The Eisenhower Matrix

The Eisenhower Matrix was formalized and popularized by Business Thinker Stephen Covey in his book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” based on a quote and life advice from President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Eisenhower, a General famous for his mastery of Operation Torch, the invasion of Northern Africa during World War II and later the approving authority for NASA, understood the importance of prioritization at every level. From commanding troops on the battlefield, to beating the Soviets in space, Eisenhower understood the long and short game and used it to become one of the most successful Presidents in America’s history.

“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”

It was this quote and Eisenhower’s success that led Covey to present his system for prioritizing tasks without distraction. Below is a simple chart to help you understand the concept, and a few notes from myself as I have implemented this in my own life.

Urgent Not Urgent
Important Crises
Deadlines
Problems
Relationships
Planning
Recreation
Not Important Interruptions
Meetings
Activities
Time Wasters
Leisure Activities
Trivia

Fig. 1, Eisenhower Matrix

Using the chart above we can analyze the tasks we have laid out before us in our BulletJournal and make decisions on how to handle each.
It is imperative that we remember that if everything is important, nothing is. Our task lists, if we’re doing a half-decent job of managing our responsibilities, should look something like a bell curve. Roughly 20% of our tasks may qualify as Priority 1, both Important and Urgent.
50% of our tasks will fall in to Priority 2, Important but Not Urgent. 20% in Priority 3, Urgent, but not Important. And last, and least the remaining 10% will fall to Priority 4.

Let’s discuss each priority and insure that we have a solid grasp of what resonates with each.

Priority 1

Urgent and Important
These tasks are classified as such that failing to meet them would be detrimental to financial responsibilities, school, or career goals.

For example, Ignoring my responsibility to my creditors may result in the repossession of my belongings or transportation. Therefore, meeting my financial obligation is both Important and Urgent. In kind, a deadline for work or school may require my immediate attention in order to maintain my position in either.
It should be noted that other than Priority 4, this Priority should have the least number of tasks assigned. If too many tasks are accumulating with Priority 1, it is due to a failure to “Say NO.” or an issue working Priority 2 tasks in a timely manner.

Priority 2

Not Urgent but Important
These tasks are classified as such that they are of critical importance to our future but are not pressing. These are usually tasks that focus on our responsibility to our future self.

For example, Relationships require routine maintenance, and if not cared for may breakdown or not take you where you planned to go. Similarly, failing to perform critical planning may cause problems further down the road that cause you to be unable to, or hard pressed to perform at a level you would have liked.
This may be career or goal oriented, or related to physical health and fitness. This category may be thought of under the old adage, “An ounce of prevention, is worth a pound of cure.”

It is also important to note that Covey includes recreation as an Important but Not Urgent task. Often we ignore the need for recreation. However, as humans, our brains can only handle so much work and stress before chemical waste begins to build in the brain. Cortisol, the so-called “stress hormone” is constantly building in our bodies, and often produces needed and useful biological mechanisms.
Its these mechanisms though that may turn deadly if not dealt with. Cortisol build up is a known factor in the decrease of the immune systems ability to fight disease and has a direct correlation to levels of depression, behavior disorders, and other mental health issues. Knowing this, it is essential that recreation be identified as a priority and stress be dealt with.

Remember, recreation doesn’t have to be an 8 day, all-expense, Caribbean vacation. Sometimes its quiet time with a book or loved one. Others its a quiet walk through the forest or a quiet meditation. All of these are beneficial, not only to being a better human, but also to your ability to mitigate and handle stress and disease.

Priority 3

Urgent, but Not Important
These tasks are some of the most dangerous to our productivity and if gone unchecked may cause serious harm to our success in all areas of our life. Unfortunately, due to the Urgent nature of these tasks, people are most often tricked into wasting their time on Priority 3 tasks that hold no value.

People who remain unproductive most often focus on these tasks, believing they are completing Priority 1 tasks. This quickly leads to burnout as the person jumps from meeting-to-meeting and task-to-task without ever truly accomplishing anything. If you find that you often are unable to complete your Priority 1 tasks, it is likely that while you started your day with few or no Priority 3 tasks, your entire time and energy were wasted on them.

This is another instance in which the BulletJournal becomes extremely effective. By reviewing an Urgent request against your daily task list and prioritizing these requests against the Eisenhower Matrix, it is much easier to reject or decline Urgent but Not Important Tasks.

Priority 4

Not Urgent, Nor Important
These tasks hold the lowest priority and are often the result of immaturity. These tasks are banal time wasters that do not serve to benefit the mind, the body, or the soul. These tasks are often too infantile to be considered recreation, and for good reason.

Gossip, social media (without a purpose), sports, and other irrelevant things may reside here. It is best to reduce these to the fewest number as they are more a guilty indulgence than a task worth completing.

As a person matures in their responsibilities, they will most often find that the Priority 4 tasks that once filled their time have morphed and evolved into hobbies and interests that progress their physical, emotional, or mental health.
It should be the goal of any man to improve himself and use time previously dedicated to trivialities to learn a new skill or to build their knowledge base. Any activity that invests in the future you is preferable.

Using the Eisenhower Matrix alongside the BulletJournal will help ensure that you are keeping the best track of your responsibilities and opportunities for growth as possible. As you begin to prioritize you will likely become fascinated at the amount of time spent on other people’s self-inflicted emergencies and your own juvenile interests.

Join us again later this week as we discuss “Saying No: Learning to Place Your Responsibilities First.”