The secret to leveraging the Eisenhower Matrix to increase your productivity and focus lies in consequently applying certain rules on how to handle the tasks in each of the four quadrants.
But let’s start from scratch: The Eisenhower Matrix is a simple 2 x matrix that was developed by General Dwight D. Eisenhower during World War II (who later became President of the United States). It provides a framework to cluster certain types of tasks that come with our individual role in an organisation. The two axis are distinguishing tasks by important / not important and by urgent / not urgent. This is what it looks like:
Step One: Cluster your Tasks
The first step is to make a list of all the recurring and non-recurring tasks that your job-profile includes. Then allocate these tasks to one of the respective quadrants each.
Let me give you examples from my personal role as a VC-investor at Earlybird: Replying to an email with a request made by the CEO of one of our portfolio companies is both urgent and important to me. Releasing payment for a recurring invoice from the provider of our CRM-tool may be urgent, but not important. Refining our investment strategy in the mobility & logistics sector is important, but likely not urgent. Responding to an unsolicited business request made by a random service provider is neither important nor urgent.
Step Two: Treat your tasks according to these Rules
The second step is to treat the tasks from now on according to the golden rule for each of the quadrants:
- Urgent & Important (Quadrant 1): This is your daily business. Do it the same day. But make sure you do not spent in average more than 75 % of your time handling tasks from this quadrant.
- Not urgent & Important (Quadrant 2): These tasks are related to strategy, reflection, conception and creation. Schedule time in your calendar to take care of these tasks. Take at least 90 mins en-bloque of uniterrupted time, consider working off-site to minimize distractions.
- Urgent & Not Important (Quadrant 3): These tasks demand fast response but they do not add value to your role and there are other people in the organization who might be better at or more suited to handle these tasks. Therefore delegate these tasks (find here best-practice on effective delegation)
- Not urgent & not important (Quadrant 4): This is the quadrant of distraction. Tasks that might feel like an escape to you from your urgent & important daily business, but that are absolutely worthless to your role. Just eliminate spending time on these tasks in the first place.
Key-Take-Away: Quadrant 2 is where the magic happens!
Depending on your exact role in an organization, slight adjustments to the above framework might make sense. For example if you are an accounting clerk, then you might want to spend rather 90 % of your time in quadrant 1. But for all leaders out there in the roles of CEOs, VPs, Heads, Team-Leads etc. the true difference you can make between doing a mediocre or an absolutely outstanding job is happening in quadrant 2! This is the magic quadrant where fundamental improvements for your organization is achieved. This can be anything from e.g. refining your company’s strategy, optimizing & automizing processes to making organizational changes. Therefore my personal goal – and my personal recommendation to every leader – is to spent at least 50 % of my time in quadrant 2. At times it can be hard to “defend” these timeslots against the demands of the daily business, but it is worth it.