The most important step towards better productivity is finding more time for your priority tasks. And the best way to achieve this is to turn to the Eisenhower Matrix.
His statement, as well as his overall penchant for productivity during his presidential term, helped inspire the name for the Eisenhower Matrix, a proven time management technique.
Unlike many other popular time management techniques, this one doesn’t overcomplicate your workflow with complex schedules and strict deadlines. Instead, it helps you prioritize and organize your work where you’re able to identify, focus, and work on your most important and most urgent tasks first. As a result, you’ll save a lot of time you’d otherwise waste on trivial tasks and focus your efforts on the right tasks instead.
The Eisenhower Matrix is suitable for both personal and business tasks. In both cases, it’s best paired up with the habit of time tracking your day, as this practice tells you how much time you really spend on all your tasks and activities — as well as whether and when you could allocate more time to your priority tasks.
Here’s how the Eisenhower Matrix works, and how you can utilize it in your work as a team manager.
How does the Eisenhower Matrix work?
The Eisenhower Matrix is a time management scheme involving a grid of 4 quadrants. To implement it, you need to allocate your tasks to these quadrants, based on their level of “importance” and “urgency”.
There are four combinations of the “importance/urgency” label and each triggers a specific set of actions. Here’s what each quadrant signifies for the tasks you place in it:
- 1st quadrant — also known as the “Do” quadrant, as it requires immediate focus and speed. Here, you’ll place the tasks that are both “important” and “urgent”. These are the tasks that you need to work on as soon as possible, i.e. your unprecedented priority tasks
- 2nd quadrant — also known as the “Decide” quadrant, as it requires you to choose and schedule a time when you’ll focus on it. Here, you’ll place the tasks that are “important”, but “not urgent”. These are the tasks you need to work on after you’re finished with your priority tasks from the 1st quadrant
- 3rd quadrant — also simply known as the “Delegate” quadrant. Here, you’ll place the tasks that are “urgent”, but “not important”. These tasks need to be done as soon as possible — but not necessarily by you. Hence, you should delegate them, and free more time for the tasks from your first 2 quadrants
- 4th quadrant — also simply known as the “Eliminate” quadrant. Here, you’ll place the tasks that are both “not urgent” and “not important”. These are the tasks that you should eliminate from your schedule altogether, considering that they bring no real value to your work
How to distribute tasks to the Eisenhower Matrix?
The system of the Eisenhower Matrix seems simple enough — you distribute your tasks according to their level of “importance” and “urgency” and then you work on tasks marked as “important/urgent” first.
But, how does your team know if a task is important or not?
How does your team know if a task is urgent or not?
Here’s how to best determine whether your tasks are important/urgent, and properly distribute them across the “Do”, “Decide”, “Delegate”, and “Eliminate” quadrants of the Eisenhower Matrix.
When to distribute tasks to the “Do” quadrant (+ importance, + urgency)
These are tasks that represent an emergency or a last-minute obligation, such as:
- A close deadline
- An unexpected problem
- A crisis
In line with that, they’re timed and can’t be delayed. They also represent a crucial element in your project or overall business.
If a task needs to be done this morning, today, or tomorrow, it’s urgent.
If you need to finish it or solve a problem related to it to start working on other tasks in your projects, then it’s considered important.
Tasks eligible for the “Do” quadrant include:
- finishing daily project reports
- reviewing completed projects before sending them out for client approval
- fixing unexpected, critical bugs in your app
As a manager, you should stress the importance of 1st quadrant tasks, and instruct your team to drop whatever they’re currently doing to focus on these tasks as soon as they identify them.
When to distribute tasks to the “Decide” quadrant (+ importance, - urgency)
These tasks represent your team’s various long-term business goals, but also short-term ones that you need to perform eventually. Unlike the tasks from the “Do” quadrant, the tasks from the “Decide” quadrant are not timed. In line with that, you don’t have to do them straightaway, but you do need to schedule them so that they don’t slip your mind.
Tasks eligible for the “Decide” quadrant include:
- answering or following-up on important emails
- developing new features for your app
- contacting potential business partners and investors
As a manager, you should instruct your team to take as much time with these tasks as they need, considering that they’re crucial for your overall project goals, but not confined to a strict deadline. Therefore, your team is likely to spend most of their time on these tasks.
When to distribute tasks to the “Delegate” quadrant (- importance, + urgency)
These are tasks that represent minor issues and assignments that bring no immediate progress to your work. But they’re timed and still need to be done, so they require swift action and efficient delegation.
Tasks eligible for the “Delegate” quadrant include:
- answering and following up on urgent emails
- conducting business calls
- scheduling appointments, interviews, and meetings
Now, these tasks pose the biggest problem for a team, as people are wired to equate “urgency” with “importance”, even when this isn’t the case.
So, how do you distinguish between a “Delegate” and “Do” task? Well, your team needs to think about whether the said task aligns with their duties, skills, experience, and expected roles in the company. If it does, it’s also “important”, in addition to “urgent”, and they need to focus on it right away. If it doesn’t, they should delegate it to the right person.
For example, even though you need to find an account manager ASAP, that doesn’t mean any random person from your team should focus on this task. Instead, you should delegate this to your HR department, and focus on your assigned priority tasks.
Bear in mind that this quadrant may be the most important for you as the team manager — by learning how and when to delegate, you’ll also be able to do away with micromanaging your team’s tasks and let them shine on their own.
When to distribute tasks to the “Eliminate” quadrant (- importance, - urgency)
These tasks represent time wasters that contribute nothing to your team’s long-term or short-term goals.
Tasks eligible for the “Eliminate” quadrant include:
- constantly checking your email inbox
- surfing the web
- answering spam emails
As a manager, you should instruct your team to identify these time-wasters as soon as possible and eliminate them from their schedules and workflows altogether. Each 1 hour you take from such time-wasting tasks means 1 hour more you can allocate to your priority tasks. And, with priority tasks, every minute counts.
The Eisenhower Matrix is a great resource for team managers to teach their staff how to organize and handle their work properly. Namely, they’ll learn how to prioritize, schedule, delegate, and eliminate time-wasting tasks. As a result, you’ll be able to work in the right order and allocate the bulk of your time to your priorities, maximizing productivity as a result.