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The Eisenhower Matrix: Advice for Time Management and Productivity

Welcome back to The Curiosity Concept!

As much as we might be in denial about it, there’s no escaping the fact that serious revision and exam season will soon be upon us. (Cue sad violins and rain).

The biggest challenge for me around this time has always been managing my time properly and effectively – from procrastinating revision to running out of time in exams. Time management is an issue that I could describe as my Goliath but over the past few years, I have finally become David.

I’m not saying that I never procrastinate anymore or that I use 100% of my time effectively, but I have come to recognise some of the reasons behind my procrastination, so whenever I do find myself mindlessly scrolling through Instagram (I’m telling you, that never-ending explore page is a TRAP) I now stop to address the actual issue that’s affecting my motivation.

Whilst there are various reasons for time management problems, this post is focused on the issue of having so much to do that it is difficult to actually do anything.

For example, as I’m writing this post, I have an essay to write, a research project report to work on, exam revision to complete, I have to find and book a hotel room, I need to find a new guitar, and my favourite impending task  – I need to get car insurance.

A lot of the time, we’re told to just write a to-do list and go from there. Creating a to-do list is fine, but my experience with them has always been that I list everything I need to do…and still don’t do anything. Actually, sometimes they become ‘still to-do and well overdue’ lists.

Procrastination is a discipline and motivation issue (a topic I will discuss in a later post) but it can be fed by not knowing where to start on the to-do list. This can be because it’s difficult to prioritise when there’s no differentiation between what’s important and what isn’t.

So, this post will explain a simple but effective tool to help with this exact issue – the Eisenhower Matrix. It won’t make you do the work, but it definitely makes the process of identifying what you can and should get done on your to-do list less frustrating.

The Eisenhower Matrix

The concept behind the Eisenhower Matrix is said to have been inspired by President Eisenhower,  hence the name ‘the Eisenhower Matrix’. There is some uncertainty around what he actually said, but I’ve found a source that is a copy of a speech he gave in 1954. In this 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.

So, the idea behind the Matrix is allocating tasks that need to be completed into one of four categories, according to two dimensions/variables:

  • the importance of the task, and
  • the urgency of the task.

Important and Urgent tasks

Tasks that are important and urgent are the ones that should be the focus of your to-do list. They are your priorities.

In The Study Skills Handbook (4th edn, 2013), Stella Cottrell explains that priority tasks are those which if not completed have the most serious consequences and have the tightest deadline.

An example of an Important-and-Urgent task I have is my Japanese Law essay – the deadline is soon and if I don’t complete and hand it in on time, I risk 40% of my grade in that module.

Not Important but Urgent tasks

These types of task are those that can be delegated to someone else to complete – they need to be done, but you may not have to be the person to do them (i.e. it’s not crucial that you, specifically, complete them).

Chores and housework can fall into the Not Important-but-Urgent category. For example, if one of your tasks is grocery shopping, you could ask a housemate or friend to buy a few things off your list for you.

Not Urgent but Important tasks

Tasks that are important but don’t have an impending deadline, so aren’t urgent, belong to this category. Not Urgent-but-Important tasks are organised into a plan or placed on your calendar so they can be completed after the Important-Urgent tasks.

An example of a task I assign to this category is revision for my Constitutional and Administrative Law exam – it is important but the exam date is a few months from now, so in comparison to my Japanese Law essay that’s due in a couple of weeks, I class it as less urgent.

Not Important and Not Urgent tasks

These tasks are not a priority and so can be rescheduled. This is different from the planning you do for the Not Urgent-but-Important tasks because here there’s no set date assigned for the completion of these tasks. Not Important-and-Not Urgent tasks can essentially be forgotten about.

Free printables

Having explained how the Eisenhower Matrix works, here are some free-to-download A4 printables for you to start using the Matrix for your planning.

There are three versions available as shown in the images above. Click the link below to download your favourite one!

The Eisenhower Matrix has been such a useful tool for me in terms of organising my thoughts and having a sense of direction when I’m working. I use it as another way of decluttering my mind (shameless plug for my previous post of the same name).

As for the printables, I use them myself and I’m really excited to share them with you. Let me know if you find them useful and don’t hesitate to leave feedback!

Onwards and upwards,

Anoshamisa 🙂

One Comment

  1. Abigail Gonye Abigail Gonye

    They say procrastination is the thief of time. I certainly agree that it’s often due to not planning or prioritising stuff. As a mother of 2, a wife, with a full time job, I have often found myself almost overwhelmed and desperate to complete chores and run errands as well as try to have some me time. So am keen to try the Eisenhower Matrix!
    Though on the Urgent- Not important list, I would have loved to delegate my lovely 2 daughters to do the dishes, but its serious exam time so perhaps I will keep that on the Urgent-Important, for my personal attention! Unless of course I ask hubby to help☺.
    Interesting post.

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