Eisenhower Matrix: The Simplest Productivity Hack
Time is one of our greatest assets. Yet, when faced with a never ending to-do list we often forget just how valuable it is. Instead, we either complete tasks by urgency or feel so paralysed that we procrastinate. When presented with a long list, it can be tempting to sink time into tasks that feel productive but are not important in the big picture. So how do we combat this?
Dwight D. Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States from 1953 to 1961. Before presidency, he served as a general in the US Army and also as Supreme Commander during WWII. Needless to say, he had a pretty long to-do list.
The Eisenhower Matrix
Eisenhower had to continually make tough decisions on the tasks he needed to do. He needed to relentlessly prioritise. To help himself out, he invented a simple productivity framework to prioritise tasks by urgency and importance. It looks like this:
And as Eisenhower sums up:
"What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important." — Dwight Eisenhower, Former US President and Supreme Commander
How does it work?
We start by sorting between urgent and important.
Urgent: Things that are time-sensitive (e.g. Project deadlines, emails)
Important: Things that are aligned with long-term goals (e.g. Meditating, moving projects forward)
We then sort into four categories:
1. Urgent and important
We do these first.
Problems, project tasks or that if we avoid have negative consequences.
2. Important but not urgent
We schedule these and do later.
These typically contribute to our projects or long term goals.
3. Urgent but not important
We delegate if possible. if not, we schedule too.
If scheduling, these should be completed after important-but-not-urgent tasks.
These are generally time-sensitive but don't contribute to our goals or projects.
4. Neither urgent not important
We don't do these.
These are time-wasters: distractions and avoidance activities fall here.
If you're a perfectionist, then you may find yourself discarding a lot of tasks.
How does it help?
The great thing about the Eisenhower matrix is how flexible it is. We can use it for all scales: from high-level strategy e.g. "Which features are needed for this product launch?" to low-level planning e.g. "What should I focus on today?" It can also help us curb perfectionism and jumpstart pragmatism.
By using this simple framework:
We can overcome decision-paralysis
We can evaluate how necessary tasks are
We can eliminate unnecessary tasks
We can avoid "productive" procrastination
We can do important tasks first
Let's get practical
When you're using this framework, don't limit yourself to one method.
Some ways you could use this:
Draw the framework in your notebook
Use post-it notes to create a dynamic task list. (Assign one task per post-it and place them in the quadrants.)
Use a table in your notetaking software e.g. Notion, Evernote
Or you could download and print Momentum's digital template.
Which you can find here: