Great time management means being effective as well as efficient. In the modern, fast paced workplace it can be hard to distinguish between what’s important and urgent. We often fall in the trap of believing all urgent tasks are also important, even if that’s seldom the case. In fact, most stuff trying to get our brain’s attention are usually trivial, non-important tasks, with a high sense of urgency.
The Eisenhower Principle originates from a quote attributed to the former U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower:
"I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent."
The principle is pretty simple. You evaluate your task in terms of urgency and importance, and then place them in different quadrants of the Eisenhower Matrix, which gives you a visual overview of how to prioritize your tasks.
Let’s start by defining what constitutes an important task and an urgent task.
URGENT A task defined as urgent requires immediate action or attention. Examples:
IMPORTANT A task defined as important often relates to long-term goals. Examples:
The Eisenhower Matrix consists of four different quadrants, based on urgency and importance. The quadrants are as follows:
1. Urgent and Important: DO If a task is both urgent and important, do it right away.
2. Not Urgent, but Important: DECIDE If a task is important, but not urgent, set a due date and do it later.
3. Urgent, but not Important: DELEGATE If a task is urgent, but not important, the best thing is to delegate it to someone else.
4. Not Urgent and Not Important: DELETE If a task is neither important nor urgent, it should not be prioritized. Drop it or do it when you have some extra time.
Obviously, what you need to tackle first are tasks that are BOTH urgent and important. It’s also easy to see that tasks that neither urgent nor important should be the last priority. However, it can be difficult to decide what to focus on when it comes to tasks that are “not urgent and important” or “urgent and not important”. This is where it’s important to remember that if you focus all your time on urgent tasks, the important tasks will never get done. Urgent does not equal important.
By using the Eisenhower Matrix you get a better picture of how to prioritize your tasks. Start by doing what’s important, ranked by urgency. If you have capacity do to some of the non-important tasks, do them after you finished all important tasks – or delegate/drop them depending on urgency.
Upwave supports both columns, rows and colorcoding of cards, which makes it a perfect tool for the Eisenhower Matrix. To get started, simply select the Eisenhower template inside Upwave (or click here).
Choose which colors you want to use for the 4 different categories; Do, Decide, Delegate, Delete. We have used red (Do), green (Decide), yellow (Delegate) and blue (Delete) in our template, but there are no rules – use the colors you prefer! When you’re all set up, start adding your tasks in each quadrant.
In this case, the red tasks would be done right away. For the green tasks, you would set a deadline for each (which is very easy in Upwave!) and then get started on them after the red tasks. The yellow tasks should be delegated to someone else (if possible), while the blue tasks should be dropped.
Baer, Drake. (2014). “Dwight Eisenhower Nailed A Major Insight About Productivity”. Business Insider
Dwight D. Eisenhower (1954). “Address at the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches, Evanston, Illinois”. The American Presidency Project
McKay; Brett; Kate (2013). "The Eisenhower Decision Matrix: How to Distinguish Between Urgent and Important Tasks and Make Real Progress in Your Life". The Art of Manliness.
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