Use the “Eisenhower Matrix” to Manage Your Time & Increase Your Productivity: The System Designed by the 34th President of the United States

“What is impor­tant is sel­dom urgent,” said Dwight D. Eisen­how­er, “and what is urgent is sel­dom impor­tant.” Or at least many believe Eisen­how­er said that, even if he might have been quot­ing some­one else. Whether or not the 34th Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca ever spoke those exact words, he must have had a high­ly effec­tive method of deal­ing with life’s tasks. Dur­ing Eisen­how­er’s two terms in office, writes Atom­ic Habits author James Clear, “he launched pro­grams that direct­ly led to the devel­op­ment of the Inter­state High­way Sys­tem in the Unit­ed States, the launch of the inter­net (DARPA), the explo­ration of space (NASA), and the peace­ful use of alter­na­tive ener­gy sources (Atom­ic Ener­gy Act).”

Eisen­how­er accom­plished all that after “plan­ning and exe­cut­ing inva­sions of North Africa, France, and Ger­many” as Supreme Com­man­der of the Allied Forces in Europe dur­ing World War II” (and while being the most avid golfer ever to reside in the White House).

Though we may nev­er boast such a range of accom­plish­ments our­selves, we can still inject a shot of Eisen­how­er­ian pro­duc­tiv­i­ty into our lives with the “Eisen­how­er Matrix” — or, in the plain­er phras­ing “Ike” might have pre­ferred, the “Eisen­how­er Box.”

Its ver­ti­cal axis of impor­tance and hor­i­zon­tal axis of urgency cre­ate four box­es for cat­e­go­riz­ing tasks. Clear explains these cat­e­gories as fol­lows:

  • Urgent and impor­tant (tasks you will do imme­di­ate­ly)
  • Impor­tant, but not urgent (tasks you will sched­ule to do lat­er)
  • Urgent, but not impor­tant (tasks you will del­e­gate to some­one else)
  • Nei­ther urgent nor impor­tant (tasks that you will elim­i­nate)

Impor­tant tasks, writes Life­hack­er’s Thorin Klosows­ki, “are things that con­tribute to our long-term mis­sion, val­ues, and goals,” pur­suits that put us into a “respon­sive mode, which helps us remain calm, ratio­nal, and open to new oppor­tu­ni­ties.” At Busi­ness Insid­er, Drake Baer pro­vides exam­ples of all four cat­e­gories of tasks. The urgent and impor­tant include “attend­ing to a cry­ing baby, tack­ling a cri­sis at work, and mail­ing your rent check.” The impor­tant but not urgent include “sav­ing for the future, get­ting enough exer­cise, sleep­ing your sev­en to nine hours a night.” The urgent but not impor­tant include “book­ing a flight, shar­ing an arti­cle, answer­ing a phone call.” The nei­ther urgent nor impor­tant include “watch­ing Game of Thrones, check­ing your Face­book, eat­ing cook­ies.”

Eisen­how­er had it easy, you may say: he lived before binge-watch­ing, before social media, and before cook­ies were quite so addic­tive. Hence the greater impor­tance today of a time-man­age­ment sys­tem with the stark clar­i­ty of the Eisen­how­er Matrix, and not just for pres­i­dents. (Barack Oba­ma, Baer points out, made time for din­ner with the fam­i­ly when he was in the White House as well as an hour’s work­out every evening, both impor­tant but not urgent tasks.) So as not to lose sight of what’s impor­tant, Clear rec­om­mends keep­ing in mind two ques­tions: “What am I work­ing toward?” and “What are the core val­ues that dri­ve my life?” And though Eisen­how­er did­n’t have to deal with nui­sances like app noti­fi­ca­tions, he also did­n’t get to see the day when a pro­duc­tiv­i­ty app (whose expla­na­tion of the Eisen­how­er Matrix appears at the top of the post) has his name on it.

via James Clear, author of Atom­ic Habits

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Dai­ly Rou­tines of Famous Cre­ative Peo­ple, Pre­sent­ed in an Inter­ac­tive Info­graph­ic

The Dai­ly Habits of High­ly Pro­duc­tive Philoso­phers: Niet­zsche, Marx & Immanuel Kant

The Dai­ly Habits of Famous Writ­ers: Franz Kaf­ka, Haru­ki Muraka­mi, Stephen King & More

Richard Feynman’s “Note­book Tech­nique” Will Help You Learn Any Subject–at School, at Work, or in Life

Eisen­how­er Answers Amer­i­ca: The First Polit­i­cal Adver­tise­ments on Amer­i­can TV (1952)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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