A How-To Guide

Most of us know Eisenhower as President Eisenhower, but before he had that gig, he was the first Supreme Allied Commander in Europe and the Army’s Chief of Staff, and a major general in World War II. As you can imagine, those jobs came with pretty steep to do lists, and Eisenhower had to figure out a way to figure out what needed his attention and what didn’t, and he came up with the Eisenhower principle/matrix.

The basics of the Eisenhower Matrix is fairly simple.

Every task you have gets put into one of four quadrants based on:

  1. Urgent AND important (DO)
  2. Urgent but NOT important (DELEGATE)
  3. Not urgent, but important (SCHEDULE)
  4. Not important OR urgent (DELETE)

Simple enough, right?  The system is perfect for people who are in positions of authority (say, a World War II general).

For the rest of us, it could use a tweak or two.

You probably don’t have to weigh a task against a matrix to decide its worth.  If you’re assigned a task from a supervisor, putting it through a matrix to decide what to do with it is pointless.  The boss said to do it, so you’ll do it.

Instead, the Eisenhower Matrix works best for us regular folks to prioritize tasks.

While we’re at it, for the sake of those of us without an Army to command, let’s further expound the definition for “URGENT” and “IMPORTANT.”

  • URGENT – refers to tasks that have a deadline, are time-sensitive, or have been promised by a certain time
  • IMPORTANT – if its on your list, it should be important.  For prioritizing, we’ll use “IMPORTANT” to refer to tasks that must be done before another can be completed, you’ve been asked to do by someone further up the food chain, or are necessary for you to do to live your life

We’ve adapted the basic premise of the Eisenhower Matrix for those of us in more regular 9-5 gigs.

  1. Time sensitive AND important (DO OR DIE – These things gotta get done, and now)
  2. Time sensitive but NOT important (MUST – These things gotta get done because their is a deadline)
  3. Not time sensitive, but important (SHOULD – Needs done, but all is not lost if you have to postpone)
  4. Not time sensitive OR urgent (COULD – Got some extra time? Swell! That’s for these tasks)

If you have a hard time picking what’s important, the Eisenhower Matrix is a good place to start.