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Apart from founding NASA, and setting up the US Interstate highway system, president Dwight D. Eisenhower is also remembered for his invaluable ideas on time and task management. Precisely, in the form of the Eisenhower Matrix.
The 34th US president lived a busy yet accomplished life. His achievements and impacts on US history are immense. In addition to his 8 year-long presidential terms, he served the US military as the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, and eventually made it to the World Golf Hall of Fame, as well.
C-SPAN’s 2017 survey ranked him among the top 5 US presidents of all time.
His secret to this massive productivity, we suspect, was his incisive decision-making.
In his own words,
“I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”
The Eisenhower Matrix is an orderly reflection of his ideas that offers far-reaching benefits for modern-day project managers.
Essentially, it’s an approach for identifying what’s important and when it should be done.
In this article, we’ll explore the technical side of the matrix, why it deserves your attention, and how you can start implementing Eisenhower Matrix for Time management in your project using ProofHub project management software (which is coincidentally also used by teams at NASA).
Table of Contents
- What is the Eisenhower Decision Matrix?
- How does Eisenhower Matrix Benefit you?
- How to segregate tasks based on importance and urgency?
- How to use Eisenhower matrix for project management?
- Advice for Mastering the Eisenhower Matrix for Time Management
- Final Thoughts
What is the Eisenhower Decision Matrix?
Eisenhower Matrix is a technique for optimally managing task priorities with respect to the task urgency, for achieving desired levels of productivity.
The matrix has four quadrants, each representing a classification of tasks. The tasks are classified on the basis of;
- Importance of the task to the project
- The effort needed to achieve the task
- Time available to complete the task
- Impact on the project
The quadrants are graphically plotted on axes representing task importance versus task urgency. Tasks with similar categorization are clubbed together to get a clear overview of the deliverables.
The four quadrants can be summarized as follows.
- High Importance, Low Urgency – Tasks that are immediately due and have a significant impact on the project.
Something like acknowledging the client on their service feedback or preparing the employee roster for the day. Both demand immediate attention and should be taken care of right away.
- High Importance, Low Urgency – These are the tasks that are pivotal to the project but they’re not the priority at the moment.
These are complex in nature, making them difficult to complete in one go. Hence, they’re scheduled to be done for later. Something like building a website or compiling the annual report.
- Low Importance, High Urgency – These are menial tasks that often come up on schedule on a day-to-day basis.
They’re not as important for the project but demand immediate attention because there might be dependencies. You can imagine drafting the daily work status report or inviting members for the weekly meet, as examples.
- Low Importance, Low Urgency – Then there are tasks that are neither important nor have a schedule to be finished.
These purposeless tasks are the ones that you can actually ignore as they don’t add value to the project. Anything from too much Social Media or planning meetings with neither need nor agenda.
In order to employ the matrix fruitfully, you have to group the tasks as per the quadrants and create an execution strategy.
Remember that Eisenhower Matrix doesn’t comment on how you should execute a certain task, it only talks about scheduling the tasks in a way that saves you time and resources.
How does Eisenhower Matrix Benefit you?
The Eisenhower Matrix helps you decide what to give attention to.
You might think, “what’s so special with that?” But by getting this one thing right about your daily platter of tasks, you can fundamentally improve the productivity of your project. Here’s how.
Better Voluntary Focus
We practice Voluntary Focus when we’re dedicatedly working on a goal-based task, taking help from our past experiences.
It’s something we decide to give our attention to, rather than it being inflicted upon us. The state of mind when you’re fully immersed in the task.
Examples include analyzing statistics to come up with conclusions or preparing a SWAT report for the client to review.
Voluntary Focus is generally harder to practice than its counterpart – Stimulus-driven focus, which kicks into action the moment we see a notification or hear a sudden noise.
Our brains can’t help but automatically shift to Stimulus-driven focus whenever we get distracted. This distraction kills our goal-based focus, resulting in lost productivity, as well as, deterioration of work quality.
By employing Eisenhower Matrix, you can minimize tasks that prevent you from doing what’s most important, and choose important tasks that require your absolute focus and skill so that you can stay productive. Everything else is either postponed, delegated, or deleted.
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Better Mindfulness for Deadlines
Who is passionate about missing deadlines? Still, so many of us end up doing it!
Eisenhower’s approach instinctively takes the urgency of the task into the account, helping you manage time-based priorities.
The easiest way to meet a deadline is to be mindful of how much time you have on your hand.
The matrix is built upon the philosophy of smart scheduling. It asks you to stack your tasks in a way that is coherent with the deadlines, without wasting your attention.
Suppose, Task A needs to be completed urgently within a day but it’s not important. Task B is super important but it’s not due until next week.
The ideal approach for many would be to focus on Task A because it’s urgent and you need to get it out of your way quickly.
But going by the matrix,
Task A – High Urgency, Low Importance
Task B – Low Urgency, High Importance
Task A should be delegated to someone for whom it is the most relevant, and can accommodate it in their schedule without missing the deadline. Your present focus will not deteriorate.
Task B should be worked upon promptly because it’s important and will take you longer to complete. By keeping focus affixed on Task B, you can ensure that the week-long deadline will not be missed.
Smarter Team and Resource Allocation
In team environments, when you’re not clear of which task to do when, you mostly stay unaware of whom to assign it to.
You risk reducing the time-efficiency of your team. Your members might just sit around on important projects, and keep struggling with urgent, inconsequential tasks.
By being aware of your task priorities and overall time distribution, you get better at resource allocation. Your team members know what’s important and tasks are stacked in achievable priorities.
Results for your team – better team productivity, results for you – increased managerial prowess.
How to segregate tasks based on importance and urgency?
This is the most tricky yet the most important part of the Eisenhower Matrix for time management – to clearly classify tasks as important and/or urgent.
The right decision obviously comes from your natural judgment and several latent factors such as associated costs, difficulty, available employees, etc. But if you have a quick formula to identify the task priorities, it will help in 9 out of 10 cases.
So here’s an algorithmic perspective on the Eisenhower Matrix. You approach each task based on a given set of statements to make pairs of Importance and Urgency.
Statements for Importance
- This matters a lot to the client
- It isn’t directly related to the project
- This task isn’t worth my time
Statements for Urgency
- The deadline is due tomorrow
- Let’s make a deadline for this
- Not needed anytime soon
The statements come labeled with numbers as in the preceding lists. You assign the most befitting importance and urgency statements to the task to make a number pair.
If a task resonates with “This matters a lot to the client” and “The deadline is due tomorrow”, the number pair consists of 1 and 4. This means it’s both urgent and important, hence, it should be done right away.
The number pair tells you what to do with the task. It’s fun yet simple. I have prepared a little Eisenhower Matrix example to elucidate the concept. You’re free to change it as per your understanding.
How to use Eisenhower matrix for project management?
In the project management parlance, you can use the Eisenhower Matrix to keep a track of the timelines and assign priority-based tasks to your team.
In order to strip off any complexity from the concept, I have developed a simpler and a little toned-down version of the Eisenhower matrix. It resonates more with Stephen Covey’s Priority Matrix but the core idea is the same.
The goal is to quickly identify tasks belonging to one of the four quadrants and schedule them accordingly.
I am using ProofHub’s features on the lines of Eisenhower Matrix for time management.
Sign-up for your ProofHub and make a free Eisenhower Matrix for your team. Your First Project is Free.
Reiterating four quadrants are as follows;
- High Importance, Low Effort – Easy thing, do it.
- High Importance, High Effort – Tough ask, plan it.
- Low Importance, Low Effort – Robotic task, automate it.
- Low Importance, High Effort – Not-worthy, chuck it.
Step 1 – Make a master list of tasks
Jot down everything that needs to be done, regardless of priorities, call this the master list. You should have a list of items to work on before you start arranging them as per scheduling needs.
Step 2 – Create lists based on how you plan on doing tasks
In ProofHub, you can create workflows representing the 4 quadrants. Each workflow is basically a list containing all the tasks neatly segregated based on priorities.
The workflows also come with stages that you can use to track the task progress across your team.
I have created 4 lists each representing a quadrant in efforts of creating an Eisenhower Matrix template.
|Easy thing, do it.||Today’s Tasks|
|Tough ask, plan it.||Planned Tasks|
|Robotic task, automate it.||Delegated Tasks|
|Not-worthy, chuck it.||Rejected Tasks|
Step 3 – Add tasks to the segregated lists with workflows
Open the “Today’s Tasks” list and start adding the tasks that need to be completed right away.
The list has been assigned a basic Kanban Workflow which has the “To-do”, “Review” and “Done” stages. You can easily shift tasks from one stage to another as you complete them.
Each time you shift the task from “To-do” to “Review”, all the assignees will get a notification so that they know about the task progress. Same goes from “Review” to “Done”.
In the same way, you can keep adding tasks to the Planned Tasks list for tasks that need elaborate planning. This list has an elaborate workflow to help you accommodate the uncertainties.
Then comes the Delegated Tasks list which contains all the tasks that need to be handed over to someone else.
You can easily add assignees for these tasks and stay updated as they proceed with the tasks.
Lastly, you can proactively move low priority tasks that may take too long into the Rejected Tasks list. This will remove these unwanted tasks from the view altogether and you can revisit them later if you need to.
Step 4 – Monitor your progress easily
View Project Reports in ProofHub to keep a check on how many tasks your team is completing and if prioritized tasks are being completed first.
The Reports section provides a clear picture of the team’s productivity, enabling you to master the Eisenhower Matrix both numerically and visually.
Advice for Mastering the Eisenhower Matrix for Time Management
While it’s all for the better, the Eisenhower matrix may ask you to change your project management style. If not entirely, then in parts.
This instantly feels repulsive because each manager schedules and delegates in their unique way. It’s what makes them good at their job.
To avoid such a clash, and to make the best use of the concept, here are a few words of advice.
- It will take time to master – After a week of using the matrix, you might think, “is it really working?”. This is pretty likely because it will take at least a month or even more to see the real signs of productivity. So, take it slow and keep using the matrix, and don’t give up on it too often.
- Be agile in the approach – It’s not necessary to follow the matrix super strictly. You can mix and match your own experiences with Eisenhower’s guidelines in an agile way. The goal is to be better at the time and task management, not to ace the matrix.
- Use a project Management Tool – It’s much better to follow the matrix with the help of a software tool that’ll reduce your clerical work. You can create, assign, and time tasks in a few clicks, while your whole team follows along.
President Eisenhower has left us with timeless advice for this endless pursuit of productivity. When I came across the idea, I was thoroughly impressed and have been personally using it to manage my sprawling team.
No one will say no to more productivity at the workplace, especially the managers. There is no debate on the fact that young entrepreneurs and even trained managers want to constantly improve their game.
The Eisenhower Matrix is a definite aid to all of them, everyone who wishes to make smart and economical use of their 24 hours. Without challenging your expertise or skills, I recommend using the fruits of wisdom the matrix hands out.
Have you already been using it? What have been your experiences? Connect with me on LinkedIn to discuss more on this, and to further find more ways of workplace productivity.