My days are always filled with decisions, from when I wake up to the minute I go to sleep. What to do first, whose email to answer, which call to attend, and so on. If I don’t use a prioritization system, the odds are I’ll either burn out or not do anything meaningful.
I know for a fact that I don’t have time to start and complete all my tasks in one day; I don’t even try to convince myself otherwise anymore. Now, time works in my favor when I focus on urgent and important tasks, accordingly to the Eisenhower Box.
The Eisenhower Box, also known as the Eisenhower Matrix, is a priority management tool that allows you to differentiate between urgent and significant assignments to create an effective workflow. It improves and speeds up your decision-making process, making it easier to stay on top of your to-do list.
What is the Eisenhower Box?
The Eisenhower Box method is a matrix-based productivity technique that helps you focus on priorities. It does to your to-do list what you should do to your basement: separate the stuff into the actionable box, delegable box, and throw-away box.
Much like organizing your basement will make things easier to find and save space, the Eisenhower Box creates a clear path for the assignments that actually matter in between neverending undetermined tasks. It gives you peace of mind that you’re working on what will truly make a difference.
Dwight Eisenhower, the 34th president of the United States and a five-star commander during World War II, pivoted the Eisenhower Matrix. Quoting a university chancellor, he stated, “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” Later, Stephen Covey was inspired by the president’s idea to create the concept of the Eisenhower Box as a time management tool.
Why you should try the Eisenhower Box method
First, this technique is clear-cut and straightforward to understand and put into practice fast. It’s easy to use, flexible, and can be incorporated into any time management system.
You can apply this method to all tasks, professional and personal, which can help you improve your work-life balance. The Eisenhower Box gives you a better overview of your tasks and makes it easier to plan your time, cutting out any unnecessary assignments that could be potentially time-consuming.
Lastly, it is compatible with other productivity protocols, such as the GTD framework, Pomodoro Technique, and time blocking. Combining such tools allows you to create a powerful productivity system tailored to your needs.
How to use the Eisenhower Box
Eisenhower’s technique for action and task organization is precise. You will divide your activities into four categories using the choice matrix below.
- Urgent and important (act on them instantly).
- Important, but not urgent (schedule to tackle later).
- Urgent, but not important (delegate).
- Neither urgent nor important (eliminate).
Each category represents a quadrant in the matrix, where you’ll add the responding tasks. This is how which quadrant will look like:
Quadrant 1: Do
The “do” quadrant requires you to allocate whatever is urgent and important. Place those urgent items that have obvious implications and directly impact your long-term goals.
Usually, such tasks are the ones you can’t stop thinking about and stress over. E.g., meeting with a key investor, reading the new apartment’s purchase contract, etc.
Quadrant 2: Schedule
Here you’ll put any duties that aren’t urgent but nonetheless important. Although they have some impact on your goals, you can plan them for later as they do not need to be completed immediately.
Once you’re done with the first quadrant, these are the tasks you’ll tackle next. It’s critical to balance this quadrant with the first one, so combine the Eisenhower Box with time blocking to make sure you’ll have time to execute all your important tasks.
E.g., preparing feedback for the team or scheduling your pet’s yearly vet appointment.
Quadrant 3: Delegate
This quadrant is for urgent but unimportant tasks that must be accomplished right now, but they’re not personally related to you or have little bearing on your objectives.
Such tasks are usually easy enough for juniors or interns to execute. Delegating responsibilities is one of the most effective strategies for managing your workload and providing opportunities for your team to grow.
E.g., organizing the team’s holiday calendar, answering messages on social media, etc.
Quadrant 4: Eliminate
Any leftovers from the previous quadrants are eligible for elimination. Those ideas are neither urgent nor important but somehow made it to your to-do list.
Now you have a critical decision to make: are those tasks just plain distractions that don’t have the potential to add value and, therefore, must be deleted? Or are they good ideas that don’t fit your current context but can be archived for the future?
Regardless of the question, you must clear your inbox from such tasks. E.g., reorganizing the company’s Google Drive or getting a quotation for animated marketing videos.
The latter is that no magic wand can wave away complex tasks. However, the Eisenhower Box is, without a doubt, the most efficient sorting method to manage complex assignments.
The difference between urgent and important tasks
It’s not uncommon to see “urgent” and “important” as synonyms, but their distinction is critical for priority management and the Eisenhower Box. To differentiate between urgent and important tasks, you must first understand the difference between action and reaction.
Urgency is linked to reaction as it usually needs quick decision-making and execution. Urgent tasks have to be done right away or have a tight deadline, like answering phone calls or helping a customer.
You can’t eliminate urgent tasks because other people set their deadlines; it’s not up to you.
On the other hand, importance is connected to action. Important tasks significantly impact your goals and will usually need planning and strategy to be executed efficiently.
You can delay important tasks, but you can’t eliminate them either, as they’re crucial to achieving your objectives, mission, and ambitions.
Once the difference between these concepts is clear to you, the Eisenhower Box will be even easier to use.
The Eisenhower Box is all about prioritizing what is important. It helps you focus on your goals and optimize your time to achieve them faster. Simple but effective.
This technique is for everyone that feels overwhelmed with a long to-do list and doesn’t know where to start and for those who need to create a hierarchy for all their seemingly essential tasks. The Eisenhower Box can help you clear your Akiflow inbox daily and stay on top of your assignments and responsibilities.