No time? Listen to it instead
There are countless approaches to managing daily tasks. Still, I’ve found the Eisenhower Matrix to be one of the simplest and yet, the most effective ones. In fact, it has been a part of my life since I first read about it during college but only vaguely. However, for the past six months or so, I’ve found the best way to put it into practice.
Now, I understand everyone talks about using it as a system to prioritise tasks based on importance and urgency, but no one shows you how. Everyone just talks about it, gives a matrix, and that is it. That’s not a system that works long-term, and so it gets challenging to sustain it. Here’s how I apply the Eisenhower Matrix to my life, and maybe, it’ll give you a semblance of how you can too.
The Eisenhower Matrix
Before we dive fully into the topic, though, let’s talk about what the Eisenhower Matrix is all about. The 34th President of the United States developed a system or a matrix to categorise tasks. Over time, people have applied an action or a doable to each of those boxes.
Urgent and Important
- Urgent tasks are time-bound and have deliverables. These tasks induce panic and demand themselves to be picked up by their very nature. Think of things such as deadlines or submissions or anything that has a strict due date.
- Important tasks are critical to who you are, your growth or your long-term plan. These are important to you but may not require immediate action. Think of exercise or learning a language. Anything which involves consistency can fit the bill here.
Here’s what it looks like:
How It Works
The matrix divides tasks into four quadrants: urgent and important; not urgent but important; urgent but not important; not important and not urgent.
The idea is to get to the urgent and important tasks first and get them done now or as quickly as you can do them.
You schedule the not urgent but important ones and stick to a slot of time for them. So, these are what I call the good day rule. Three things every day – one to get your body moving, one to get your head working, and one to get your heart beating.
Then, you try to delegate or have someone else do the things that are urgent but not important to you. These could be the little things at work that someone else can handle or a simple errand you can outsource.
Lastly, you drop the things that are not important and not urgent. That Netflix binge which Netflix keeps pushing on you with their even tighter autoplay integration on all parts of their app? Yes, that belongs here.
Let’s Get to Business
Alright, so we have the lesson down. Let’s talk process. Most people do these on cool apps which are specifically designed for this process. Not to mention, Todoist has an excellent process about customising their app using filters to create the Eisenhower Matrix flow.
However, I like re-inventing the wheel and I’m particularly stuck up about certain things I use so Google Calendar is something I cannot give up on yet.
My process is more or less distributed between two apps: Calendar and Todoist. You can use any to-do list app for this, to be honest. I just find Todoist more up to my speed.
For me, separating the Important and Urgent plays an important role even if I know they are the part of the same matrix. I need to visualise them as two different parts of my flow: one short-term and one extremely long-term.
Let’s Talk Habits First: Not Urgent but Important
I feel even if this is the second priority, this is the most important one for long-term growth and consistency. Therefore, we’ll start with it.
Google Calendar offers a nifty feature called Goals. These Goals are only accessible through the app. I’ve not been able to create them from the Desktop version, but I can view them just fine on it.
Goals are Google Calendar’s way to help people create a habit tracker, of sorts. You select the option and create a Goal from the multiple categories and options provided (or create your own). Then, you set a repetition frequency such as Every Day or 3 Days a Week, and you’re good to go. Your calendar is booked, your slot is marked as Busy for all to see, and that’s it.
It works because it’s a rather simple feature. When you’re done with the thing, you mark it as Done. You get to see how many times you did whatever the activity was, and you can also defer them for later the day if you’re occupied with something else. The latter is something I try not to use.
Here’s how my Calendar with Goals looks like for a Schedule and Weekly view.
Tasks Come Next: Urgent and Important
I’ve used Todoist for my task-management for some time now, and I feel it hits the mark with productivity and to-do-list-making. It isn’t too flashy but has some powerful features under the hood such as brilliant filters.
It also offers three things I use the most: Projects, Scheduling Tasks, and Inbox.
- Projects can be thought of as folders but you can use them in a better way as well. The idea of a Project is that it ends at some point. So, I have a Project called Personal, which serves as a folder. This project itself has some tasks such as Chores with repetitive dates and People with things people recommend me to watch or read. It also has a Sub-Project inside it called Finances which has its own tasks and sections such as Investments, Bills and so on. All of these are time-bound and scheduled.
- Scheduling Tasks kind of creeped up into the last explanation but yes, it’s quite simply the idea to be able to schedule tasks. The most powerful feature that Todoist sports is this, though. When you’re creating a task, you can enter “Thursday every week at 6 pm”, and it will assign that schedule automatically. This makes life a thousand times easier when you’re quickly jotting a task down.
- Inbox is the unsung hero of the app though. Inbox is, as Todoist’s blog defines it, a place to dump tasks quickly. As you go through the day, you keep adding tasks which land in the Inbox. Later in the evening, say, while commuting back home, you can review tasks and decide on them. It’s just a limbo to make sure you don’t miss recording something you were supposed to do.
All this is wrapped together with Google Calendar sync. Their Paid plan offers a one-way sync but the Free plan’s two-way sync is what I prefer anyway since I like reflecting changes made in one place to the other.
So, once my Todoist is set up, my calendar looks like this:
Skip Or Depute: Urgent but Not Important
For the Urgent but Not Important tasks: I try to make sure they go out of the Inbox as soon as possible. I function on a more Important-first basis if that isn’t apparent yet. So, most of these tasks never make it out of the Inbox and are marked done there and then.
Drop Them All: Not Urgent and Not Important
For the last quadrant, the black sheep of the four, I say – it’s just not worth it. Try to avoid most of them. So, once you see a task like that, it’s easy to drop it. That’s what the action is anyway.
- I love art, and a good movie plus music is something I explicitly explore, so those are things I do from this side of the quadrant. I always listen to music recommendations. We’re not machines, after all. For dopamine-media though, I drop most recommendations, memes or videos, unless they’re recommended by my brother because that would mean they’re extremely good and worth it.
- For most other recommendations, I either add it to the People section of my Todoist or forget about them there and then.
- I try to catch up with most of them since recommendations by friends are important. Still, people do send a lot of links that just don’t add anything to my life all the time, and they forget about them too, so it’s perfectly fine to avoid them, in my opinion.
- Also, for social media, I have a strict Digital Wellbeing timer set for Instagram, Facebook and other apps. I also use Focus mode on my phone and schedule it so that I can’t access said apps unless it’s going out of my way to take a 5-10-minute break during the day.
How Does It Look Now?
This is what the Eisenhower Matrix looks for me when I look at it as an actionable, app-based approach.
A common question would be to understand why I use two different apps when I can do it with one. The idea is to make sure there is a mental distinction between what is important and what is urgent. Regular, baby step activities that make me a better person are Goals. Tasks are where they belong: on a to-do list.
Sidenote: The urgent tasks are in signature orange on my calendar as well. It immediately helps me understand what’s what. It also helps me shift the mindset to do them quickly or delegate them faster. The little things such as colour-coding everything makes it easier to manage everything when shit hits the fan.
The Eisenhower Matrix makes it simple to divide whatever life gives you daily into four levels of priority based on what is urgent and what is important. Like most good advice, it’s a blueprint but not the solution. The solution is to tailor it for how you implement it in your context.
- In August 2019, my Good Day rule stopped working. At that point, I had written this post and removed everything to wipe my calendar completely clean. I took a month or so to figure out everything again. Here we are, though.
- Google Goals assigns times on its own but it can learn your preferences. A kind of hack to bootstrap it is to create a Goal. Then, change the time manually for all of its repetitions to the same time every day for the next seven days. It learns your preferences immediately.
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