Productivity hack: learn to work smarter

How to use the Importance/Urgency Matrix or Eisenhower Matrix to Prioritise your Task List?

Learn to be more efficient and get more done with the Importance Urgency prioritization method

Eisenhower Matrix is known as the Importance/Urgency matrix. It is a work prioritization method that helps you identify the order you should do your tasks and that you should never do.

When do you need the Eisenhower Matrix?

  • When you find yourself extinguishing fires every day
  • When you feel you don’t get done anything you wanted
  • When you think you don’t have time
  • When you miss your long term goals
  • When you think you don’t get to do what you love doing

Let’s do an exercise. Let’s study what you spend the time on:

  • look at your working day and make a list of each task you’ve done today.
  • add for each job how long it took you to do it
  • mark the tasks you did that are urgent (needed to be done as soon as possible)
  • highlight the tasks that you did and that they were necessary for you to accomplish them during the day

If most of the day you worked on urgent things, then this article is for you.

There is nothing wrong with working only on urgent things, but sometimes you need to stop to think about the strategic direction we are going.

The Eisenhower matrix is a categorization of tasks depending on their Importance and Urgency.

Eisenhower matrix or Importance / urgency matrix — learn how to prioritise your day to day work.

But how do I know how a task is important or urgent?

Below I made a list of examples for each category to understand which type a particular task falls.

What is Important & Urgent? Any combination of the two groups:

Important are the things that matter the most for your life and career:

  • your better half and close family: spouse & children.
  • what pays your cheque: boss, client
  • human life in general

What is urgent:

  • payments/invoicing/contracts
  • deadlines

What is important & not urgent:

  • day to day work, you must do it well, with a steady/sustainable pace.
  • your long term plans, your career or business
  • meeting friends, spending qualitative time

What is urgent and NOT important:

  • administration work that doesn’t serve any purpose. Think of it as cleaning the house. It would be best if you did it.

What is NOT essential and NOT urgent:

  • learn something new that doesn’t help you either personally or professionally

In which category should I put it?

Do I need to take my child to school? Do it first: your child is important, and going to school is a deadline.

Are you looking for new clients? Clients are important. If you have no client (there is a financial implication), then it is urgent to get a new client, and you need to do it now. Otherwise, plan it.

I need to update the Jira statuses of the user stories I work on. Automate as much as possible. In my team, we use to keep Jira always up to date. It does miracles. Check out the automatic Jira updates when reporting your daily.

Learn C++. Does it contribute in any way to your career? If you aren’t able to say how exactly it will boost your career, most probably you shouldn’t do it.

What are the actions to take, depending on the square your task is?

  • If a specific task is in the square: Important & Urgent, then you must perform that the actions needed now, as soon as possible. In perspective, your goal is to minimize these tasks.
  • If your “TO DO” falls into “Important but not urgent“ tasks, you want to schedule this action in your calendar.
  • Looking at your tasks that got into the category of “Not important, but urgent,” you should be thinking about “who can help me to do this task?” These are tasks that you want to delegate. It might be hard at first, but I guarantee you that they will make you feel so much better and will free a lot of your time for the Important things.
  • If your task is in the last square of “Not Important” and “not urgent” tasks, then you must eliminate it. That will help declutter your working day.

My day is made only of important and urgent things; how do I plan for the future?

Here’s my roadmap for you:

  • do the exercise below every day (including weekends) for 30 days. It takes 30 days to adopt a new habit.
  • Every day you start your day, make a list of things you need to do, and you put it in one of the four squares.
  • Depending on the square that it is, you decide on the action to perform to that task: do it now, do it well, delete it, don’t do it.

By the end of these 30 days, you should have delegated enough work and stopped doing many things to make space to do your job.

The next step is to make out of this habit something natural. It takes six months to make a habit of reflex. Keep ongoing exercise for six months.

Here’s my personal experience

The first time I heard about this Importance/Urgency matrix was more than 15 years ago. Back then, I was starting my career, and there was nothing to prioritize because I was doing what my boss was asking me to do. But when I stop and think about it, I realize that I have personal dreams and aspirations for my career. Those were the most important things. Work was urgent, and it matters because my salary was paying for my bills, but at the same time, I started to define something that matters to me.

Many years later, I stepped into a leadership position in which I had to prioritize my teams' work. I think this is the moment in which mastering the Eisenhower Matrix became vital. But in today’s digital era, speed matters, and making time for strategic decisions is more and more critical.

Nowadays, I coach my clients on using the Importance/Urgency matrix to deliver better products and decide where to invest their time today. Most of my time goes into working with my clients to “make time” to work on things that “matter long term” on strategic investments.

What is your experience with Eisenhower Matrix and results so others can learn about it?

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