A system to reduce overwhelm with efficient, effective use of time.
Not having enough time to do the things that we want to do and that are important to us, is a common source of frustration, resentment and overwhelm.
Whether it is wanting to spend quality time with our children, learning a new language or instrument, or taking time to socialize with friends, we often exhaust ourselves, and our time, on things which do not bring us joy, at the sacrifice of things that do.
When giving a speech in 1954, former president Eisenhower said:
“I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important and the important are never urgent”
Understanding the Eisenhower matrix can help you to master your time so that you can tip the balance of overwhelm and efficiency in your favour.
The premise of the Eisenhower matrix is based on categorizing tasks into 1 of 4 quadrants, according to their degree of urgency and importance.
The distinction between urgent and important tasks has some crossover with the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, as detailed in this blog
Urgent tasks are those with a deadline, and an immediate consequence if they are not met. They are typically tasks that have been aligned with someone else's goals, rather than our own. When they are not achieved they leave us feeling stressed, and we can lose sight of what is important when we are working toward a deadline.
Important tasks are those that are more closely aligned with our own values, those things which come from an innate drive and sense of purpose. When they are achieved, they fill our cup, when they are not they can leave us feeling frustrated, resentful and lost in our sense of purpose. Important tasks can be professional or personal.
Do now - Important, and Urgent
These tasks have a deadline and require immediate attention. They are your first priority because they must be completed as soon as possible to avoid a negative consequence.
✋ Do-er beware, while urgent tasks are unavoidable, spending too much time putting out the fire can cause burnout. For this reason, you need to be strict with your time and avoid distractions to ensure that you can move on from this quadrant.
Using a timer is an excellent way to ensure that you do not spend too long on a task, however urgent. The Pomodoro technique, using specified blocks of time to maximize efficiency, is another way to maximize the time that you have available. For more information, click here.
💡 Because there can be stress tied up with completing “Do now” tasks, promise yourself a small reward, like a coffee break, or a music break, or a walk, or whatever makes you feel good, so that you can boost your dopamine levels after what may have been a stressful time.
Examples of “do now” tasks include
- Urgent problems
Decide - Important, less urgent
These activities come from your sense of purpose, and will help you achieve your personal and professional goals.
✋The decrease in urgency compared to “do now” tasks, allows you to decide the best time for them to be completed, rather than needing to do them right away. However because they don’t have the same urgency as “Do now” tasks, it can be easy to put these off in favour of other tasks.
💡 Scheduling your tasks is a great way to increase the likelihood of them getting done. Not only will you be carving out time for a particular task, but by writing the task down you are telling your brain that it deserves attention. What’s more, allocating time for a task will remove the uncertainty of “I have no idea when I am going to be able to fit this in”, which will in turn reduce overwhelm.
💡 Scheduling your “Decide” tasks on a Monday for the week ahead is a great way to “see” what can be achieved. Checking your schedule the night before is a good habit to get into, as having a plan will allow you to get going faster in the morning. Regular “Decide” tasks can be scheduled ahead of time and our range of planning ahead printables are a great way to do this.
Examples of “Decide” tasks include
- Going to the gym
- Learning a new language
- Having family time
Delegate - Not important, urgent
These are the niggly, but necessary things that need to be achieved.
Because activities in this quadrant are not reliant on your own unique personal skill set, nor do they spark joy, they should be delegated wherever possible.
✋The importance of these tasks mean that it is essential to keep a close track on them, ensuring that they get done.
💡 If delegation is not possible, then you can tackle these tasks after “Do now” and “Decide” tasks have been checked off.
Examples of delegation tasks include:
- Outsourcing building a website
- Being called into a last minute meeting that someone else is able to attend on your behalf
Delete - not important, not urgent
One of the BEST ways to reduce overwhelm, increase efficiency and have a better day is to cull your to-do list.
✋ Life is too short to be wasting time on tasks that are not aligned with your sense or purpose, nor have any urgency associated with them.
💡 Learning to say “no” can feel extremely difficult to start, but before long you will feel liberated and empowered at how much time you are saving, and how much more you are able to get done!
Examples of delete tasks include
- Surfing the internet for no reason
- Going to a social event because you feel you have to
- Any activity that causes procrastination
Using the Eisenhower matrix every day
Either draw up the quadrants at home, or grab a free template by clicking on the button at the bottom of this page.
Allocate everything on your to-do list to one of the 4 Eisenhower quadrants. Be sure to include the activities that are important to you and bring you a sense of wellbeing.
Start with Do, move to Decide, then Delegate and Delete accordingly.
Key points for the Eisenhower matrix
- Writing tasks down gets the noise out of your head while providing focus, and clarity
- Scheduling tasks will make it more likely that they get done, and ticking them off once they are achieved will give you a boost of dopamine
- 8 tasks per quadrant is considered to be the limit.
- Where possible, plan the evening before, review in the morning and then crack on!
- Better management of your time, and energy, is a recipe for reducing stress and overwhelm.
- Eliminate distractions and be strict with your time management, using a timer to stick to your routine.
- Use the Pomodoro technique to create efficient blocks of time.
- Keep track of tasks that you delegate to others, to ensure completion.
- Learn to say no, and prioritize YOU as a habit.