How to drive productivity with the Eisenhower matrix

How to Increase Productivity Without Increasing Stress Header Image 1 840x420 - How to drive productivity with the Eisenhower matrix

What can the 34th President of the United States tell you that will help you get on top of that never ending to-do list?

You’d be forgiven for thinking the best plan is just to switch your phone to silent and roll your sleeves up – but in actual fact, Dwight Eisenhower had another plan, one that involved a simple but extremely effective prioritisation system.

The ‘Eisenhower Matrix’ (or ‘Urgent-Important’ matrix as it’s sometimes known) is exactly that.

Oh, and if you think you’re busy, don’t worry – aside from being a 5-star WWII general and Supreme Commander of NATO Allied Forces in Europe, Eisenhower was also a 2 term US President and President of a prestigious US university; although none of this stopped him enjoying daily golf sessions and producing over 200 oil paintings. It’s safe to say your time is in good hands.

What is the Eisenhower matrix?

In essence, the Eisenhower Matrix is one large square divided equally into 4 more squares, or quadrants. These quadrants are then labelled, left to right, top to bottom as follows:

  1. Do
  2. Plan
  3. Delegate
  4. Eliminate

Eisenhower matrix

As you can see, the upper quadrants are labelled ‘important’ and the lower ones ‘not important’ – with the left hand quadrants labelled ‘urgent’ and the right most labelled ‘not urgent’.

Now, the next step in turbo-charging your productivity in a presidential manner comes with quickly categorising the tasks on your to-do list…

Categorising your tasks using the Eisenhower matrix

There’s no prescriptive way of categorising tasks on your to-do list, the same task that’s important for you might be irrelevant to someone else, so you have to come at the matrix from your point of view.

You can start by approaching your list with one question:

Is this task urgent?

Your answer decides whether the task goes into the ‘urgent’ or ‘not urgent’ column. Next question:

Is this task important?

This next answer decides whether the task goes into the ‘important’ or ‘not important’ row. When you’ve decided, your tasks has now landed in one of the quadrants, and can be treated as follows…

The different quadrants of the Eisenhower matrix

  1. Do

This is the most pressing of the quadrants – as both ‘urgent’ and ‘important’ combine to advise that you ‘do it first’!

Don’t forget, these are subjective – so doing the ironing might not usually appear in this quadrant – but if you don’t have any ironed shirts before a big interview, then ironing suddenly becomes an urgent-important task.

A good way to consider if your tasks belongs in this quadrant is to ask yourself what the impact or knock-on impact would be if it’s not done. If it’s immediately critical to life, family, career or health then its place in the ‘do’ quadrant is probably well justified.

Oh – and if you hadn’t already assumed, these tasks need to be done as soon as is physically possible, prioritised over everything else on the list.

  1. Plan

If your task is important but not immediately urgent, the this second quadrant – ‘plan’ – is the perfect home for it.

A lot of life’s tasks are important but don’t need to be done immediately as a priority. Eating, exercising, spending time with loved ones – and a lot of professional tasks fall into this area too – the marketing plan for next financial year, putting together a brief for a client you’ll meet next month, and so forth.

Hence, planning when to do them should be your next step. Look at the diary, work out when they can be done around other commitments and fit them in. Depending on how your manage your diary, these will either be done when the time comes around – or they’ll end up being pushed back until they are bumped forward into the ‘urgent-important’ box.

  1. Delegate

Tasks that are ‘urgent’ but ‘not important’ can be a real drain on your time – and, if we can assume that virtually everyone owns a mobile phone now, your pocket sized companion is the perfect example of this:

You’re working on an important task and the phone rings – something that’s very difficult to ignore.

On the other end of the phone, a colleague, a friend, a telemarketing company… all of which are going to take you further away from completing that ‘urgent-important’ task.

So what do you do? The answer, as far as is possible, is to delegate the task.

Now, President Eisenhower probably wasn’t short of people who would answer the White House phone for him, but you don’t have to have staff to take advantage of delegation. Could you set your voicemail? Could you have your mobile calls rooted to a colleagues phone while you’re hard at work? Could you set up a rule for incoming emails?

Delegating to systems is sometimes just as useful as having someone who’ll pick up the work on your behalf.

  1. Eliminate

If a task is ‘not important’ and ‘not urgent’ then it probably doesn’t have a place in your day.

Be careful though, because there are some leisure activities that might not seem important, but are actually a vital part of a work-life balance.

So, reading the news might give you needed 5 minute break away from your job – but if you find yourself mindlessly sucked into reading every news story you can find out of nothing more than habit then this is very much ‘not important’ and ‘not urgent’ – and needs eliminating, as it does nothing more than eat up your precious time.

How do your days and weeks play out?

You’ve probably got a rough idea of how a day looks at the moment in terms of what can wait, what can’t, what’s ultra-pressing, what isn’t… etc.

However, our brains aren’t really great at being objective, which is why, to get a really good understanding of how the Eisenhower matrix can help you, you need to start recording everything you do.

Grab some post-its. Now, every time you change task, note down what you’re doing. At the end of the day, look back at these things with less ‘in the moment’ eyes – and ask yourself:

Was this important?

Was this urgent?

Then stick it on a printed out or drawn version of the matrix accordingly.

When you’ve got an idea of what your day entails, you can start adjusting accordingly. Finding a lot of ‘not important’ and ‘not urgent’ tasks? Great, your new found awareness means you’ve just freed up a bundle of time. Putting ‘important’ but ‘not urgent’ tasks before things that should be getting done immediately? Well now you can adjust.

Awareness is absolutely everything when it comes to productivity. When you understand what your behaviour looks like in a day, you can adjust it so that to-do list is worked through in the most effective way possible.

How to Get That Dream Promotion at Work

promotion 770x447 770x420 - How to Get That Dream Promotion at Work

It is a classic problem that most people experience at some point in their lives. You need, or want, a promotion. Maybe you need the money for debt help? Maybe you want the recognition? Maybe you’re bored in your current position and want more responsibility? No matter what the reason, we’re here to give you advice that might just make the different and get your that well-earned jump in your career!

  1. Work Hard

This might go without saying, but it will definitely help you if you are good at your job. But, this isn’t enough. You also have to be seen to be being very good at your job. This means you need to make sure you:

  • get credit for your ideas, initiative and quality work
  • arrive on time every day
  • don’t take excessive amounts of time off
  • show an interest in your work
  • work well with your colleagues

It is a good idea to have these attributes and attitudes from day one, but it is never too late to go for it. Don’t just ‘suck up’ to your boss either. Show yourself to be reliable and hard working with your colleagues as well, you never know when one of them may be in the position to promote you one day, or influence your bosses’ decision. Remember: it can be difficult to promote someone, no matter how talented they are, if they already aren’t respected by their future employees.

  1. Play Hard

Don’t go all-out crazy, but socialising is a very important aspect of a work-place environment. Go to office parties, and try to have lunch with your colleagues, or maybe an occasional pint or two. The better they know you as a person, the more supportive they will be to your advancement. Your boss is also much more likely to promote someone they know well, than someone they don’t.

You need to be careful, however, because you don’t want to become seen as simply a social-centre, rather than a respected member of a team. Too many office party hijinks, and your working reputation may be damaged.

  1. Educate Yourself

Some work places offer opportunities for professional development. Take these up as enthusiastically as you can! Even if your company doesn’t offer such opportunities, find some for yourself. Anything you can add to your CV or Cover Letter will help you chances.

Maybe learning a language, or becoming more financially savvy, is the key to your promotion? Evening, weekend, and online courses exist on all sorts of topics, from Russian, to Arabic, to Financial Know-How. Showing some initiative to improve yourself always looks great to employers.

  1. Be Confident

This can be easier said than done, but acting with confidence can make all the difference in the world. This will help you claim the credit you deserve when you do well, stand your ground if you find yourself needing ask for a promotion, and help you connect with your colleagues.

A great trick to being confident is to realise that no one is really all that confident. Everyone has their insecurities. Some great tips for improving your self-esteem include: avoiding negative self-talk, connecting with people who love you, focusing on the positives, and seeking support when you need it.

In terms of acting confident for a promotion, you may even want to think about enrolling in acting classes. If you can’t be confident, you can at least learn to act confident. Maybe you can think of someone confident who you respect and try to emulate them?

  1. Look elsewhere

If you really feel underappreciated, or underpaid, then don’t be afraid to look for work elsewhere. There is no point being loyal to a company who is not being loyal to you. Don’t act spiteful to your boss and colleagues, though; even if you do manage to get a job elsewhere. You never know when the networks you built during your years with them could be useful later down the line.

You never know, your boss might value you more than you think and offer to match, or raise, the salary being offered to you. So, it could be worth looking around, even if you would rather stay where you are.

  1. Ask for it

Sometimes a promotion opportunity might not be on the horizon, no matter how much your boss and colleagues like and respect you. But, if you have put in years of good service with a company, there is nothing to stop you asking your boss for a meeting to discuss your pay.

It might sound terrifying, but, often, the very act of taking the initiative, and knowing your worth can demonstrate your value to a company and convince your boss you are worth a pay-rise or promotion.

  1. Make it About the Company

This bring us to our second point: make that conversation all about what you bring to a company, rather than your needs. Your boss doesn’t need to know the details of your debt management plan, how expensive raising your child is, your DAS, or any other real reason you need the promotion. If anything, sharing your financial problems could lead your boss to question how responsible you are, or see you as a risk.

Tell your boss about all the great things you have done since you have joined the company. Talk about what you hope to do for the company should you be promoted: your plans and aims, and how you might achieve them. Most companies prefer hiring from within the company, so remember: you have an advantage, use it!

  1. Apply Formally

Whether you are applying internally, or externally; you’ve been told it’s just a formality; or even if your boss is your best mate. Always apply just as you would if you were an external candidate who really wanted the job. Put your best foot forward and sell yourself with an updated cover letter and CV.

You never know what is going on behind the scenes, and your boss might have to justify your promotion to their boss, or you might come up against an unexpectedly perfect external candidate. A lacklustre application will not appear very convincing, and you don’t want to risk putting anything to chance.