Look around yourself.
You have people scampering through streets, always in a hurry yet never on time. You have working people slogging tirelessly to meet the looming deadlines. You have managers complaining they don’t have enough time to get work done.
We are always pre-occupied with work yet somehow forever lagging behind. We don’t have time to spend with our children, read them bedtime stories, or cherish the beauty of nature around us.
Why is that so?
Because, as a civilization we have failed to grasp the concept of priority. Our priorities don’t reflect our purpose, passion, and choices. They reflect a badly-conditioned set of superficial goals which usually lack vision and meaning.
This is one of the biggest reasons why even after being consistently moving or working, we feel that our lives lack productivity.
To counter this issue of leading unproductive yet busy lives, Eisenhower matrix can be utilized on a daily basis gain more control of how we spend our 24 hours.
Meet Dwight Eisenhower, the 34th president of the United States of America. After winning the presidential elections in 1953 with a whopping majority, he built the first ever Interstate Highway System. He was also the instrumental in the launch of DARPA (or what we know as the Internet) and the programs that led to the creation of NASA.
Before he became the president, he served as a 5-star general in the US army during World War 2 and also became the first Supreme Commander of NATO. And amidst such as daunting and challenging lifestyle, replete with overwhelming responsibilities, he also found time to engage himself in his most cherished hobbies, golfing and oil-painting.
Going by the impressive list of feathers in his cap, it can be safely assumed that Eisenhower was a man of remarkable productivity and time-management skills. Sustaining such high-levels of energy and precision, not just for months or years, but decades is both astounding and awe-inspiring.
But how did one man accomplish so much in his life, while the rest of us struggle hard to deliver to every day, and much simpler promises?
Turns out, Eisenhower, had a very systematic approach when dealing with day-to-day activities, be it launching satellites or flying fighter aircrafts, called as the Eisenhower Matrix.
This simple yet effective model was popularized in the book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, by Dr. Stephen Covey. What this matrix does is that it helps us clearly categorize between things which are important and things which are urgent.
Our modern lifestyle has led us into believing that what is urgent is definitely important. But in truth, it is not so.
According to a famous quote by Eisenhower himself, “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important”.
In simple words, just because something needs to be attended to at this very precise moment doesn’t mean that it is of significant importance to us. And conversely, just because we can procrastinate a particular task doesn’t necessarily demean its relative importance.
Eisenhower Matrix helps us clearly distinguish between these two and enable us understand what needs to done and what can delegated or eliminated.
Have a look at the Eisenhower Matrix to understand how it helps us categorize tasks:
The matrix consists of 2 axes and 4 quadrants. The axes include the parameters of “Important” & “Not Important” and “Urgent” & “Not Urgent”.
This divides the entire matrix into 4 quadrants namely
- Important and Urgent (quadrant-1)
- Important but NOT Urgent (quadrant-2)
- NOT Important but Urgent (quadrant-3)
- NOT Important and NOT Urgent (quadrant-4).
The Eisenhower matrix also clearly mentions how the activities in each quadrant should be dealt with:
The second figure gives us a few instances of what kind of matters can be categorized in each quadrant. A crying baby or an important phone call from is something which is both urgent and important hence the action corresponding to it should be DO.
The second quadrant includes things which are not urgent, i.e, need not be done at this precise moment but are nevertheless important. These could include committing to a regular exercise habit, visiting your parents, or signing up for volunteer work. The action word for this quadrant is PLAN.
The third quadrant comprise of the activities which are urgent but not really that important such as answering texts or answering the doorbell.
According to the Eisenhower matrix, you should be delegating these tasks to others. And the last quadrant is the “Not important- Not Urgent category”.
Activities such as surfing aimlessly through social media or watching too much of TV falls into this category. And what needs to be done to the things occupying the 4th quadrant of the matrix? Eliminate.
As mentioned earlier, one of the biggest misleading facts our generation staunchly believes in is that if something requires immediate attention, it must be an important task.
Blame it on our education system or the way our industrial revolution- fueled society is designed.
All of us are conditioned to believe in running a race without pausing for a moment to reflect upon how important or significant whatever we are doing is.
Easy tips for you to follow:
Sit back with a paper and pencil and try making an Eisenhower matrix for yourself. It’s fairly simple.
You just categorize your day-to-day activities in those categories. Once you are done, observe your list.
Do you see the long list of things you do on an everyday basis falling into the 4th quadrant? Do you observe how much time you could save if only you knew how to delegate the tasks mentioned in quadrant 3? And, what about quadrant 1? Are you doing all of the tasks which fall here?
While following the rules for quadrants 1, 3, and 4 will definitely enhance your productivity, the magic quadrant which makes Eisenhower matrix the king of all time-management tools is the 2nd quadrant.
Observe the kind of things which you have categorized as Important but not urgent. More often than not, these comprise of things related to our family and relationships, fitness and health, recreation, artistic pursuits, constructive or creative hobbies, and major life-changing long-term plans.
Basically, things which are going to impact you the most yet somehow unfortunately taking a backseat. The strategy critical to successful implementation of the Eisenhower matrix is focusing more on things in the 2nd quadrant effectively.
The ultimate goal when using an Eisenhower matrix making proactive and intentional efforts in doing all the activities of quadrant 1 and 2, while having zero tasks in quadrant 3 and 4. The key here is consistency and being deliberate.
As soon as you are faced with a task, ask yourself these two questions – Is it Urgent? Is it important? The moment you have the answer, immediately make a mental note (or even write it down) of where it should land in the matrix.
The Eisenhower Matrix will be your undisputed guide in telling you how you need to respond to that activity.
Make the Eisenhower Matrix an indelible part of your life. Let it guide your every work. And see yourself transform into a more productive, more satisfied, and less busy version of yourself.
Let us know your views on how the Eisenhower Matrix helped you lead a more productive and fulfilling life.