter most.

Important/not urgent tasks are scheduled so that you don’t keep putting them off. For instance, I’ll plan to exercise daily and then catch up with family and friends at scheduled times. For research or work planning, I’ll block off time to make sure I evaluate my long-term goals. If you want something done, schedule it in.

Urgent/not important tasks can be delegated to someone else, such as an assistant. Or, you can use apps and programs to automate the process for you. For example, my email system is organized so that it automatically sorts out my messages.

One of my favorite parts of the Eisenhower Matrix is that I know what activities to drop. If something is neither urgent nor important, I can just choose not to do it. Many of us probably waste time on tasks that make us feel busy, but don’t actually help us get anything done.

And, of course, one of the best ways to get yourself to start a project or avoid surfing the net is to set up your environmental cues. If there are things nearby that distract from your work, put them away or set up your workplace so that you’re completely focused.

Get Serious About Your Priorities

Your daily priorities should be helping you get towards long term goals that you want to achieve.

For instance, if you want to build stronger relationships with people in your life, are you setting aside time for others? If you want to reach a milestone in your work, are your tasks pushing you closer to where you want to be?

Knowing what you want to achieve in the long run will help you break down the tasks that are important, while dropping those aren’t. I love the Eisenhower Matrix because it forces me to get crystal clear about what I need to do and when I should be doing certain tasks.

After all, it isn’t about getting the most things done that matters, but getting the things that matter the most done.

P.S. The Eisenhower Matrix is covered more in-depth in the Powered Up Productivity course (sign up to the newsletter to learn more).

This article first appeared on Jump Start Your Life.