How to Use the Eisenhower Matrix for Radical Prioritization in Your Daily Life

There is no shortage of to-do list apps on the market. Many are free. I have used them all, I think.

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They all lack one thing, they do not help you clarify what is most important to you and help you stay on track with accomplishing what matters most. These apps can help you keep track of what is urgent, and most have a way to easily add items to your list. Using the apps may help you accomplish tasks, but they won’t help you accomplish what is most important.

Most people spend their time in a reactionary mode. However, with a little bit of planning, this can be changed.

Here are the steps:

1. Write down what is most important to you. This could be your family, your career, your faith, your education. The answer here may change as you walk through this exercise and that is ok. You only need a starting point.

As an example, mine would be my faith, marriage, children, and job.

2. Write down 3 things that you find yourself doing every day that is due to being reactive, rather than proactive. These will be your Quadrant 1 tasks. I’ll explain what these are later. Keep going.

3. Write down 3 things that you would like to do, which are essential to you. These will be your Quadrant 2 tasks.

4. Write down 3 things you did today or yesterday which came up and had to be attended to, but in retrospect someone else could have accomplished. These will be your Quadrant 3 tasks.

5. Write down 3 things you did today or yesterday that could have waited. These will be your Quadrant 4 tasks.

So what’s a Quadrant anyway? A Quadrant is a part of a 4 part matrix.

On the previous steps, you identified your tasks — each of these will be added to the Eisenhower Matrix, called here Radical Prioritization.

In a speech in 1954, President Eisenhower quoted Dr. J. Roscoe Miller who had said problems could be categorized as Urgent and Important. He went on to say that Urgent tasks are often not Important and the Important tasks are not Urgent.

Important tasks help us achieve life goals. This is why it is essential to keep your eye on what is most important to you. If you spend your time on tasks that are not in line with what is important to you, you will finish the day exhausted and frazzled, with little feeling of accomplishment.

Important tasks are where we should spend our time. These can include getting enough rest, spending quality time with family, helping your children with homework, saving money by cooking at home, working with high performers on your team.

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Urgent items are those that demand immediate attention. When there are too many of these in a day, I find myself drained.

These are the tasks that we tend to need to do quickly, the fire drills of the day. Often, these could have been avoided with focus on the important items first. And if not careful, the urgent items will consume the day. These could be dealing with a health issue that could have been avoided, not planning well and running late on a deadline, or dealing with a low performer on the team.

Most people spend their time on the Urgent, neglecting the Important.

Here’s how to change and flip your priorities.
1) Be deliberate about your daily choices.
2) Re-write your list daily.
3) Keep your list with you, review it 2–3 times during the day.

Evernote has a great template to use for this, you can use a sheet of plain paper with the four quadrants on them, or use the template below.

The goal of this exercise is to reduce the number of items in your Quadrant 1 box and focus on Quadrant 2 — what is Important, rather than the Urgent.

“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” 
— Dwight D. Eisenhower

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