How to Be More Productive Using the Eisenhower Matrix

Choosing the optimal productivity method can make an enormous difference in your work. A seamless workflow can take you from feeling unfocused, overwhelmed, and unproductive to feeling in control, calm, and fully ready to take on even the most daunting projects.

Luckily, there are new productivity methods being adjusted, developed, and shared all the time. There’s bound to be a workflow out there that fits your lifestyle and can be tailored to your individual projects and personality. But flipping through countless articles about different productivity methods can be a huge time suck – time better used actually getting things done.

To help you out, we’re highlighting a particular productivity system that you could implement in your own life today. It’s called the Eisenhower Matrix.

The Eisenhower Matrix was created by Dwight Eisenhower, who lived one of the most productive lives you could ever imagine. He was the 34th President of the United States, served as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II, was a 5-star general in the United States Army, and was also responsible for spearheading invasions of France, North Africa, and Germany. He also had stints as President of Columbia University and the first Supreme Commander of NATO, while also somehow finding the time to enjoy hobbies such as oil painting and golf.

Eisenhower had an amazing ability to preserve his productivity for decades during his storied career. So it’s no big shock that his methods for productivity and time management have been studied and implemented by people today.

What is important is seldom urgent liked to say, and what is urgent is seldom important. 

– Dwight D. Eisenhower 

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The Eisenhower Matrix: How it works

The Eisenhower Matrix is a delightfully visual productivity method. It’s perfect for people who don’t quite see things in black-and-white, like graphs, and would prefer to prioritize on a continuum rather than putting tasks into a few categories. It allows for prioritizing more complicated projects, yet it’s easy and quick to implement.

The Eisenhower Box is well-known as his most famous productivity strategy, and it’s a simple decision-making tool that you can start using immediately. Stephen Covey, a prestigious business thinker, popularized the box method his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The endgame was to help individuals make qualified distinctions between what’s important and not important and what’s urgent and not urgent. Let’s talk about how it actually works.

To begin, take a piece of paper and draw a large plus sign. The X axis represents the urgency level, with the left side being the most urgent and the right side being the least urgent. The Y axis represents level of importance, with the lowest importance at the bottom, and the highest at the top.

You will now have four boxes. They are:

  • Urgent and Important (tasks of the highest priority that you will do immediately)
  • Less Urgent but still Important (tasks you will schedule to tackle later)
  • Less Important but Urgent (tasks you will delegate to someone else)
  • Less Important and Less Urgent (tasks you will erase)

You can write out all your tasks on a continuum within the four boxes, which will give you a clear and visual understanding of what really needs to get done now and what can wait.

You can create a new matrix at any time – all you need is a pen and a piece of paper. Just start drawing, and you’re off!  

Using the Eisenhower Matrix with Email

Have you ever wondered just how many hours you waste dealing with email? According to a recent study by Adobe, office workers waste 47,000 hours sending and managing email. This translates to 5 years (!) wasted throughout the entirety of a career.

To break it down, that wasted time consists of:

  • Receiving 147 emails per day
  • Spending 2.5 hours per day on email
  • Spending 30% of the workweek managing email

Despite the rise of chat apps like Slack, analyses from researchers including the Radicati Group have shown that people are sending and receiving more emails than ever. In addition to the incredible volume, the Adobe study puts the spotlight on another perplexing factor – people expect their correspondents to reply in hours, if not minutes, which results in pressure building on everyone to constantly check their inboxes.

Often, these emails are neither important or urgent, rather they’re messages that contain exciting information such as “let me know if you got this, thx” and “ok great, let’s meet at 8am.”

Being busy is a form of laziness — lazy thinking and indiscriminate action. 

– Tim Ferriss 

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The Eisenhower Decision Matrix is perfect for those who struggle with managing their inbox. It’s really all about mindset, and this strategy is perfect to help get you thinking about what’s really important, and what’s really worth paying attention to at a certain point in your day. It’s great for both time management and email management. That’s the beauty of the Eisenhower Box – in four small squares, you can clearly see which tasks you’re neglecting and which you can safely eliminate.  

Who Uses the Eisenhower Matrix?

It’s clear that successful people — even if they have incredibly demanding jobs — schedule the “important but not urgent” tasks into their day ruthlessly.

Take President Barack Obama for example – when he was in office, he scheduled an hour of workout time every morning and dinner with his family every night. His logic was: “The rest of my time will be more productive if you give me my workout time,” Obama’s former campaign manager told WebMD.

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner is also a fan of this principle – he schedules blocks of meeting-free time on his schedule so he can process what’s happening at work and think about what he needs to do in the future. While this “buffer time” felt like an indulgence to him at first, he realized it was totally necessary for him to do his job in an organized and strategical way.

As the entrepreneur, author, and #ProductivityGiants series guest James Clear says, the best way to rid ourselves of the incessant “busy” feeling is to simply do fewer tasks. Which can be difficult to do because of the desire to avoid the difficult question of do I really need to be doing this? He suggests that it’s important to force yourself to make difficult decisions and erase anything that doesn’t lead you toward your goals.

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