If there's one person who we could learn a thing or two about productivity from it's Dwight Eisenhower. This man has literally done it all. He served two terms as the President of the United States, he ended the Korean war, he was a five star general throughout WW2 and he launched NASA.
What's so impressive about his productivity is he wasn't just able to stay super productive for bursts, he was able to stay incredibly productive throughout the whole of his life. One of the main reasons why he was so productive was because he developed his own productivity strategy: the Eisenhower Matrix. This strategy is said to be responsible for his unbelievable productivity levels.
This strategy's popularity was skyrocketed when it was emphasised in one of the best self development books of all time: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Since then, the strategy has been utilised all over the world to enhance productivity and prioritise the tasks that will lead to real long term gains for you.
The Eisenhower Matrix: Urgency & Importance
The Eisenhower Matrix involves dividing your tasks into four different groups. These groups are distinguished by two different variables: urgency and importance.
- Urgent tasks are tasks that require your immediate attention. They often have negative consequences for failing to complete them. These tasks need to be completed as soon as possible. Often these urgent tasks are related to other people's goals and not yours. Examples include handing in some homework or handing in a project to your boss.
- Important tasks are tasks that will lead to long term gain. These are the tasks that contribute to you achieving your goals. These tasks do not need to be completed by a deadline but will result in long term gains. These tasks are centred around what's important to you. For example if one of your goals may be to run a marathon, then setting aside time to run would be an important task to you.
By being able to distinguish your urgent tasks and important tasks, you can move away from being reactive to being proactive. If you always place your focus on urgent tasks, you're going to spend the rest of your life putting out fires. On the flip side, if you spend your time on important tasks, you're going to make real progress towards achieving your goals.
The Eisenhower Matrix: The Groups
The four groups are:
- The urgent & important tasks
- The important but not urgent tasks
- The urgent but not important tasks
- The not urgent nor important tasks
The Eisenhower Matrix: The Plan of Action
Once you've organised your tasks into the different groups, Dwight Eisenhower recommends the following:
Urgent & Important
For the tasks that are both urgent and important, you should get to working on them straight away. These tasks are of the upmost importance. An example could be a work project that needs to be submitted in the coming days; as not doing it may have negative consequences for your career.
Other examples of quadrant 1 tasks include:
- Homework due in for the next day
- Last minute work projects
- Taking your car to a garage after it's broke down
- Unscheduled meetings
- Replying to crucial emails
A good strategy to help you complete urgent and important tasks is Mark Twain's Eat The Frog method. Mark Twain famously said that if you eat a live frog as soon as you wake up, you can go through the day knowing the worst is behind you. Therefore by completing your urgent and important tasks first, you can go through the day focused upon your quadrant 2 tasks (the tasks that will help you achieve your goals).
The key to quadrant 1 is to try to complete these important and urgent tasks without spending too much time on them. Despite the short term gains that may come with completing them, spending too much time on them can result in various drawbacks. The more you focus upon quadrant 1 tasks, the more stressed and burnt out you're going to feel; instead, minimise your energy used on them and save it for quadrant 2.
Important but not urgent
For the tasks that are important but not urgent, you should schedule time to work on these regularly. These tasks may not result in any short term gain but over the long term they will accumulate and change you life for the better. A great example of an important but not urgent task is working out; doing a workout is not urgent and will not result in any short term gains but over the long term can change your health and appearance drastically.
Other examples of quadrant 2 tasks include:
- Reading to better your knowledge
- Working on your side hustle
- Learning new skills such as coding
- Personal networking
- Working towards your career goals
This quadrant is perhaps the most important group of tasks. If you can regularly find time to work on these tasks, don't be surprised to see yourself improving at the things you care about and completing your goals in rapid succession.
Furthermore, by spending as much time as possible on quadrant 2, you can minimise the amount of quadrant 1 tasks that pop up. For example, if you start working on a work project weeks in advance as part of your quadrant 2 tasks, it's never going to move into the urgent column as you will have already completed it by then.
Try to spend as much time as possible working on these tasks. Not only do they minimise stress as there is no deadline (therefore you can work at your own pace and produce higher quality work), they provide the best return on investment out of all the groups. By focusing on these tasks, you move away from a reactive position to a pro-active position; you're now focused upon growth and opportunity.
Urgent but not important
For the tasks that are urgent but not important, Dwight Eisenhower recommends delegating them/outsourcing them. These tasks result in neither short term gain or long term gain due to their lack of importance; they are just roadblocks to true productivity. By delegating/outsourcing/automating these tasks, they are still being completed whilst you create time to work on the important tasks.
Examples of quadrant 3 tasks include:
- Running errands
- Data entry
- Filing taxes
- Phone calls
Try to spend as little time as possible on these tasks because they usually emphasise someone else's priorities. Therefore, they do nothing to advance your position in achieving your desired goals. Once you start doing more of these tasks, you move into a reactive position, thus you're not focused upon your self development and growth.
Not important and not urgent
Lastly, for tasks that are not urgent or important, Eisenhower suggests you eliminate these tasks. They serve no tangible benefit to your life, they're just preventing you from being at your productive best.
Examples of quadrant 4 tasks include:
- Scrolling through social media
- Watching Netflix
This is one of the most important quadrants to focus on to be at your productive best; it's important to recognise you can only get so much done in a day, the best way to do more in the way of achieving your goals is to do less overall. By cutting out all the unimportant and not urgent tasks, you're freeing up time and energy to focus upon your goals.
The Eisenhower Matrix: "What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important"
Dwight Eisenhower states that "What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important". You're probably thinking what the hell does that mean. What Eisenhower means is your important tasks are rarely urgent and your urgent tasks are rarely important. Therefore, he recommends always focusing upon and finding time for your important tasks as these are going to be the tasks that give the best return on investment.
The Eisenhower Matrix: Is it right for you?
- If you're constantly running around putting out fires
- If you struggle to find time for your real goals
- If you're working hard but seeing no tangible benefits
If you relate to any of the above bullet points, then this may be the right productivity strategy for you. The Eisenhower Matrix provides you with a blueprint to focus on the tasks that offer the best return on investment.