What is the Eisenhower Matrix?
The Eisenhower matrix is a productivity tool that helps individuals prioritize tasks based on their importance and urgency. If you suspected that it was named after former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower, you’d be correct. He was known for his ability to manage time effectively and many historians credit him with developing this specific methodology - and using it during his time in office to accomplish great things.
The matrix consists of four quadrants, each representing a different combination of importance and urgency:
- Important and Urgent (Do First): These are tasks that require immediate attention and cannot or should not be delayed.
- Important but not Urgent (Schedule): These are tasks that are important but do not need to be done right away. In many instances they require planning and preparation.
- Urgent but not Important (Delegate): These are tasks that are urgent but do not necessarily contribute to long-term goals. In most instances they don’t align with important personal or company objectives. They may be delegated or postponed.
- Not Important and not Urgent (Don’t Do): These are tasks that are not important or urgent. They can be eliminated or postponed indefinitely.
By categorizing tasks and organizing them into these quadrants, individuals can ideally prioritize their work and focus on the most important and urgent tasks first. This helps to increase productivity and avoid wasting time on tasks that do not contribute to long-term goals.
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Why Does the Eisenhower Matrix Make People More Productive?
Does creating an Eisenhower Matrix for your work just sound like another thing to do? You’re not alone. Many people feel so overwhelmed that they can’t imagine spending even more time on tasks that organize their tasks!
However, doing so will be well worth your while. Time management is a long-studied topic and there is plenty of research that explores the benefits of such systems, and this one in particular. In fact, according to research conducted by the UK-based Development Academy in 2021, the Eisenhower Matrix is the most successful time management technique. This research discovered that:
- 58% of people don’t have a time management system, but they do use a to-do list, their email inbox or calendar.
- 1 in 8 people (12.5%) never feel like they have things under control at work.
- 100% of people using the Eisenhower Matrix felt their work was under control either 4 or 5 days per week.
- The least successful time management technique is ‘dealing with whatever comes up’.
Did you catch that “100%” number? The research generally showed that many people had a very informal time management system, but those who used the Eisenhower methodology felt much more in control of their time and fared better in terms of productivity.
What’s interesting is that you might be using a form of the Eisenhower Matrix without even realizing it. If you use a to-list where you differentiate between tasks that need to be done that day and those that can be scheduled for the future, you’re looking at quadrant 1 and 2 items. Your email inbox can also function in the same way. If you tend to rely on your calendar, then you’re managing quadrant 2 items. Unfortunately, most of our native systems don’t really deal with delegating or disregarding tasks altogether - and that’s where most of our time is wasted. That means that you might not need to spend that much extra time categorizing items into the Eisenhower Matrix. Why not give it a try for the coming day or week and see how it goes?
If you do, you’ll probably find that the exercise:
- Helps to prioritize tasks: The Eisenhower matrix helps individuals prioritize tasks based on their importance and urgency, ensuring that they focus on the most critical tasks first.
- Reduces stress: By prioritizing tasks, individuals can reduce stress and anxiety caused by feeling overwhelmed by a long to-do list.
- Increases efficiency: The matrix helps individuals to work efficiently by focusing on the most important and urgent tasks, which leads to increased productivity.
- Provides clarity: The matrix provides clarity on what tasks need to be done and when, which helps individuals plan their day better.
- Helps to manage time effectively: By categorizing tasks, individuals can better manage their time and allocate it appropriately based on the level of importance and urgency.
- Improves decision-making: The matrix helps individuals make informed decisions on which tasks to focus on first and which tasks can be delayed or delegated.
- Reduces procrastination: The matrix helps individuals to overcome procrastination by breaking down tasks into smaller, manageable pieces.
- Eliminates distractions: The matrix helps individuals to eliminate distractions by focusing on the most important and urgent tasks, reducing the temptation to multitask.
- Increases accountability: The matrix helps individuals to be accountable for their tasks and deadlines, making it easier to track progress and adjust priorities as needed.
- Leads to better results: By focusing on the most important and urgent tasks, individuals can achieve better results and meet their goals more effectively.
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Tips for Maximizing Productivity with the Eisenhower Matrix
Are you convinced to give the Eisenhower Matrix a try? If so, you should know there are some best practices that can make the process more effective. Follow these tips as you plot your upcoming tasks.
- Prioritize tasks: Most of the success of the model is attributed to figuring out which tasks are most critical. Begin by identifying the most important tasks that need to be completed right away and prioritize them accordingly. Make sure you’re making room in your day for working on these items; they are the ones most likely to make an impact in your work and on your goals.
- Use the matrix correctly: Use the Eisenhower Matrix to sort your tasks into four categories: urgent and important, important but not urgent, urgent but not important, and not urgent and not important. You can do this at any cadence and for any period of time that you wish. Some people choose to create a simple version of this matrix every day, while others create a larger one for the week. You can also break down the coming month or quarter. The point is to actually create the matrix and plot your tasks. Skipping the exercise will allow items to fall through the cracks, which leads to scrambling to catch up (which is a productivity killer).
- Direct attention to the right tasks (the urgent and important ones): Using this methodology won’t help much unless you actually focus on the work that you determine is most critical. These tasks should be your top priority and need to be completed as soon as possible. If your current schedule doesn’t allow for working on these tasks, something needs to change.
- Make the time to schedule important but not urgent tasks: These tasks should be scheduled for a later date, but not forgotten. It can be too easy to put things on a “schedule” list and never really get around to checking them off. Set a specific date and time to complete tasks. Treat scheduling these activities as just as important as your other urgent tasks.
- Delegate tasks: If a task is urgent but not important, consider delegating it to someone else. Too often, people realize these tasks are not urgent and bump them to the bottom of their to-do list - where they remain. It doesn’t do any good to know that a task is time-sensitive if you can’t take any action on it. Who can help you with these items? It’s a smart idea to have a good understanding of your team dynamics and who is available to help you with urgent but unimportant tasks.
- Learn to say no: If a task is not urgent or important, consider saying no to it. This is something many people struggle with in both their personal and professional lives, and it requires practice. If you need some help with this skill, read our past post: The Art of Saying No.
- Avoid procrastination: Putting off work is a very common and natural response to a long to-do list. Peer-reviewed research shows that about 20% of adults procrastinate chronically, and about 50% of people use the internet to procrastinate. Do your best not to fall into this trap. Don't put off tasks that are important but not urgent - after all, just because something is “not urgent” doesn’t mean that it doesn’t need to get done. Schedule those tasks and complete them as soon as possible.
- Review your schedule regularly: Your matrix should be a living document that constantly evolves. Whether you choose to revise every day, every week, or every month, you need to regularly review your tasks and update the matrix as needed. The matrix can also be a helpful tool in conversations with your managers if you are feeling overburdened or time-strapped. Then you can work together to figure out which tasks should move to a delegation or “don’t do” quadrant.
- Be flexible: In most people’s jobs, levels of importance and urgency change. What was once considered critical is bumped for a new project, or you finished one initiative and now have new things to focus on. Be prepared to adjust your priorities as new tasks arise. If you can’t be flexible, the matrix can only take you so far.
- Celebrate your accomplishments: It’s a great feeling to check things off your list and to meet new goals. Celebrate when you complete tasks and enjoy the feeling of being productive. Get excited and don’t be afraid to reward yourself in order to maintain motivation. In fact, Harvard Business Review shares that even very small rewards can be very beneficial - and in fact, a series of minor rewards can work better than other forms of intrinsic motivation. So, don’t be afraid to have that brownie after a tough presentation!
Related Post: Personalized Productivity: What's Your Personality Type?
Further Level Up Productivity With Shift
Modern technology offers powerful tools that can complement your Eisenhower Matrix or other time management efforts. Why not use them alongside general best practices for making the most of your time? By streamlining your various apps and accounts, you can better organize both work and personal platforms to take your productivity to a new level.
Shift is an innovative platform that can be used for a better, more organized digital experience. You can use Shift to limit distractions, keep important context in your web tabs and apps, and increase overall efficiency.
One of the key benefits of Shift is that you can eliminate endless logging in and out. For people who manage multiple accounts - for example, those using multiple Gmail or Outlook accounts - this is a huge time saver and reduces confusion. Furthermore, you can easily access and store tabs and bookmarks in Workspaces. This makes it simple to have important tabs on-hand and organized by workspace, then bookmark them for quick access later on.
Anyone who uses online platforms will find Shift to be a powerful resource. Shift makes it much easier to view and organize the following:
- Mail - Connect all of your Gmail, Outlook, and Office 365 accounts and manage everything from one centralized workstation.
- Apps - WhatsApp, Slack, Messenger—we have everything you need to get it done. Browse our Apps Directory, connect yours, and switch between them easily.
- Search - Save time and find exactly what you're looking for across any of your Mail, Calendar, and Drive accounts.
- Chrome extensions - Enjoy access to Boomerang, Grammarly, LastPass, and many of your other favorite Chrome Extensions.
- Workspaces - Create a Workspace with the exact apps, tabs, and bookmarks you need, then share it with your team to get the job done.
- Account management - Toggle between your most-used accounts, check notifications and streamline your workflow.
If you are hoping to increase your productivity this year, give the Eisenhower Matrix a try. While you’re at it, try downloading Shift and discovering what a streamlined workspace can do for you.