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Matrix of Priorities and Time Management

None of us likes to find ourselves in a situation for which we were not previously prepared. When additional tasks come pouring in, demanding our attention, and we start losing control. Tasks begin to manage us, but it should be the other way around. What to do to have more time for important things and manage the chaos?

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We can distinguish two main goals of time management. The first one is to better utilize the available time, and the second one is to limit its waste. To achieve both of these goals and increase your productivity, you can use the Eisenhower Matrix, also commonly known as the Eisenhower Matrix for prioritization and time management.

Where did it all start?

Dwight David Eisenhower, who served as the President of the United States for two terms from 1953-1961, was considered one of the most productive individuals. During his presidency, he launched programs such as (1) the establishment of the Internet (DARPA), (2) programs that contributed to space exploration (NASA), the use of alternative energy sources (Atomic Energy Act), and air traffic control system. Thanks to his numerous successful initiatives, his life became the subject of many studies on project management, time management, and productivity in general. It's no wonder, as he was known for maintaining extraordinary work efficiency throughout his entire life.

So what was the secret to the productivity of the President of the United States? Eisenhower had the ability to distinguish between important and urgent matters, which allowed him to effectively manage his actions by focusing on the task at hand.

Important or Urgent?

Let's consider how Eisenhower distinguished between important and urgent tasks.

  • Important matters are those that have the greatest long-term significance. Important things usually do not require immediate action. However, due to our neglect or other circumstances, they may become urgent. By focusing on working on important tasks, we become proactive, creating the life we desire, rather than being driven by circumstances.
  • Urgent matters require immediate action and response. Sudden events are usually beyond our control, and by constantly reacting to urgent matters, we become more stressed, frustrated, and less organized, deepening the chaos in our lives.

Important and urgent matters compete for our attention, and it is up to us to determine which ones we prioritize. Eisenhower created a method that prioritizes tasks and pushes urgent matters to the background. It's worth noting that important tasks related to long-term goals determine the quality of our lives, while urgent matters are time-fillers such as emails, phone calls, and meetings that are often of little value but may seem important. The method used to increase personal productivity is called the Eisenhower Matrix after his name.

Dwight David Eisenhower

What is Eisenhower Matrix?

The Eisenhower Matrix is a simple tool for organizing tasks based on four categories:

  1. Urgent and important — matters requiring immediate action. This is where crises, problems, and deadlines that demand our attention usually end up. For example: upcoming deadline for submitting documents to the office, studying for tomorrow's exam, or a broken car. With a little bit of proper planning and organization, many tasks never have to end up in this category. After all, can't we plan ahead for submitting documents to the office?
  2. Important but not urgent — in this category, you'll find tasks that are important but do not have an immediate deadline. Important but not urgent tasks typically revolve around family relationships, planning, and self-improvement. We should dedicate as much time as possible to these tasks as they bring the most benefits to our professional life. For example: planning the week, exercising, hobbies, or reading inspirational books. Allocating time for the most important things requires a high level of awareness and self-discipline to prioritize based on our own will. Long-term thinking supports choosing between what matters only now and what matters for our future.
  3. Urgent but not important — in this category, you'll find tasks that can be delegated to someone else. Most urgent but not important tasks are related to other people and helping them achieve their goals, not ours. Some examples of such tasks are phone calls, unexpected visits from relatives, or colleagues asking for help. After a day of supporting everyone around, you've done a lot for others but nothing for yourself. If you don't want to live other people's lives, avoid tasks that are urgent but not important.
  4. Not urgent and not important — actions to eliminate from our life (tasks that are neither important nor urgent). Disorder on our computer desktop or an inbox full of spam can distract our attention. That's why it's said that tasks in category 4 do not contribute to achieving personal goals and take away our precious time. Some examples of such tasks are aimless internet browsing or playing computer games. It's important to remember that eliminating all of the above tasks is not possible or healthy. After work, everyone needs to give our mind a rest. However, it's crucial to ensure that tasks in this quadrant take up as little time as possible.

How to effectively utilize the Eisenhower Matrix?

As mentioned before, the Eisenhower Matrix is a popular method for setting priorities and managing time. However, there are some important rules to keep in mind when using this method:

  • Dedicate the most time to analyzing quadrant 2. This way, you focus solely on tasks that are important to you.
  • Remember that what is urgent may not always be important at the moment. When creating the matrix, distinguish between tasks in quadrant 1 and quadrant 3.
  • If you want to track the time you spend on each quadrant, simply keep a weekly log of task durations.
  • If you find yourself spending too much time on tasks in quadrant 3 and not enough time on your own tasks in quadrant 2, you may be helping others achieve their goals. It's time to learn to say NO.

The Perfect Method?

I believe that the ability to focus is one of the most valuable skills we can acquire in today's world. By planning tasks based on urgency and importance, we know which activities are most valuable to us. It is through effective elimination of unnecessary tasks or priorities that we can focus on accomplishing things that are important to us. That's why the Eisenhower Matrix is the perfect tool for this purpose.

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Leszek W. Król

Leszek W. Król

On a daily basis, I accompany companies and institutions in designing strategies and developing new products and services.

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