Creating Task Lists using the Eisenhower Matrix

One of the key ingredients to productivity is having systems in place and sticking to them. If you currently run your day always reacting to what is happening and don’t plan out what needs to get done, my guess is, you usually don’t feel like you accomplished much by the end of they day.

Am I on the right track?

I hear all the time from clients that it feels like a waste of time to write out everything they need to do or plan their tasks for the day because they never stick to them anyway. In reality, flying by the seat of your pants each day probably means that less of the long-term tasks get completed because you’re always just focused on the “right now” tasks that may not always fit into your big picture goals.

The Eisenhower Matrix

The Eisenhower Matrix (or Eisenhower Box) is a very simple but effective system to organize your tasks and stay productive.

It is named after Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States who was in office from 1953 until 1961. President Eisenhower had to make a lot of tough decisions before and during his time in office and used this principle to help him decide what to focus on each day. His principles can still be used today to help us decide on urgency and importance.

The Eisenhower matrix works by breaking down tasks into 4 quadrants by important, not important, urgent, and not urgent. These quadrants help you determine whether or not to DO, DECIDE (when to do), DELEGATE, DON’T DO.

If you’re like me and don’t really have anyone to delegate tasks to and don’t want to give up watching your favorite TV show, this matrix may not work perfectly for you. I’ve taken the Eisenhower principle and come up with my own similar matrix that I try to follow instead.

My quadrants come out to MUST get done, SHOULD get done, WILL get done, WANT to do. Understanding the priority of each task in this way will really help you focus on which ones to focus on.

* You’ll notice that within the matrix both business AND life tasks are listed together. You shouldn’t have separate matrixes for them as at times your life will need to come before business and vice versa.

 

Each Quadrant in More Detail

Quadrant 1 is pretty self-explanatory, but it’s essentially the most important tasks that must get done today or by tomorrow at the latest. These are the most crucial to your business or life. Don’t try to put everything in this box. I would suggest keeping it to 2-4 tasks max. An example of a Q1 task could be building a sales page for a product you are launching soon.

Quadrant 2 is the schedule quadrant. They are less urgent, but still important and should be scheduled into your calendar to make sure they get done. The more you schedule out your tasks and leave less things up to chance the more productive you will become. This could be scheduling a dentist appointment, a time to exercise and set times to check your email. Scheduling recurring tasks (daily exercise, monthly invoicing, weekly social media postings, etc) is also a good habit to get into.

Quadrant 3 are the tasks that are needed soon, but aren’t that important. If you have the ability to delegate, great!, but if not then you still want to write these items down so 1) you don’t forget them and 2) you can pull from them once you complete items currently in Q1 & Q2. These are typically tasks that need to get done in the new few days or by the end of the week.

 Pro Tip: When you’re not worried about forgetting to do something or have a plan when you can do it then you’re less anxious and able to focus on the most urgent tasks for that day.

Quadrant 4 are simply the things that you want to do. They are neither important or urgent, but you deserve to have moments to relax and enjoy all of the hard work you’ve put in that day or week. These could be life or business related or even both! Maybe you want to learn a new skill because you’re interested in it, but it also may help you in your business. You don’t NEED to learn it but you WANT to learn it. I say go for it! But just remember that it shouldn’t take precedence over the more urgent and important tasks.

You may also find that some tasks could fit into multiple quadrants like exercise, for example. Maybe it’s something that you WANT to do and SHOULD do. That’s really the sweet spot isn’t it? When what you want to do also fits into the must and should boxes. Only put the task in one quadrant though. The point of this system is to simplify your lists and decision making, not clutter it up.

Because tasks can (and will) float between quadrants, I recommend sticking to a daily task list. What was in Q3 on Monday, may now need to be in Q1 by Thursday because now it’s urgent AND important. I like to both look ahead to my week and to the next day to get a big picture of where my time will be going.

 

Additional Tips for using this Method:

Pro Tip #1: List out your Must Do tasks the night before. It’s a great way to put an end to your day and helps free your mind so that you can get a better night’s sleep.

Pro Tip #2: Use an online system like Trello (my personal favorite), Asana, Teux Dues or something similar to easily keep track of all of your tasks and drag and drop them into the appropriate boxes as needed.

Pro Tip #3: If a particular tasks is going to take 3-4 full days to complete break it up into smaller tasks that you can then put into the matrix. For example, if you have to build a website you could break it out into smaller tasks like- writing the copy, deciding on design elements (theme, colors, layout), create graphics and gather pictures, build out first 3 pages, etc

Pro Tip #4: If you find yourself having difficulty focusing on one task at a time use a timer! There are browser extensions (like Timer for Chrome) or websites like Focus Booster that use the Pomodoro Technique.

Side Note: I don’t recommend using your phone timer as it’s easy to get distracted by all of the additional notifications popping up. In general, when you are trying to really focus and complete a task you should put your phone away and on silent.

Pro Tip #5: Don’t overthink it! The Eisenhower method should help you quickly determine the priority of each task not help you procrastinate 🙂

 

Have you found a good system to help keep you organized? Let me know in the comments below!

 

Additional Resources to Browse: Eisenhower Matrix Official Site, Trello blog post on using the Eisenhower Matrix with their system, A book on organization

2 thoughts on “Creating Task Lists using the Eisenhower Matrix

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