The Eisenhower Matrix: How To Decide Between Urgent and Important Priorities

the-eisenhower-matrix-how-to-decide-between-urgent-and-important-priorities

The Eisenhower Matrix shows you how to decide between urgent and important priorities. In other words, this concept helps you to fight stress and procrastination so you can work on what’s important.

I’ll start by telling you what the Eisenhower Matrix is.  After that, I’ll share how it will be useful with our changing work environments right now. Many businesses and individuals are rightly adjusting to the coronavirus pandemic by working from home.

And, people are realizing that it isn’t always easy to stay self-motivated and focused in a solitary work environment. Many have shared with me that they feel a steady stream of pulls on their attention spans. Likewise, all the distractions from easy access to news and social media.

However, it is important to have a method to determine what needs to get done and how to prioritize to protect your sanity.

HOW THE EISENHOWER MATRIX LOOKS

Here is a visual of what the Eisenhower Matrix looks like.
 

 

EISENHOWER’S URGENT/IMPORTANT PRINCIPLE

Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important Principle or Eisenhower’s Matrix helps you think about your priorities, and determine which are important and which are, essentially, distractions.

Dwight Eisenhower is quoted as saying,

“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”

That belief had him create the Eisenhower Matrix or Eisenhower Principle, a time management tool that Stephen Covey popularized in his book, ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.’  For instance, when confronted with something that needed to be done, he would ask two questions.  First, is the task important?  Second, is it urgent?

Urgent versus Important

Firstly, let’s understand the difference between urgent and important.

Urgent tasks and activities require immediate attention and as a result, place you in a reactive mode. This can create a potentially negative mindset. Urgent tasks are usually associated with achieving someone else’s goals. Therefore, they are often the ones we concentrate on and they demand attention because the consequences of not dealing with them are immediate.

Important tasks or activities contribute to our long-term mission and goals. Important tasks can also be urgent but they usually are not and instead, put us in a responsive mode that is calm and rational.  Likewise, important tasks help us achieve our goals and urgent ones help achieve someone else’s goals.

When we know which tasks are urgent and which are important, we can overcome the natural tendency to focus on unimportant urgent activities.  That clears time to do what is essential for your success.

HOW TO USE EISENHOWER’S MATRIX

Firstly, there is an Eisenhower app that allows you to organize your tasks. But, if you prefer using pen and paper, you can download an Eisenhower Decision Matrix worksheet.

To use Eisenhower’s Matrix, start by listing all tasks, projects and activities that you feel you have to do. Subsequently, slot them into one of these four categories.

Important and Urgent – This category covers activities that require our immediate attention but that probably were unforeseen or you left until the last minute.  They typically consist of crises, deadlines or problems but also work towards meeting long-term goals.  A strategy to minimize stress and still tackle these tasks would be not to jam your calendar full every day and instead, to block time to allow for such scenarios.

Important But Not Urgent – These activities help you to achieve your goals and to complete important work.  They may not have an immediate deadline but you’ll want to schedule time to complete them well and avoid them becoming urgent. 

Not Important But Urgent – These tasks require immediate attention and most commonly are interruptions from other people.  Consequently, these activities help them achieve their goals and prevent you from achieving yours.  Strategies to keep these unimportant but urgent things from derailing you are to set boundaries, politely say “no” or delegate.

Not Important And Not Urgent – These situations are primarily distractions and should be avoided.  Social media and the Internet often fall in this range.  Ignore or say no if possible. 

WHERE YOU SHOULD FOCUS YOUR ATTENTION

According to Covey, to manage our time efficiently we should spend most of it in the second category – important but not urgent. The Eisenhower Matrix will show you how to decide between urgent and important priorities.

Admittedly, this can be challenging since important tasks don’t press for our attention like urgent ones do.  However, by focusing on important and not urgent activities, we minimize category one’s ‘crisis mode’, balance requests in the third category with our own objectives and eliminate the time-wasters of category four.

WORK TO THE BOTTOM LINE

Another interesting concept is to ‘work to the bottom line’.  In Laura Vanderkam’s ‘Before Breakfast Podcast‘, she shared a strategy for those that may have their boss delegating multiple projects or tasks without clarity on what comes first.  However,  it definitely would work for entrepreneurs as well.  And here it is – if there is something that impacts the bottom line, generally that will take priority.

For example, if you have to write a section of the monthly client newsletter or make an important call to finalize a deal that ensures revenue – make the call first.
If you have to clean out your email inbox versus review your expenses to cut back on costs, the latter would take precedent. After all, cutting costs will impact the bottom line.
 
Of course, there are gray areas.  If you have to check references as a final step to hire someone, you might want to bump that to the top of your list since you don’t want to lose that hire and ultimately, that person can help relieve your overflowing workload.
 

 

 

To sum up, let’s finish with a quote from Dwight D. Eisenhower in his 1961 address to Century Association:

“Who can define for us with accuracy the difference between the long and short term. Especially whenever our affairs seem to be in crisis, we are almost compelled to give our first attention to the urgent present rather than to the important future.”

I’D LOVE FOR YOU TO SHARE:  When you’re faced with a set of tasks, how do you decide which to tackle first? Any tips on minimizing distractions while working from home?

I’m Cathy Goddard. At Lighthouse Visionary Strategies, I offer customized one-on-one coaching, an award-winning mentor program and innovative online programs. You can learn more about me right here. If you’re looking for leading edge strategies and accountability to build the life and business you want (and to learn how to prioritize and amp up your productivity), let’s work together. Explore what that looks like for your unique circumstances.

Leave a Comment

Set your Intentions

for your best life

HOW TO WILDLY INCREASE YOUR
CHANCES OF GETTING WHAT YOU WANT