Is your To-Do list way too long? Do you feel stressed because you have more things to do than time? Maybe your tooling isn’t right.
“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower
For years I tried to organize my tasks with a simple To-Do list. It really helped me to track my tasks but not to do them. My problem was that I didn’t know where to start. It was demotivating looking at a long list, which was getting longer day by day. I felt like nothing gets done. Instead of working I did something else, I procrastinated.
Two years ago I switched to the Eisenhower Matrix for task management. You can look at the matrix as a tool or a method. It is said that president Dwight D. Eisenhower used it. This way it got popular and named.
The tasks in an Eisenhower matrix are organized by two criteria: urgency and importance. Thereby you get a 2×2 Matrix with 4 quadrants.
Quadrant 1 is for important and urgent tasks. Work on these tasks immediately yourself.
Quadrant 2 is for important but not so urgent tasks. Schedule these tasks and work on them at the scheduled time.
Quadrant 3 is for urgent but not so important tasks. Delegate such tasks. Somebody else can/should do it.
Quadrant 4 is for neither urgent nor important tasks. Don’t work on these. Alternatively you can put here tasks to treat yourself. Something you normally would do instead if working, procrastinating tasks like playing a computer game. When you are finished with all other tasks it is fine to do something unproductive!
You have different options how to implement the matrix.
With normal Paper: Take a piece of paper and draw the 2×2 matrix with the 4 quadrants. Write down new tasks and cross out finished ones. This is probably the easiest way to create an Eisenhower Matrix but very inflexible. After some time you have to create a new one. This leads most of the time to copying some tasks.
With Post-its: Draw the matrix on a big piece of paper. Write down your tasks on Post-its and stick them at the right spot on the matrix. When you finish a task just unhang it.
With a White-board: Basically the same as with the paper but instead of crossing finished tasks you remove them. A matrix on a White-board has the same advantages and disadvantages as a matrix with Post-its. It is as easy to add as to remove tasks. The one disadvantage I see is that you can’t take it with you. Nevertheless both ways are the best solutions without a computer. Maybe they are even better than the software solutions!
With a simple word-processor: I use Libreoffice on my computer to track my task the Eisenhower way. You just have to create a document, insert a 2×2 spreadsheet. The 4 cells build the 4 quadrants. Inside a cell you can add a list. It looks neat with some bulletin points on the side. It works just like on paper but without crossing finished tasks. You just remove them.
This Outlook Plug-in takes the basic Eisenhower Matrix and thinks it further. Tasks still get categorized by the same criteria but with more gradation. Task can have a low, middle and high importance. Tasks aren’t’ just urgent or not but instead can be categorized as Overdue Today, Today, Tomorrow, This Week, Next Week or No Date. This changes on the urgency differentiates this tool profoundly from the others. It makes it more concrete. I tried the demo Version for 30 days. It is really well integrated into Outlook and the Microsoft world. I like how easy it is to create and move tasks across the matrix. If you are a fan of Outlook and you use it on a daily basis I can recommend you Taskcracker. For $40 you can buy a lifetime license.
This Web-application is again a normal 2×2 Eisenhower Matrix. It isn’t as comfortable as Taskcracker but it has other strengths. To use it you just need a browser. Therefore, Mac, Linux as well as Microsoft users can work with it. Your tasks are saved on the web so you can manage them from different devices. The browser Version is free.
As you can see you have plenty of options to choose from.
Task managing this way has also some limitations. You only differentiate tasks by two criteria: urgency and importance. Other criteria could also have great impact on your tasks: effort, resources, complexity, common traits. Sometimes it makes more sense to do tasks simultaneously or in specific order than given by the matrix. For example, I normally start working on a small fast achievable task even if it is not most important and/or urgent. This way I get momentum. It is more likely that I will continue working on something important. What I am trying to say is, don’t use a tool like a monkey. Think about what helps you. The Eisenhower Matrix gives you a good framework to do so!
Call on action:
Pick one way to manage your tasks with the Eisenhower Matrix!
Try the Eisenhower Matrix for at least 5 days!
– Gaius Wolf