How the Eisenhower Matrix can help you accomplish your goals
We all must make tough decisions, including what tasks to do and when. Perhaps some of the toughest decisions are made by the President of the United States. Now that’s a man who has some real time management challenges! So, when he defines a simple strategy to decide which tasks can’t wait, which can be delegated, and which can be trashed, perhaps we should take note.
I’m not talking about President Donald Trump, but rather Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in World War II and President of the United States between 1953 and 1961. He did many great things, but perhaps one of the most lasting was to develop the Eisenhower Matrix. A super-easy-to-use tool to decide how to allocate your time.
What is the Eisenhower Matrix?
Eisenhower wanted a system that helped him to use his time effectively, and which was easy to put into practice. The Eisenhower Matrix ticks all these boxes. In fact, it’s so good that it is the backbone of Stephen Coveys’ time management methods as described in his books ‘First Things First’ and ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’.
To use the matrix, you must ask two simple questions for every task you think you should do:
- Is it urgent? Urgent activities are those that require your immediate attention. They are visible and pressing. Often, they are fun, easy, and pleasant to do. But they may also be unimportant.
- Is it important? Important activities contribute to your goals or your mission. They drive results. To be considered important, they must be important to you. It’s insignificant how important the task is for someone else.
According to your answers, the task falls into on of the quadrants of the Eisenhower Matrix:
How does the Eisenhower Matrix work?
The Eisenhower Matrix consists of four sections:
Quadrant 1 (Q1): Urgent and Important
In Quadrant 1 you find the urgent and important tasks. Often referred to as “crises” or “problems”. If these tasks remain uncompleted, the consequences are immediate. Many people are fully consumed by Q1 activities. They run from problem to deadline to crisis, all the time. It is a reactive state of mind. The biggest problem here is that if you mostly focus on Q1 activities, this quadrant becomes bigger and bigger until it dominates you.
There are two types of Q1 activities:
- The unavoidable and unforeseeable. This might be a medical emergency, an urgent last-minute request from an important client, or a breakdown in your factory.
- Activities that slide from Q2 to Q1. When you are not proactive and postpone your most important tasks, at some point they become urgent. They move from Q2 into Q1.
We all have Q1 activities in our lives. And that’s OK – as long as it consists of the unavoidable and unforeseeable. Your objective should be to have an empty quadrant 1, except for those absolute emergencies which you couldn’t have seen coming (type 1 above).
Quadrant 2 (Q2): Non-Urgent and Important
This is the most important quadrant. Stephen Covey says: “Q2 is the heart of effective personal management”. It’s the one that contains all those tasks and activities which bring your long-term personal and professional goals closer. These tasks make a tremendous positive difference in your life.
"Quadrant 2 is the heart of effective personal management." - Stephen Covey
Q2 tasks are important but not (yet) urgent. Because they aren’t urgent, it is easy to postpone them until they become urgent, and eventually they slide into Q1.
Q2 is the quadrant where you should spend most of your time. Be proactive in this quadrant, and you’ll spend less time in quadrant 1 fighting fires.
Quadrant 3: Urgent and Unimportant
Tasks and activities in this quadrant are urgent, but unimportant. We spend time here because it feels like it is Q1. We react to the urgent, assuming it is also important. Unfortunately, often these are tasks based on priorities and expectations from others. They have nothing to do with your priorities and long-term goals.
The key to deal with activities in this quadrant is to delegate them to someone else or to delete them. After all, these tasks are not important to you, so why should you do them?
Quadrant 4: Not urgent and Not important
These activities are your distractions. Your time-wasters. Watching TV. Scrolling through social media. Sometimes email or phone calls. Irrelevant “busywork”. These things are not important, and they are not urgent. Don’t do these activities anymore. It’s 100% time wasted.
5 Hacks to use the Eisenhower Matrix and boost your everyday productivity
Following the Eisenhower Matrix for everything you think you need to do will help you be more effective. Here are five tips to get the most out of this strategy by applying it to your daily life:
1. Make Q2 activities your number 1 priority!
Plan your quadrant 2 activities and tasks a week ahead in your calendar. Follow the steps in my article about your “Big Rocks”. The more time you spend on Q2 activities, the less Q1 activities you will encounter, and the faster you move towards your goals. All your Q1 activities will magically flow around the Q2 activities.
2. Eliminate Q3 and Q4 activities
Covey says: “Effective people stay out of quadrants 3 and 4,” and “People who spend time almost exclusively in quadrants 3 and 4 lead irresponsible lives”. I believe he is right. Urgent or not, the activities in Q3 and Q4 are not important to you, so you should avoid them. Some tips:
- Stop doing Q4 activities. Do a Q2 activity instead:
- Stop zapping through dozens of TV channels. Instead, read a good book or watch a TED talk. Start with this one, this one, or this one.
- Stop scrolling through your news apps or Facebook feed. Instead, play 30 minutes undisturbed with your kids, go for a run, or phone a good friend.
- Stop going to unnecessary meetings. Instead, make a plan on how to land your next big client, or brainstorm your next profitable product.
- Stop doing Q3 activities. Start saying NO to others. Of course, you can help others, but every time you say “Yes” to someone else’s priority, you say “No” to yourself.
3. Review your long-term goals and present to-do lists
Q1 and Q2 tasks help you to achieve your goals. These are the tasks that make you effective. So, everything you do should be in Q1 and Q2. Follow these steps to make sure you are always in Q1 and Q2:
- Review your to-do lists, or, if they are ineffective, set them up following this strategy.
- Consider each task and ask if it contributes to your goals.
- If yes, consider if it is a Q1 or Q2 activity.
- Do your Q1 activities as soon as possible.
- Plan time in your calendar for your Q2 activities.
4. Turn quadrant 1 activities into quadrant 2 activities
In his book, Covey describes a situation in which a manager often (but irregularly) has to attend last-minute management meetings in which only Q1 activities are discussed. The meetings are always chaotic, unstructured and lots of time is wasted. Also, Q2 items are always demoted to “any other business”, and due to lack of time, they are never discussed!
Covey explains how the manager turns this around by preparing a short presentation about the “ideal” management meeting: regular, with a chairman and an agenda (distributed well before the meeting), in which actions are agreed and recorded, and minutes made and sent within 24 hours after the meeting. Q2 activities are discussed first and before Q1 issues. Actions are agreed, and responsibilities assigned. By doing this, the manager changes the meetings from being time-wasting, chaotic, and crises-driven into effective and opportunity-based meetings generating lots of additional value for the business.
You can do the same thing:
- Reflect upon your Q1 crises every time they occur. Ask yourself why they happened, and what you could have done to prevent it.
- Act proactively to prevent such situations in the future. Plan your time for Q2 activities, work ahead, and have a back-up plan for when something doesn’t go as you expect. Most of your Q1 activities will be eliminated.
5. Leave time in your calendar for emergencies
You can’t foresee everything. There will be emergency situations that fall into Q1. Be OK with this. Leave time for these emergencies: You can always fill this time with future tasks when no emergency exists!
Remember: To accomplish your goals, do more Q2 activities
Work on your Q2 activities before everything else. They move you closer to your goals. Do you have troubles really finding time for Q2 tasks? Make sure you eliminate the Q3 and Q4 activities. That’s how to start.
The more time you spend in Q2, the smaller Q1 becomes, and the more time you will be able to find for Q2. Start with just a few Q2 hours each week: maybe an hour a day. Very soon you will experience the big benefits of this strategy. Your long-term goals will start coming into focus quicker than you could have imagined.
To boost your productivity, contact me today. Together, we’ll develop a plan to help you achieve more and be better than ever.