Productivity: The Eisenhower Decision Matrix

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Productivity.

I never cared for it until I hit a wall with my business and personal life.

Back in 2009 I decided to take on freelancing full time. It wasn’t all ‘my’ decision, it was because the radio station I worked with closed down and there were little chances to get the same salary anywhere else in the city.

July 2009 left me jobless and with debt, this was the worst moment of my young life and the ‘click’ I needed to turn my web design hobby into something real.

You can read about my story on PFtoday – Freelancing Success Story – From Debt to a Successful Business, now I’d like us to go a bit further in my personal history and see another crucial moment enfold.

In 2014 I became a mother and also tried to keep on working 8-12 hours/day on my web design business.

As you can imagine, with a small baby in my hands, things soon got out of whack.

There I was, few months into motherhood, exhausted and angry. My business was going downhill and I was stressed out, tired and angry.

I started watching some Udemy courses on running a freelancing business and things cleared out in my head: as I could not get more hours a day to work, since I really wanted to be there for my daughter, the logical solution was to do more work in a shorter amount of time, hence become productive.

This is when I first heard of The Eisenhower Decision Matrix.

As you can guess, the name comes from Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was the 34th President of the US, also a five star general during the WWII.

The entire system is based on a quote that’s attributed to him:

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

By mastering the ‘matrix’ you’re supposed to become more productive in your work, since you’ll know exactly which tasks to tackle first, which to delegate and which tasks to just ‘delete’ from your list.

The easiest way to make it work is to draw a 2 row/2 column table and create 4 quadrants.

We’ll have (starting from top, left to right):

  1. IMPORTANT – URGENT tasks
  2. IMPORTANT – NOT URGENT tasks
  3. NOT IMPORTANT – URGENT tasks
  4. NOT IMPORTANT – NOT URGENT tasks

OK, so we just took our 5 dozen tasks daily list and arranged the tasks in a beautifully colored table. How is this gonna help us become more productive?

Let’s see …

The first quadrant is the one we need to look at first. These tasks require IMMEDIATE attention (since they are also urgent, not only important).

As soon as you have tackled these, it’s time to look at the second quadrant. These tasks are not urgent, but need to be carefully planned and also executed. These have a great effect long term, they are important for your business.

The third quadrant is made of tasks that are no longer urgent or important, but we can’t ditch¬† them either. These are ideal for delegating.

The fourth quadrant is like a garbage bin, just ditch those tasks. They are just time wasters with little to no impact on your business and with no urgency.

Here is an example of my today’s list for instance:

  1. IMPORTANT / URGENT – ACTION: DO – write this article and another one for NYCdoctors. Run upgrades on a client’s website and tweak a contact form for another client.
  2. IMPORTANT / NOT URGENT РACTION: PLAN Рfinish tweaking my portfolio and preparing a long  term content marketing strategy for my business.
  3. NOT IMPORTANT / URGENT – cook the meal for today, answer emails, handle client appointments for husband. In this case I won’t delegate, just handle them myself.
  4. NOT IMPORTANT / NOT URGENT – read blogs, watch TV.

What I really liked about this strategy is that it forces me to really focus my efforts. Most productivity strategies rely on long-term, small-term plans, a lot of tasks, goal setting etc.

This can be excruciatingly boring for people like me, who really dislike planning and thinking about the next 5 years.

But The Eisenhower Decision Matrix allows me to think hard about each and every task I set myself to do and see if it’s really that important and if it will push my business forward for real, not just waste my time.

After ditching the time wasters I can really tackle the tasks that are gonna bring in the biggest results and plan for the others who are still relevant to me, but don’t have to be done right now.