Dwight Eisenhower was an incredibly productive and successful man long before he became the 34th president of the United States. Of course, he kept up that productivity after taking office. But how did he do it? His strategy was simple – divide tasks into urgent and important, then into four categories. This created a surprising productivity legacy often called the Eisenhower Box or Eisenhower Matrix.
Breaking Down the Eisenhower Box
James Clear, who also talks about entropy and how it applies to productivity, explains that the Eisenhower Box is a matrix that helps you organize tasks and to-dos based on urgency and importance. These are the two keys behind the entire strategy, but they aren’t the same thing. A famous quote by Eisenhower that helps to better illustrate this is seen in the following image.
The matrix helps you break down what’s important and what’s urgent along with what to do with those tasks. It’s a two-by-two box with four quadrants.
- Do – Tasks that are both important and urgent.
- Plan – Tasks that are important but not urgent.
- Delegate – Tasks that aren’t important but are urgent.
- Eliminate – Tasks that aren’t important or urgent.
The goal is to organize your tasks into one of these quadrants. The “Do” quadrant is your immediate to-dos. These are also tasks that get you closer to your goals.
A common misconception is the “Eliminate” quadrant. This doesn’t mean you never tackle these tasks. However, they’re not a priority. If you have time after going through everything else, then you can check these off. But, these are tasks that can easily wait. Or, if they do nothing for your productivity and goals, you trash them.
Once again, it’s a task-organization strategy. Instead of just a to-do list, it’s a visual representation of what you need to based on how important and urgent tasks are.
Why the Matrix Works
It’s just a box with four squares. How does that make a difference? Lists are great and effective. They’re ideal for ensuring you don’t forget anything – reducing stress and boosting productivity. However, a simple list isn’t always enough to motivate you to take action.
Instead, people are wired to respond better to visual cues. The Eisenhower Box is more of a picture. This means you get the benefits that come with visual learning, such as feeling more motivated, remembering things longer, processing the data easier, and comprehending what you need to do and when. This is why mind-mapping tools are so useful for project- and goal-planning.
Plus, people crave instant gratification. How often have you looked at your task list over and over to find what you can do quickly to feel that sense of immediate gratification? It’s easy to procrastinate on a longer task in order to complete something simpler and faster. After all, the human brain is hardwired to opt for what makes you feel better.
Naturally, an always-connected lifestyle makes that situation worse. It takes planning and strategy to rewire your brain to prioritize your tasks by importance and urgency versus what you prefer to do.
Procrastination and focusing on those small tasks creates a false sense of productivity. It’s only when you’re racing to finish something at the last minute that you realize there’s a problem. However, that tends to become the norm. Instead, this task organization method helps rewire your brain to put real productivity first, helping to eliminate the stress and anxiety that comes with putting things off.
Applying the Box to Your Life
The next step is to apply the Eisenhower Box to your life. A great way to start is by creating a standard to-do list. Then, break it apart into the four quadrants. You can use an piece of paper, an app, or whatever you want.
Once this is in place, first focus on quadrant one: the “Do” section. By focusing on only one section at a time, you’re not wasting time on tasks that aren’t as important. Once you get what’s important and urgent out of the way, then you move on to something else.
By applying this to your daily life, both personal and professional, you streamline what you need to do. While it takes time to master this approach, it will make you more productive.
Useful Tips and Resources
When you first start trying to implement this strategy, there are a few tips to make it easier:
- Color-code your quadrants (more visual equals more productive)
- Limit yourself to five to eight tasks per quadrant to avoid feeling overwhelmed
- Create a new list at the end of every day
- Include activities and tasks that are truly meaningful, too, such as time for family, friends, and hobbies
If you’re not sure how to create your own Eisenhower Box, there are tools available to help, such as:
- Eisenhower Matrix Apps – the iPhone app has some issues, but the web app and PDF are useful.
- Focus Matrix – iOS app to easily create and track your Eisenhower Box tasks.
- 4.Do – Android app to create and track your tasks.
Creating more effective lists is key to increasing productivity. Try the Eisenhower Box to give your to-do list a makeover.