Conquer Your Calendar: Unleash the Eisenhower Matrix

A very common struggle for clients is how to manage their time better—to be more productive, have a better work-life balance, or get past the overwhelm paralysis—so many things to do, it’s hard to do anything. The Eisenhower Matrix is a productivity tool designed to help individuals prioritize tasks based on urgency and importance. It’s named after Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States, who famously said, “What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.”

Graphic from todoist:

This matrix is an improvement over the traditional to-dolist which makes all tasks equal. We know that everything isn’t equal. Given our time and resource limitations we have to prioritize some tasks and even eliminate some.

What is helpful about putting our to-do lists into this type of Matrix is that it helps us be more conscious of how we are spending our time, and consciousness creates opportunity for greater choice. For example, a lot of us spend too much time on email, checking it multiple times a day, or even continuously. If this is you, you are treating email as “Urgent & Important.” Is all your email actually “urgent and important”? If not, the question becomes, how can you efficiently sort through which emails are actually urgent and important and require a response right away? Can you schedule a specific time to review email? What about Slack or other work-related instant messaging apps—how do they fit on this matrix for you?

One of things that is really helpful about this matrix is highlighting the “Important and Non-Urgent” quadrant—these are important tasks that are easy to neglect—activites that have high payoff but are easy to let slide because we are busy with urgent things. These things have to be scheduled (e.g. things like planning, taking care of our health (eating, exercising, scheduling and going to needed doctors appointments, professional development). The delegation quadrant (“urgent and Not important) can also be a struggle—it might mean asking others to do those tasks or exploring technology that can automate these tasks. We delude ourselves into saying, it’s just easier to do it myself than train someone or researching automation.

So, try this technique. First make a traditional to-do list, then start putting these tasks into the 2 X 2 Urgency-Importance Matrix. What can you learn about where you are spending your time? What are you learning about what is most important to you? What’s not on the list but should be?

The benefit of using this matrix, rather than a list that includes everything, is that you can see how you spend your time visually and can assess if it actually reflects what you value most and whether and how you may spend time on things that are not important. It may also help to show others why you might need more resources or support to get everything done.

If you have clarity about what’s important but still struggle to maintain focus, working with a coach might be helpful. Please contact me for a free consultation to experience if coaching feels like a good fit for you.

© Anne Garing, PhD & Peg Hunt, MS

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