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Leadership

How to manage your time, talent & energy using the Eisenhower Matrix

Sue Hampson - Last Update: 08 Sep 2021

Contents

What is the Eisenhower Matrix?

Why is the Eisenhower Matrix effective?

Who needs the Eisenhower Matrix?

How does it work?

How to use the Eisenhower Matrix at work

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Sue Hampson

Business Services Training Advisor

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Help your team and apprentices manage a heavy workload. Try out Eisenhower's Matrix to help you manage your tasks and time.

Key points:

  • The Eisenhower Matrix breaks up to-do lists into four quadrants: Do, Schedule, Delegate, Delete
  • The first quadrant, ‘do’ is important and urgent work. If the majority of your workload is in this quadrant, it’s a stressful, pressurised working state
  • It’s ideal to stagger the majority of your workload between quadrant two ‘schedule’ and quadrant three ‘delegate’

What is the Eisenhower Matrix?

The Eisenhower Matrix is a time and resource management system. It helps you see which tasks are top priority, and which can wait, using company goals, and personal targets as the filter.

It helps you to make decisions, delegate, schedule and put tasks aside, making a workload more manageable and focused.

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Why is the Eisenhower Matrix effective?

The core benefit of the Eisenhower Matrix is that it saves time, keeps your talent focused on their skillset, and retains their energy for important and relevant tasks.

In 2020, managers struggled with time management for remote workers.

As teams were split up for months at a time, covering furlough, working long hours, time was scarce and talented people were stretched and their energy eroded.

A report by The Independent describes how remote workers felt unable to switch off: "...bosses increasingly interrupted non-working hours," wrote Sophie Gallager, "knowing employees rarely left the house, and many felt increasingly lucky to have any work at all."

Remote employees were likely picking up extra work, even if it was irrelevant to their role, to prove their value.

And that feeling can be quanitifed. The Office for National Statistics reported that 21% of adults experienced some form of depression in early 2021. Pre-pandemic, it was just 10%.

The Eisenhower Matrix can help you tackle some of these issues.

"Focusing on what really matters is the root of everything," said our Head of Leadership and Management, Andrew Wallbridge. "It helps you avoid the trivia that inevitably comes along. 

"Some people filter and prioritise naturally, but some need a tool to act as that external filter. The Eisenhower does this perfectly."

Even better, it doesn't require specialist technology to work effectively. You can use Word, Excel, or even a free Trello account, to:

  • Monitor and measure the importance and urgency of the work at hand
  • Stave off employee burnout by focusing their time on relevant priorities, that draw on their specialist abilities
  • Unite your team and apprentices to work towards a common goal, with the right priorities in place

There are numerous free Eisenhower Matrix templates to download online. There is even an Eisenhower Matrix app to help you manage workload conveniently.

"When completing work on my Level 4 Management apprenticeship, my tutor Sue Hampson, taught me about Eisenhower's Matrix for workload Management. Sue explained how to use it and how I would implement it in my duty manager role. I have now finished my qualification and can say I use Eisenhower's Matrix on a weekly basis to prioritise my workload and I find it very beneficial."

Thomas Bradley, Aneurin Leisure Trust

Why did Eisenhower care about time management?

A one-time United States Army general and World War II Allied Forces Supreme Commander, Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States. He was a high-stakes decision-maker, under time pressure.

He developed the urgent/important system to decipher between the urgent and distracting tasks at hand, siphoning off the ones that didn't need his immediate attention.

“I have two kinds of problems," he said, "the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”

 

Who needs the Eisenhower Matrix?

Anyone can use the Eisenhower Decision Matrix, (or the Eisenhower Priority Matrix as it's sometimes called).

It's a particularly useful tool for managers organising the task list of their team, and individuals grappling with their own workload.

If you see yourself in the following list, it's likely the Eisenhower Matrix is the remedy you've been looking for:

  • You have trouble saying 'no' when colleagues ask for help
  • Your to-do list only grows, never shrinks
  • You are busy and unavailable
  • You see little return on investment. You and your team give it their all, but it doesn't translate into your goals
  • You have few personal accomplishments that demonstrate the value of your hard work
  • You are short of time, skipping lunch breaks, or working late in the evening just to get it all done
  • You are feeling burnt out, have no energy or feel stressed

How does it work?

It asks you to categorise tasks into four quadrants. Important versus unimportant, and urgent versus non-urgent, using this table:

the eisenhow matrix diagram

Eisenhower's four quadrants give you a method of breaking down the requirements and purpose of every task. It helps you to channel your energy effectively, get more done, and meet your long-term goals.

Once you've got a handle on the Matrix works, add each task into one of the four quadrants.

Here's how each quadrant applies to your tasks and workload.

Urgent and important

If a task is both urgent and important, it falls into the first quadrant, 'do'.

They are tasks with two critical characteristics:

  • There are clear deadlines
  • There are consequences for not taking immediate action

Examples of Eisenhower's urgent and important tasks are:

  • Timely completion of reviews
  • Focusing on your apprentices approaching their exams or programme completion date
  • Submitting expenses within required timescales
  • Providing feedback to workers in a timely manner
  • Responding to certain emails
  • Taking a lunch break

If the workload is falling overwhelmingly in quadrant one (do), that's quite a stressful space to exist in. To ease the pressure, you can:

  • Spend time planning the workload
  • Plan for problems - why does urgent work keep arising? What process can you put in place to give the worker more breathing room?
  • Review where the work comes from. Is a skills gap in another department causing urgent, important work for you? For example, the skills your worker is learning via their apprenticeship might be needed elsewhere too

Important, but not urgent

If a task is important, but not urgent, it means you have more time to do it. These tasks can be scheduled for your attention later.

You can identify scheduled tasks because:

  • They have no set deadline
  • But when completed, they will bring you closer to your objectives and goals

Examples of Eisenhower's scheduled tasks are:

The tasks in quadrant two (schedule), are usually relevant and important for your overarching business goals. The lack of a deadline means they can be put off, indefinitely and be trampled on by quadrant one.

Assign dates to these tasks if you can.

Urgent, but not important

If there's an immediate need for a task, but it's not a task relevant to your role, or you don't have the skills to do it, it can be delegated.

Blanket rule - if it's outside of your skillset, but it needs doing right now, hand it to someone with the right abilities.

Can apprentices use the Eisenhower matrix?

Yes. Apprenticeship managers can encourage their apprentices to use the Matrix to help them balance their studies and job.

Not important and not urgent

These tasks don't help you reach your goals and have no deadline.

These fall into the 'delete' category. You don't have to do them unless your manager encourages you to, and that's the end of it.

There is a tricky element to the delete quadrant. You need to learn to say 'no' to tasks, first to yourself and then to others.

You also need to encourage your direct reports to come to you with tasks allocated to them by others, that they feel are not important, or urgent, before agreeing to them.

Ploughing on, regardless, means you're not aligned with the goals of your team and company. You're prevented from providing true value to your organisation and your people.

Can the Eisenhower Matrix be used as a management tool?

Yes. Managers, (and apprenticeship managers in particular), need to be adept delegators. The third Eisenhower Matrix quadrant will become familiar territory.

You need to have a clear view of the overarching business goal and the purpose of your team. Why is this worker doing an apprenticeship? What business goals are they trying to fulfil? Does this task help them to meet that business goal?

Those three questions will help you swiftly spot urgent, but unimportant projects on your apprentice's to-do list. When it's in your sights, move it along to someone better equipped.

Reassigning work is one of the hardest skills to learn. Read our art of delegation guide to learn more.

How to use the Eisenhower Matrix at work

Ask your team to log what they spend their time on during one week. Use Excel to create a simple table, naming the task and the time they spent on it.

Collect all the data into one spreadsheet and work through the list, marking up which quadrant the task falls into. That initial assessment will help you to diagnose the productivity of your team and discover where the bottlenecks are.

Show your team how to create an Eisenhower Matrix. Encourage them to use it, and continuously evaluate and analyse which quadrant is doing the heavy lifting. Encourage them to speak up when the going gets tough and help them prioritise.

Top tips for maintaining a personal Eisenhower Matrix

  1. Putting things on a to-do list frees your mind, but always question what is worth doing first before it goes on the list.
  2. Limit yourself to no more than eight tasks per quadrant. Before adding another one, complete the most important one first. It is not about collecting but finishing tasks.
  3. You should always maintain only one list for both business and private tasks. That way you will never be able to complain about not having done anything for your family or yourself at the end of the day.
  4. Do not let you or others distract you. Do not let others define your priority. Plan in the morning, then work on your stuff. And in the end, enjoy the feeling of completion.
  5. Finally, try not to procrastinate that much. Not even by over-managing your to-dos