May 2, 2022
Today’s productivity lesson is brought to you by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
As the commander of the Allied forces in WWII and president of the United States during the Cold War, his time was at a premium. And among his greatest challenges was discerning between the urgent and the important. When reflecting on his years of leadership, he said,
“… Whenever our affairs seem to be in crisis, we are almost compelled to give our first attention to the urgent present rather than to the important future.”¹
Lots of little fires can distract from the overarching goal. Sound familiar?
That’s where the concept of the Eisenhower Productivity Matrix comes from. It’s a simple tool to help you prioritize your focus on what really matters—your goals.
Here’s how it works…
Write four headers on a piece of paper:
Important and urgent
Unimportant and urgent
Important and not urgent
Unimportant and not urgent
Typically, this is done on a square like this…
But it also works if you leave it in list form.
Now, add tasks to each category.
Delivering that time-sensitive and critical document to your client? That’s important and urgent.
Positioning yourself to ask for a raise next year? Important, but not urgent—there’s no impending deadline for getting it done.
Restocking the office goodie bowl with treats for an unexpected client visit? Urgent, but not important—there’s a hard deadline, but there are likely more significant tasks on your to-do list.
Color coding your sticky-note drawer? Unimportant and not urgent (and you know it)!
Once you’ve got all your tasks written down, it’s time to start working.
Start with the tasks in the important and urgent category. These are your top priorities.
Then move on to the tasks in the important and not urgent category. These can be scheduled for later, but they’re still crucial to your success.
Here’s your secret sauce: The tasks that are unimportant but urgent can be delegated. This is what interns, newbies, assistants, and third-party contractors are for!
A big stress reliever can be to just delete unimportant and not urgent tasks. These are distractions from knocking out items in the other categories unless you have nothing else on your plate.
The Eisenhower Productivity Matrix is a powerful tool because it can help you see the big picture. It allows you to focus your attention on what’s truly necessary to accomplish, and it gives you permission to let go of the rest without feeling like you’re dropping the ball.
So the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed by your to-do list, try using the Eisenhower Productivity Matrix to regain a sense of clarity. It may be what you need to refocus on making your vision become a reality.
¹ “Is Eisenhower a Productivity Myth?” Brian Dordevic, Alpha Efficiency, https://alphaefficiency.com/eisenhower-productivity-myth