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  • Writer's pictureLori Lee

The Eisenhower Matrix: Making better decisions in a busy world

We've all felt it before. Fighting fire after fire in the workplace while knowing all that you need is more time to streamline your work. If you're in the corporate world, you might've heard of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. One of my favorite parts of this book was learning about the Eisenhower matrix and how to use it to manage my time more effectively. It has become an absolute game-changer in my work and the systems and process I've helped businesses implement. But Covey wrote this over thirty years ago. Is it still really relevant in the technologically advanced modern world?

It is. In fact, I'd argue that it's easier than ever to implement the time management strategies that Stephen Covey simplifies in his popular book. But it's also easier than ever to get distracted and overwhelmed. Here's how you can use the Eisenhower decision matrix to your advantage today.

The Eisenhower matrix

You've got four decisions to make about your workload based on the four quadrants. But first, ask yourself two questions about the task in front of you.

  • Is it urgent? (Will a key stakeholder be immediately affected if you don't do this?)

  • Is it important (Is it aligned with your values, purpose, and long-term strategy?)

In Covey's adaptation of the Eisenhower matrix, he named each scenario as quadrant number one, two, three, or four. Like, so!

Let's delve into the specific ways to utilize Stephen Covey's quadrants inspired by the Eisenhower matrix to uplevel your time management game!

Quadrant One: Do it now

Quadrant one is usually where we spend the majority of our time. It's the "that's due today!?" moments where we are scrambling like mad to get that project in on time or pick up our sick kid from school. Sometimes these are unavoidable, but many of these moments will be completely avoidable.

If a quadrant one activity arises for you. Just do it now. Not later. Not Monday. Now. It gives you more space to do the essential quadrant two activities, and it'll make you feel productive (even when you know you'd like to focus on other projects).

Some more examples of quadrant one activities are:

  • Picking up some fast food because you had a busy day, forgot to eat, and don't have time to cook.

  • Completing your direct reports EOY hour before the review.

  • Finishing the P&L for your department (or any other deadline) right on time.

  • Dealing with a medical emergency.

  • Your house is on fire!

  • Needing to eat, drink and pee.

Quadrant 2: Do it later

And by do it later, I seriously mean LATER. Later can so often turn into next Monday that'll turn into never. The crazy thing about quadrant two is that it's often the tasks you're accountable to yourself that get put on the backburner. Not doing these is a message to your mind that you don't love or value yourself enough, so you're going to fill up your time with other people's demands instead.

Find a way to schedule your quadrant two activities later in the best method that works for you. You might need to try a few different methods, and technology is your friend here. Try Trello, Asana, or Google Calendars. Sick of posting on social media for your business every day? There are apps for that. Sick of being overweight? Schedule in the time to cook a healthy meal.

Stop putting yourself on the back burner, and spend more time in quadrant two. Here are a few more examples of quadrant two activities:

  • Writing a blog post or uploading a YouTube video (or any other content marketing for your bizz that you don't always see immediate results).

  • Business planning, project planning, brainstorming.

  • Exercise, meal prep, meditation.

  • Reading professional and personal development books.

  • Setting up new automated software.

  • Writing that book you've been telling yourself you would for years.

Quadrant 3: Get someone else to do it

The tricky thing about quadrant 3 in the Eisenhowers' matrix is so many people put it all in quadrant 1 instead. The result? You're running around like a headless chicken trying to do EVERYTHING. It's okay to let others help you. In fact, it'll make you more productive. Get really honest with yourself here, what urgent tasks can I get help with?

Your situation will be different depending on how much money you have to invest in others to help you with your tasks. You'll also need to do an honest review of what you value. For example, if you're a SaaS Founder and love building tech and hate content marketing, but you know that you have to write blogs to get more customers. Pay someone else to do it! Move that activity you've been placing in the "do it now" category to quadrant 3 and trust someone else to do it for you.

Some more examples of quadrant 3 activities:

  • Anything that you value for your business but isn't in your "zone of genius."

  • Answering many calls, emails, or Slack notifications.

  • Cooking and cleaning the home.

  • Something that a team member can do better (Asana is my favorite project management tool).

  • Water cooler chat (be polite, get yourself back to work, and schedule meeting/relationship-building time).

Quadrant 4: Stop doing it

This step seems obvious, and almost any Eisenhower matrix article you read will tell you to eliminate it, but that's not taking into account why you're doing mindless activities. If it's not urgent, and it's not important, you should eliminate it. But old habits take a while to shake off, and there's a fair bit of behavioral psychology involved.

Most people reading this article will scroll through their phones and enjoy a Netflix marathon because they're trying to escape from a hard day. You may be scrolling through your Instagram feed thinking that you should exercise, that you should meditate, but that self-critical talk isn't adding any value to your energy levels.

So, try to reduce and slowly eliminate these habits. Observe whether you're trying to escape, craving human connection, or becoming obsessive over checking emails because you're afraid of your boss. If you're living in quadrants one and four most of your life, you're in a toxic but normal cycle. You can get out of it as you slowly integrate more quadrant two habits into your day.

Here are some more examples of quadrant four activities:

  • Scrolling through Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, etc.

  • Getting so deep into YouTube that you're watching cute goats in a field (we've all been there).

  • Watercooler chat that's taken up too much time.

  • Incessencently checking Slack notifications, emails, or WhatsApp.

  • Netflix, TV, or any other sedentary entertainment that doesn't help you grow.

Side note: these are all totally okay. Just schedule them in rather than getting lost in the noise.

Why is the Eisenhower matrix still relevant?

As humans, we haven't changed. Instead of reading our newspapers on the bus, we are staring at our phones. Instead of comparing ourselves to highly-edited magazines, we are comparing ourselves to highly-edited Instagram feeds. Yes, the demand to remain connected to the office email is more prevalent than ever. But we are still distracting ourselves with quadrant four activities; it's just TikTok or Netflix instead of Cable TV and board games.

The technology that's causing a lack of productivity can be the very same solution to automating a lot of things you don't want to do. Whether it's researching time-saving apps or getting in a 15-minute workout, most of us need to spend a little more time in quadrant two. Speaking of, here's some recommended quadrant two reading for you if you haven't already invested your time in the masterpiece.

Recommended read 🤓

If you'd like more information about this, I do recommend reading the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It's sold to over 25 million for a reason. If you learned something new from this article, it'll become a serious game-changer in your time management strategies.


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