Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.
Imagine this resume:
- Five-star U.S. Army general
- President of Columbia University
- Supreme Commander of NATO
- Inventor of the internet
- Developed NASA
- Built the U.S.'s Interstate Highway System
- Oh, and President of the United States
Intimidated, yet? Dwight D. Eisenhower was a go-getter. With responsibilities ranging from commanding the Allied forces during World War II's Normandy invasion, to helping craft the forerunner to the very internet you're accessing today, Eisenhower's days were filled with decisions about urgent and important matters.
As it turns out, even esteemed generals with a resume the likes of Eisenhower's need tools to help them prioritize their day-to-day tasks. So, why wouldn't you? Keep reading for a glimpse into the tool that kept the country's 34th president on task.
What Is the Eisenhower Decision Matrix?
The Eisenhower Decision Matrix, sometimes also called the Urgent-Important Matrix, was a system of prioritization used by Eisenhower himself, to help determine the tasks that needed immediate attention, and those that could wait.
The basic idea is pretty simple. Organizing what's urgent and what's important can help you tackle the biggest projects first, avoid wasting time needlessly, and save lesser tasks for later. The matrix itself is a two-by-two design, where each quadrant represents an action and the importance and urgency is established based on where each task is situated.
The four quadrants look like this:
1. Do: Important and urgent tasks get done immediately.
2. Plan: Tasks that are important, but not urgent can be planned for later.
3. Delegate: Urgent tasks that aren't important can be delegated to someone else.
4. Eliminate: Things that aren't important or urgent can be dumped.
The Eisenhower Matrix can be used not only for daily tasks, but for larger, long-term projects by asking yourself two questions:
- ''What is on my to-do list today?''
- ''What needs to be accomplished on this project/long-term?''
Using the Decision Matrix
The beauty of the Eisenhower Matrix is its ability to help the user decide what is important and what's urgent. Sometimes, we have a hard time differentiating what is truly urgent versus what is simply important, but can wait.
Urgent tasks are things that need quick attention. That might include things like an impending deadline on a term paper for school, or going to that emergency dental appointment. It may also be an important work meeting or finalizing a proposal you have to deliver in the morning.
Important tasks are things that help us achieve goals but don't need immediate action. That might include things like watching a webinar training session for work, going to an exercise class, or doing research for next year's gala.
So how do you implement the matrix in your decision-making? First, take each task separately and ask yourself a series of questions:
1. Do I need to do this today?
If so, it goes in the ''Do'' quadrant because it is both urgent and important.
2. If I don't need to do this today, can I make time for it next week?
If so, it goes in the ''Plan'' quadrant because it is important, but not urgent. Schedule a time for when you can attend to this item later.
3. Since this must be done very soon but it's not my most important task, can I delegate it?
If your answer is ''yes,'' put it in the ''Delegate'' quadrant and find someone on your team who can handle the matter appropriately. Delegating, overall, can be a challenge for many people, who are reluctant to hand-off tasks to another person. However, if the task is something that's urgent but not important, it can be handed off to a co-worker and removed from your plate. If your answer is ''no,'' leave it in the ''Plan'' quadrant and work on it when you have time.
4. Do I really need to do this task at all?
If your answer is ''no,'' strike it from your to-do list. This is the quadrant where you can eliminate needless or time-wasting tasks that aren't really important or urgent.
The Eisenhower Decision Matrix is a two-by-two matrix that can help you determine the importance and urgency of a given task and then assign it in one of your quadrants accordingly. The first quadrant, ''Do,'' is for important and urgent matters, like a deadline on a presentation. The second quadrant, ''Plan,'' will contain items that are important, but can wait for your attention. The third quadrant, ''Delegate,'' shows urgent tasks that aren't important that can be given to another employee to perform. The final quadrant, ''Eliminate,'' is for tasks that are neither important nor urgent (in fact, they may be total time-wasters). These items should be tossed from your plate altogether. For some people, determining the difference between urgent and important matters can be a roadblock toward even using the matrix. Urgent matters are those things screaming at you, tasks that must be performed immediately so negative consequences can be avoided. Important tasks are those that can help you achieve long-term plans or goals, but don't display the same type of imperativeness.
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