Dwight D. Eisenhower lived a remarkably productive life.
From 1953 to 1961, he served two terms as President of the United States. During that time, he initiated several programs that directly led to, among many other things, the development of the Interstate Highway System, the launch of the internet, and the establishment of NASA.
Before his time in office, he was a five-star general in the United States Army. Serving as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during the Second World War, he was responsible for planning and executing invasions of Germany, France, and North Africa.
At other points during his career, Eisenhower also served as president of Columbia University as well as the first ever Supreme Commander of NATO. And, as if all that wasn’t enough, he also somehow made time for hobbies like golfing, cooking, and oil painting.
The Eisenhower Matrix
Considering his incredible ability to get things done, it’s no surprise that his time management methods are still being taught to this day. His most famous productivity strategy is called the Eisenhower Matrix,1 and it’s a very useful model for prioritizing your tasks. To use it, you sort your tasks into four categories depending on their importance and urgency:
- Important and urgent – Tasks you will do immediately.
- Important but not urgent – Tasks you will schedule for later.
- Not important but urgent – Tasks you will delegate.
- Not important nor urgent – Tasks you will eliminate.
The key here is to distinguish between important and urgent tasks. So what’s the difference? Important tasks are things that contribute to your long-term goals. Urgent tasks are things that require immediate attention. To give you an example of what an Eisenhower Matrix might look like, here’s mine for today:
1. Important and urgent:
- Writing article on the Eisenhower Matrix.
2. Important but not urgent:
- Doing research for my next book.
- Reviewing my book marketing campaigns.
- Going to the gym.
3. Not important but urgent:
- Answering the phone.
- Replying to most e-mails.
- Responding to Facebook messages.
4. Not important nor urgent:
- Watching television.
- Checking social media.
- Browsing the internet.
The great thing about this matrix is how widely applicable it is. You can use it as you plan out your year, day, or next hour. No matter the time frame, it helps you filter out the noise so you can focus your limited time, energy, and attention where it truly matters.
Connecting it to mental models I’ve covered previously, the Eisenhower Matrix helps you uncover your 80/20 tasks, stay within your circle of competence, and reduce the opportunity costs that comes with doing what’s urgent instead of important.
Important or Urgent?
As you decide what to do next, ask yourself, “Is this important or urgent?” If it’s truly important, go ahead and do it now or schedule it for later. But if it’s just urgent, try to delegate or delete it altogether.
That way, you’ll make more efficient choices, minimize unnecessary stress, and increase your productivity.
This article is an excerpt from my book The Decision-Making Blueprint.