We have all been there: a To do list so long that it is already tiring to read it, let alone getting started with completing the tasks. Luckily, there are excellent tools that allow to prioritizing tasks and keep our focus on the most important ones. One of the most widely used prioritization tools is the Eisenhower Matrix, named after U.S. President and General Dwight D. Eisenhower (the name is actually based on his quote “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent”).
In this week’s Skills Weaving Blog, we will take a closer look at this useful tool and show how it can help you in getting most out of your day.
Urgency and importance
The Eisenhower Matrix uses the urgency and importance of a task to prioritize it in relation to other tasks. It’s a very effective approach that shows elegance in its simplicity. When screening your to do list, ask yourself the following question for each item: i) is it important enough to have my full attention?, and ii) is it so urgent that it requires my attention now? Based on the answers to these two questions, tasks can be sorted in four categories, each with an associated approach to process:
Using this approach, any task can be allocated and handled accordingly.
Putting it in practice
To get the most out of the Eisenhower Matrix, you start with an up-to-date To do list. Compile all relevant tasks in an unranked list before assigning each task its urgency and importance. Next, put the tasks manually into the matrix (or use our free template, see link below). Now that the tasks are organized, you can start working on the most important and urgent tasks, leaving the others until sufficient time is available. Also assign tasks to other persons if it is better to delegate.
Once you are familiar with the basic concept (using a simple binary yes/no for both categories), you can experiment with added complexity. One approach could be to categorize tasks according to the binary model and insert them manually in a matrix structure to place them relatively to each other. Although rather subjective, such added level of detail really allows to focus on the most important tasks first.
A final word of reflection: when starting with this approach, it may seem like everything is urgent and important. There are two aspects to this: one the one hand we usually start applying prioritization tools when we are overwhelmed by tasks, on the other hand we may be too hesitant in categorizing something as unimportant. With experience, you will get better; and rest assured that any task that you misplaced will show up sooner rather than later.