Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.
– Abraham Lincoln
It may seem counter-intuitive to dedicate time to learning about time management but the benefits are enormous. In a world of unlimited information, prioritisation became one of the most popular topics on business blogs and one of the most popular job interview questions. The reason is not all tasks are created equal. We all constantly create to-do lists, and then work on them in an indiscriminate order. As a result, we stay busy all day long but without achieving meaningful results.
Dwight D. Eisenhower was a productive guy. As Commander of the Allied Force in Europe during World War II he planned and supervised the successful invasion of Normandy. As the 34th president of the United States he launched DARPA and NASA. He was also the president of Columbia University and the first Supreme Commander of NATO. In a 1954 speech he said: “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”
The priority quadrant or the Eisenhower Matrix is based on the urgent/important ratio and is one of the most popular time management frameworks in the world. It categorises tasks into 2 basic dimensions: time and priority.
Eisenhower quadrant categorizes tasks into one of four categories: do immediately, plan for later, delegate to someone else, and stop doing.
Using it is pretty simple: Pick an item from the to do list and classify it as urgent and important. Then place it in the correct quadrant.
Quadrant 1: Do first
The first quadrant is the “important and urgent”. These tasks both have high importance and urgency.
Focus on accomplishing these tasks first.
Examples: deadlines, crises and problems
Quadrant 2: Schedule
The second quadrant covers tasks that are important but not urgent. To avoid procrastination, decide when you will work on each task.
Set clear deadlines.
Examples: long-term planning, maintenance, education.
Quadrant 3: Delegate (Automate)
Typically, these are tasks which are unimportant but which do need to be done immediately.
Ask yourself the question if the task can only be carried out by you personally. If yes then it’s no different from quadrant 1. But if you can delegate or automate do so.
Examples: booking flights and hotels, tax returns, paying invoices, phone calls, text messages.
Quadrant 4: Do it later or eliminate
This Quadrant covers the lowest priority items.
These are the “not important and not urgent” tasks.
Examples: social media, playing video games, watching Netflix.
1. Use the magic of “NO”
Rejection is a big part of the filtering process. You will have to work on your rejection skills. Learn how to craft a polite emails letting people know that for now, you’re unable to help as you have far too many things on your plate.
2. Color code the matrix
Color coding each quadrant by priority level can help you quickly estimate what’s next on your list at a glance.
3. Limit each quadrant to 10 items max
A good rule of thumb is to focus on just 5 to 7 tasks in each category.
Too many items on your list can make it difficult to finish work on time and can cause task paralysis.
4. Separate personal and professional tasks
Consider separating your personal and work to-do lists.