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How to be More Productive By Using the Eisenhower Box

How to be More Productive By Using the Eisenhower Box

Dwight Eisenhower lived one of the most productive lives you can imagine.

Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States, serving two terms from 1953 to 1961. During his time in office, he launched programs that directly led to the development of the Interstate Highway System in the United States, the launch of the internet (DARPA), the exploration of space (NASA), and the peaceful use of alternative energy sources (Atomic Energy Act).

Before becoming president, Eisenhower was a five-star general in the United States Army, served as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II, and was responsible for planning and executing invasions of North Africa, France, and Germany.

At other points along the way, he served as President of Columbia University, became the first Supreme Commander of NATO, and somehow found time to pursue hobbies like golfing and oil painting.

Eisenhower had an incredible ability to sustain his productivity not just for weeks or months, but for decades. And for that reason, it is no surprise that his methods for time management, task management, and productivity have been studied by many people.

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His most famous productivity strategy is known as the Eisenhower Box and it’s a simple decision-making tool that you can use right now. Let’s talk about how to be more productive and how Eisenhower’s strategy works.

The Eisenhower Box: How to be more productive

Eisenhower’s strategy for taking action and organizing tasks is simple. Using the decision matrix below, you will separate your actions based on four possibilities:

  1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately)
  2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later)
  3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else)
  4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate)

The great thing about this matrix is that it can be used for broad productivity plans (“How should I spend my time each week?”) and for smaller, daily plans (“What should I do today?”).

Here is an example of what my Eisenhower Box looks like for today:

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eisenhower-box

    Note: I created a spreadsheet template of the Eisenhower Box. You can download that spreadsheet template for your own use at the bottom of this article.

    The Difference between urgent and important

    Urgent tasks are things that you feel you need to react to: emails, phone calls, texts, news stories. Meanwhile, in the words of Brett McKay, “Important tasks are things that contribute to our long-term mission, values, and goals.”

    Separating these differences is simple enough to do once, but doing so continually can be tough. The reason I like Eisenhower’s method is that it provides a clear framework for making the decisions over and over again. And, like anything in life, consistency is the hard part.

    Here are some other observations I’ve made from using this method.

    Elimination before optimization

    A few years ago, I was reading about computer programming when I came across an interesting quote by Kevlin Henney: “There is no code faster than no code.”

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    In other words, the fastest way to get something done—whether it is having a computer read a line of code or crossing a task off your to-do list—is to eliminate that task entirely. There is no faster way to do something than not doing it at all. That should not be seen as a reason to be lazy, but rather a suggestion to force yourself to make hard decisions and delete any task that does not lead you toward your mission, your values, and your goals.

    Too often, we use productivity, time management, and optimization as an excuse to avoid the really difficult question: “Do I actually need to be doing this?” It is much easier to remain busy and tell yourself that you just need to be a little more efficient or to “work a little later tonight” than to endure the pain of eliminating a task that you are comfortable with doing, but that isn’t the best use of your time.

    As Tim Ferriss says, “Being busy is a form of laziness—lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.”

    I find that the Eisenhower Box is particularly useful because it pushes me to question whether an action is really necessary, which means I’m more likely to move tasks to the “Delete” quadrant rather than mindlessly repeating them. And to be honest, if you simply eliminated all of the things you waste time on each day then you probably wouldn’t need any tips on how to be more productive at the things that matter.

    Does this help me accomplish my goal?

    One final note: it can be hard to eliminate time wasting activities if you aren’t sure what you are working toward. In my experience, there are two questions that can help clarify the entire process behind the Eisenhower method:

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    1. What am I working toward?
    2. What are the core values that drive my life?

    These are questions that I have asked myself in my Annual Review and my Integrity Report. Answering these questions has helped me clarify the categories for certain tasks in my life. Deciding which tasks to do and which tasks to delete becomes much easier when you are clear about what is important to you.

    The Eisenhower Box isn’t a perfect strategy, but I have found it to be a useful decision-making tool for increasing my productivity and eliminating the behaviors that take up mental energy, waste time, and rarely move me toward my goals. I hope you’ll find it useful too.

    Free Download: I created a spreadsheet template of the Eisenhower Box that you can download and use whenever you want to improve your productivity and eliminate time wasting activities. Click here to download the spreadsheet now.

    Sources
    1. Thanks to Brett McKay at The Art of Manliness for his post on the Eisenhower Box.
    2. The term “highest and best use” is a real estate concept for finding the most valuable use of a piece of property. My friend Mark Heckmann is a fan of using the phrase for personal time management and I like it too. Thanks Mark!
    3. For other useful productivity tips, check out this article summarizing Scott Hansleman’s work.

    This article was originally published on JamesClear.com.

    Featured photo credit: U.S. Embassy New Delhi via flickr.com

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    James Clear

    James Clear is the author of Atomic Habits. He shares self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research.

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    Last Updated on September 24, 2020

    11 Things You Should Minimize for a Better Life

    11 Things You Should Minimize for a Better Life

    Ever heard the statement less is more? Is that a reality in your life or is that an area you are struggling with? Below are 11 different areas you can look at in your life to start to reduce as you focus on building a better life.

    Let’s get to it:

    Your Stuff

    I call it stuff vs possessions. Stuff is what adds clutter in your life. It could be shoes, curios from the cute store in your town or excess appliances you need to throw out but never do. What is it that is overtaking your house that if you moved away you wouldn’t need it at all? Plan a Sunday afternoon throw out session. If throwing out doesn’t sit right then give it away to goodwill.

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    Your Acquaintances

    How many people are you interacting with throughout the week that don’t leave you feeling good about yourself? Who inspires you? Spend time with those people. Too often we keep people in our lives that we are no longer a fit for. Having too many old acquaintances adds to the excess in your life. If the relationship isn’t a win-win for you both then take a step back and focus on those that do.

    Your Goals

    Motivated to write out your list of goal for the next month or 3 months? That is awesome. Just a few works of caution. Don’t write down too many. Often people write down over ten goals. The brain can only remember so much and the reality is you won’t get to them all. I suggest you look at your goals with the mindset of single digits. No more than ten, but ideally less than five. Keep the list focused and realistic.

    Your Commitments

    A new favorite buzz saying in the self-help world is “No is the new Yes”. Take a moment to think about that saying. If you started saying no more how would your week and life look? Would you have more time to commit to the important goals and people in your life? Start to practice saying No when a request comes your way that you don’t want to do. If that feels too harsh try responding with these words “Let me get back to you”. Go away and come back with a no when you are in stronger mindset to say that.

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    Your Multitasking

    I am giving you permission to stop multitasking. We used to be told that multitasking was a good practice. We look so busy and aren’t we getting a lot done? In fact, no. Multitasking isn’t possible with the way our brain is wired. We need to focus on one key thing and keep our attention on that item until it is complete.

    Your Newsfeed

    I consider all the information from the Internet that is being feed into our smartphone, laptop and brain as “the newsfeed.” It doesn’t add to having more knowledge, it adds to information overload. Build time in your day or week when you are completely offline. I recommend turning your wireless off or setting your smart phone to airplane mode.

    Your Cards

    Open up your wallet and take a look inside. What is in it? For most of us it is more than one store, charge or loyalty card. Too many cards add to extra spending, bills and lack of clarity of where our money goes. Look at what cards you truly need and use. Get rid of the rest (scissors work!).

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    Your Mail

    Both the old style (postal) and your email inbox are areas to minimize. Look at ways to get off catalogs or reduce the magazine subscriptions as you never read all of them anyway. Figure out what mail, e.g. bank statements, can be changed to digital mail only. Try the same with your inbox. Sites like unroll.me can tell you how many email newsletters you are subscribed to and you can take your name off the list that you know longer need.

    Your Sitting Time

    Too much time in front of the screen is not good for the posture and health of your body. Try setting a timer so every 50 minutes you get up and stretch or go for a five minute walk. We don’t realize how bad our posture is when we sit for long periods of time. The studies on sitting disease are what led to standing and walking desks to be invented. If your office doesn’t have that get into a regular habit to stand and walk often in your day.

    Too much time by yourself can led the mind to wander. When the mind wanders it will often return with negative thoughts and beliefs. While a walk by yourself and some downtime is rejuvenating take notice if you start to feel un- inspired or a little sad and make sure you aren’t spending too much time in your own company. This is especially important for those of us who work from home. Make sure to have people interaction throughout your day.

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    Your Lack of Belief

    If you want to make a change or achieve a goal in your life you need to truly, 100 percent believe you can. If you don’t believe in yourself then why should anyone else?

    The difference between a successful person and someone struggling can be as simple as a mindset switch to believe that they will succeed.

    What areas can you minimize to create more happiness, focus and productivity in your life? Implement just a handful from the list and you will find that the mindset of ‘Less is More’ will be what leads you on the path to a better life!

    Featured photo credit: Samantha Gades via unsplash.com

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