Eisenhower Matrix should be one of the most favorite topics for posts on LinkedIn. Check this 99th page of the search results on LinkedIn, if you don’t believe it. But even today more and more people look at it with the same amazement. No wonder, it is indeed a great way to visualize and classify the kind of tasks we work on. But unfortunately, that is not all to the Eisenhower Matrix. I would call that gross underuse of the Eisenhower Matrix. Before I reveal the right lessons to learn from the matrix, let me first give you a recap.
Like any other matrix, it has two axes which, in this case, represent the two distinct characteristics of tasks that we work on, i.e. Urgency and Importance. The vertical axis has two values, Important and Not Important, while the horizontal axis has values, Urgent and Not Urgent. And this gives us the four quadrants:
Quadrant I: Important and urgent tasks, like, crises management
Quadrant II: Important, but not urgent tasks, like preventive measures
Quadrant III: Urgent, but not important tasks, like interruptions
Quadrant IV: The tasks that are neither urgent nor important, like entertainment
It’s easy enough to understand, however, in my experience, I found some people who took little time to understand the fact that there could be tasks that are important but not urgent. Our work environment is so vitiated, that we equate importance to urgency!
Most of the writeups, not just on LinkedIn but on the whole internet, give readers very clear advice on each quadrant:
Quadrant I: Important and urgent tasks – Do it first
Quadrant II: Important, but not urgent tasks – Schedule it
Quadrant III: Urgent, but not important tasks – Delegate it
Quadrant IV: The tasks that are neither urgent nor important – Delete it
There is nothing wrong with this advice on the face of it, but as I said before, it’s a gross underuse of this great tool.
Time to learn the right lessons!
Quadrant III and quadrant IV are about “Not important” tasks, however, in the real world, you cannot eliminate them totally from your life. What best one could do is to minimize the tasks in those quadrants to nearly zero.
Interestingly, one should do exactly the same with the tasks that are from quadrant I, i.e., minimize them to nearly zero. In fact, it is more important to minimize the quadrant I tasks. It might appear shocking but you will find that every quadrant I task from your life, was definitely a quadrant II task once. It crept into quadrant II as the task was not tackled when it wasn’t urgent!
Quadrant I tasks are the most hazardous ones as they stress you. Typically they take more time than when they were in Quadrant I. A flat tire on a busy day on the road will hit you worse than the habit of regular air pressure checks. The results of quadrant I tasks are also of poor quality when compared with their counterparts in Quadrant II.
A flat tire on a busy day on the road will hit you worse than the habit of regular air pressure checks.
Further, when you do tasks that are in Quadrant I, you set a vicious cycle of working on more Quadrant I tasks. You end up setting up a game of whack-a-mole for yourself. When you are late to whack a mole, you are already late to whack a bunch of other moles too.
The solution lies in catching the tasks when they pop up in quadrant II first and letting them not creep up to Quadrant I. It’s easier said than done, but there are two key ideas that would make this easy for you:
- Always do a work breakdown of a task that is in Quadrant II and then begin working on some of those subtasks as the situation permits. We often hear this at our workplaces from managers, “No matter how much time I give you, I know you will be working on it on the last date”. It does not have to be this way!
- Always maintain a to-do list of all your tasks, so that you have the list of Quadrant II tasks handy to squeeze them into your schedule whenever you have some opportune time slots.
Fortunately, as you work more on Quadrant II tasks, you actually set up a virtuous cycle of always working on Quadrant II tasks.
There lies the secret of stress-free productivity!
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(Originally published in Times of India on Nov 05, 2022)