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March 20, 2023

How to use the Eisenhower matrix to prioritize your work

If you find yourself stuck between deciding to start a new project or spend time organizing your inbox, try focusing on effectively prioritizing tasks on your to-do list. Learn how to use an Eisenhower matrix to boost your productivity and eliminate time spent deciding where to start.

What is an Eisenhower matrix?

Also known as an Eisenhower matrix, this useful organization tool divides tasks into four categories. Originally introduced based on a quote from former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Eisenhower matrix can help you prioritize your work or personal to-do list. Since this tool organizes tasks by urgency and importance, it helps you determine which tasks need your attention urgently and which ones you can hold off on.

“By organizing tasks by both urgency and importance, this tool guides you to the tasks that need to be finished the soonest.”

How to use an Eisenhower matrix

Although the words urgent and important have similar definitions, they have key differences when used to create an Eisenhower matrix. Understanding these two terms will help you prioritize your work effectively.

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Urgent tasks refer to tasks that must be done as soon as possible. These tasks require immediate action and likely result in negative consequences if left unfinished. The longer you delay these tasks, the worse the consequences may be.

For example, finishing a research paper the day before it’s due or registering to vote before election day requires immediate action to avoid failing a class or being unable to vote.

On the other hand, important tasks don’t have time-sensitive deadlines, but they still need prioritization. Important tasks include actions that contribute to your long-term goals and may require planning ahead of time. You might also include regular but necessary tasks, like grocery shopping or doing laundry in this category.

In the context of an Eisenhower matrix, things on your to-do list can be sorted into one of these categories, both categories, or neither. Based on how you categorize these tasks, you’ll know where to get started.

Creating an Eisenhower matrix

To start making your Eisenhower matrix, draw a four-quadrant box on a piece of paper or use an online drawing tool. At the top of the box, label the two columns as “Urgent” and “Not Urgent.” On one side, mark the rows as “Important” and “Not important.”

As you think of items on your to-do list, consider whether each task is urgent, important, or both. Place tasks and assignments with strict or upcoming deadlines in the “Important” and “Urgent” box.

Tasks that require immediate attention might feel stressful, but they’re often easier to prioritize. On the other hand, “Important” tasks that are “Not urgent” require more thoughtful planning to complete. In this quadrant, write out your professional goals, regular chores, and long-term projects. Once you’ve written these out, you’ll likely want to create a more detailed plan by creating a timeline for your goals.

Some tasks might be time-sensitive, but not important for you to complete. For example, some meetings that you aren’t required to attend would be considered both “Urgent,” but “Not important.” If you work on a team at your company, you might be able to delegate some of these to your coworkers or direct reports. Otherwise, you should practice saying no when possible.

Leisure time should be a part of your daily life, but if you’re not intentional about your time off, you might fall into the trap of mindless distractions. In the final quadrant of your Eisenhower matrix, put any avoidable activities. Whether this includes your daily social media scroll or meetings that can be replaced with an email, try to avoid spending time checking these off of your list.

Tips for prioritizing your work

Once you’ve created your Eisenhower matrix, you’re almost ready to get to work. However, sometimes, you might still need to plan your schedule after prioritizing your tasks.

Using a calendar or task management tool can help you visualize when you’ll be finishing each task. It’s also a good idea to set reminders for important assignments to avoid missing deadlines.

By creating an Eisenhower matrix to organize your to-do list, you’ll be able to focus on one task at a time without worrying about missing something important. While some people prefer multi-tasking, trying to finish too much at once can lead to careless mistakes or burnout. Focus on one assignment at a time to make sure you’re doing your best work.

Start prioritizing your to-do list more effectively by sitting down and determining the most important tasks. The next time you’re struggling to decide where to start, simplify the process by creating an Eisenhower matrix.

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