Time management and procrastination are among the most common problems that I see entrepreneurs and people in general struggle with on a day-to-day basis. I wouldn’t be able to count how many times I’ve seen people in the groups and threads I’m in, mostly entrepreneurs, ask about a way to resolve these issues.
Time and again, this problem comes up. Sometimes it still does for me, especially when there are so many ideas that could be acted upon immediately but there are existing tasks that need to be checked off. This is where the Eisenhower Matrix comes in.
The Eisenhower Matrix
The principle of the Eisenhower matrix is quite simple. It judges tasks based on 2 main factors: importance and urgency. Visually, this matrix makes more sense when drawn up in a square with 4 quadrants. Therefore it’s also called the Eisenhower square or box.
The first one is for tasks that are important and urgent, which you should do first and immediately above anything else. The second quadrant is for tasks that are urgent but not important, which you delegate.
The third is for tasks that are important but not urgent, which you schedule. Then the fourth quadrant is neither important nor urgent. So then you can either eliminate those tasks completely or set them aside for later.
This model was created by former President Dwight Eisenhower. The actions I’ve included were added later on but they weren’t in the initial Eisenhower matrix. Those came after Stephen Covey, the author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, popularized this model.
What’s lacking in the Eisenhower Matrix
First of all, the Eisenhower matrix doesn’t take into account several other factors that can affect our ability or inability to do a task. These factors could include:
- The amount of effort it takes for each task – Some urgent tasks can be more tedious or time-consuming than the important ones. Prioritizing them may lead to the delay of the rest of the tasks in other quadrants.
- Access to resources – President Eisenhower probably benefited from this model so much because he had the resources of people to delegate tasks to. The average person doesn’t normally have the luxury of delegating tasks like doing the dishes, which can also be classified as urgent but not important.
- The complexity of a task – Sometimes it also takes more than one person to accomplish a certain task. The simple model doesn’t really open up enough space for adjustment when it only considers the urgency and importance of tasks.
Secondly, it also puts mundane things that bring happiness (most often those tasks and activities that fall under the not important and not urgent quadrant) in the least of our priorities.
Here’s a proposal. What if we don’t just use the Eisenhower Matrix to increase our productivity but also to try eliminating procrastination and reducing the illusion of urgency we assign to some things that are really not urgent nor important?
How to use Eisenhower Matrix to increase productivity
Since the Eisenhower Matrix was originally meant to improve our productivity, let’s start with how we can use it to make sure the important and urgent things are being accomplished.
Power to the to do list
First off, the Eisenhower Matrix is a good model for brain dumping all tasks that you can think of at any given moment. However, you shouldn’t use that as your reference for things to do on the daily. Create a separate to-do list to make the tasks even more detailed and cohesive.
Number your tasks according to the order you would do them
By first listing out all the tasks on the quadrant, you can decide in what order those tasks are to be done as you transfer them to a daily to-do list. As you do this, constantly try to question the weight of the importance or urgency of a task.
Numbering them will take out the decision-making later on. You only have to worry about taking action to complete them.
Number your tasks according to the quadrant they belong in
Another numbering system that has worked for people is to assign numbers 1 to 4 to the tasks signifying their quadrant. With this, you can then refer to the priority action that needs to be done with that task.
You can group the tasks according to common elements. For example, those tasks that need to be delegated will probably take less time than writing a full report, so you can deal with those first. Another alternative is to group similar tasks that require the same set of skills and tackle them one by one simultaneously, so you’re not switching your mind from one unrelated task to another.
Have no more than 5 tasks under each quadrant.
As a general rule, make sure that you don’t have more than 5 tasks in each quadrant at any given time. If you don’t follow this, tasks might pile up especially in the not important or not urgent quadrants.
From personal experience, the longer a task has stayed in your to-do list or Eisenhower model, the less enthusiastic you become about it and the more dreadful it becomes. You can also apply a rule that there should only be 3 major things in your daily to-do list, so you’re not overwhelming yourself with numerous tasks.
How to use Eisenhower Matrix to reduce procrastination and mind-numbing tasks
Everyone wants to know how to increase their productivity, but nobody seems to be looking for ways to eliminate their bad habits. Another way that you can use the Eisenhower Matrix is to identify the activities that you do that don’t contribute anything to your productivity. Don’t worry, this is shorter and doable to all people, even those who’ve succumbed to daily procrastination.
Take note of every single thing that you do in a day and categorize them under the quadrants
When I say every single thing, I mean every single thing. If it’s work, put it under any of the first 3 quadrants. Here’s the tricky part: also include things like going on Facebook, Netflix, or any similar platforms.
This requires some honesty on your part. The purpose of this exercise is to become aware of the things that you put under the “neither important nor urgent” quadrant and identifying which of those activities does absolutely nothing to improve your quality of life.
After confronting the things that really need to be eliminated, you can then curate a different set of activities in that fourth quadrant to include things that bring as much value to your life as the tasks in the other quadrants.
For this, there’s really only one step. The rest is yours to act upon.
I don’t know how many people actually use the Eisenhower Matrix to improve their “busy” lifestyle. I’m guessing not many, which is surprising since we’re all a bit obsessed with finding ways to increase productivity.
I think one major reason is that we haven’t confronted this model in a way that it needs to be addressed. The Eisenhower Matrix should really be used for us to achieve a balance with the things that need to be done like work and things that are purely for leisure.