Improve your time management with the Eisenhower matrix
We all know the feeling. You spend a day at work solving problems, answering questions and dealing with emergencies. And at the end of the day you realize that you haven’t even touched the tasks you set out to do in the morning.
In other words, you’ve been busy all day, but it feels like you have accomplished NOTHING.
While it’s not a pleasant experience, the feeling that you’ve spent the day treading water instead of making progress on your tasks is not unusual.
In fact this problem has probably been around as long as the work week.
The good news is that an excellent solution to the problem was devised by American President, Dwight Eisenhower.
He developed the Eisenhower Matrix to manage his heavy workload. It worked so well that he taught it to his subordinates, and it remains one of the most popular and effective task management systems to this day.
Eisenhower Matrix: Do and let do
The foundation of the Eisenhower matrix is a simple division of tasks into four basic categories.
To sort your tasks into these categories, you’ll first need to list all the tasks you need to do – including regularly recurring tasks and routines.
Once you have completed this list, you can proceed to sort your tasks into one of four categories.
Tasks are sorted into one of the four categories by evaluating two factors for each task: how important it is, and how urgently it must be completed.
Task importance is defined by how relevant it is to the achievement of your immediate goals and objectives. A task that does not contribute to achieving your goals is not important.
For example, if your goal is to complete your annual shareholder report by noon tomorrow, then the task of updating employee contact details on your HR system is relatively unimportant.
Task urgency is defined by the hard limit on when you need to get the task done by – the due date or deadline.
The closer you are to the due date for a task, the more urgent a task becomes. Tasks that have no hard limits on their completion are considered to be the least urgent.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at the four task categories.
Category A: important and urgent tasks
Important and urgent tasks are the ones you should focus on when you start working. Completing them will not only take you closer to your goal, but failing to complete them by the due date can negatively impact your goals.
These are also the tasks that only you can do. To ensure that you don’t take on tasks that can be delegated to others, ask yourself the following question once you have added a task to this category:
Am I the only person who can do this task?
If not, the task belong in category C, which we’ll come to later.
Category B: important and non-urgent tasks
Category B is for tasks that only you can do, but are not urgent at the moment. When you add tasks to this category, set a due date for each task. This will help you to review and re-evaluate each task’s categorization as time progresses.
For example, once you have completed all of your Category A tasks you can move your Category B tasks with the closest due dates into Category A, or alternatively start working through your Category B tasks by due date.
Category C: Urgent but not important tasks
Category C is for tasks that are not important enough for you to handle them personally, but have a due date for completion.
These tasks should be delegated to somebody else. This ensures that they get done on time but don’t distract you.
To ensure that your Category C tasks are handled properly, ensure that you communicate the task’s due date to the person who takes on the task..
Category D: Non-important and non-urgent tasks
This is the category that will free up the most headspace. If the task is not something you can do, and doesn’t need to be completed soon, simply delete it from your task list.
This can have a profound effect when it comes to decluttering your task list. Once you’ve thinned out your task list by removing low importance, low urgency tasks you’ll see that your workload suddenly looks far more manageable.
In fact, one of your first Category A tasks should be to identify and delete all Category D tasks. Once that’s done you’ll have removed a major productivity blockage.
Remember to maintain your list
The Eisenhower Matrix is not a once-off solution to organizing your workflow and improving your productivity.
To use this system effectively you will need to keep your task list up to date on an ongoing basis.
To keep your list up to date you will need to:
- mark completed tasks as ‘done’
- re-evaluate existing tasks and sort them into new categories if required
- add new tasks to each category as these come up
- keep your list free of Category D tasks.
How to start using the Eisenhower Matrix
While Eisenhower implemented his productivity matrix with a paper and pen, modern technology provides you with a number of useful tools that can help you keep your task list well organized and up-to-date.
Task management software can help you to:
- record and manage all your tasks from a single, cloud-based location
- delegate tasks to colleagues and collaborators
- add, and follow up on, due dates and deadlines
- easily prioritize and categorize tasks.
SOPHY’s task management software makes implementing this even easier by offering a pre-configured template based on the Eisenhower Matrix, including the categories into which you need to sort your tasks.
Try SOPHY now to find out how easily you can reduce stress and improve productivity.