by Josh Millar
Time-management strategies are great, and I love learning about —and sharing— different ways to maximize productivity and streamline work. I use many of these strategies in my own life on a regular basis, and they’ve definitely given me a better sense of control over my time. Some days though, no matter how well-planed my schedule is or how many distractions I avoid, the to-do list is simply too long to fit in a single day. When that’s the case, I find the biggest inefficiency to be choosing which items to tackle when — how do you prioritize when every task seems to need your attention?
Enter the Eisenhower Decision Matrix
Eisenhower’s strategy gained popularity in Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. If you haven’t encountered this principle yet, it’s a way to organize your tasks and efficiently decide where to direct your attention based on the task’s urgency and importance.
What’s the difference?
Urgent is pretty self-explanatory — those tasks that truly do require immediate attention. They tend to also have immediate consequences if we don’t complete them. It’s that feeling that gives them a sense of urgency. Urgent tasks are often connected to helping someone else achieve their goals — like when your boss asks you to prepare a presentation for tomorrow’s meeting on short notice.
Important tasks are ones that work towards your own goals. If we consistently neglect these, we’ll likely find ourselves stagnant and frustrated. They typically don’t have that strong sense of urgency. Instead, they’re closely linked with our values and vision for our future.
Here’s the matrix:
We can use this system to categorize, and then prioritize, any task that comes our way.
Urgent and important? Those top your list. Important tasks that are not urgent come next. If you want to achieve your goals and reach greater success, you must dedicate time to the things that are important to you. What we often forget is that not all urgent tasks are important ones. Urgent but not important tasks might be the coworker that pops in just to chat or simple activities that could be delegated. And, of course, those things that are not important and not urgent get moved to the bottom of our list.
I use this strategy both to organize my list and to field incoming demands throughout the day. With this system, I can quickly decide where to direct my energy and confidently get to work without worrying about the things I’m not focusing on in that moment. The power of organization enhances both efficiency and concentration. It also means that when those unexpected tasks pop up in the middle of the day, I know where to place them in my prioritized list.
This is one of my favorite strategies because it works with real life, even on the busiest of work days. So, the next time you encounter one of those days where the to-do list seems endless, maybe you’ll consider a new motto: WWED — What would Eisenhower do?