Advertising

Last Updated on November 26, 2020

How to Use the Prioritization Matrix When Every Task is #1

How to Use the Prioritization Matrix When Every Task is #1
Advertising

It takes being productive to get things done correctly and on time. So how do you know which tasks are essential and which can wait? The answer is in the Prioritization Matrix, also known as the Eisenhower Matrix.

The matrix took its name after Dwight David Eisenhower.

Eisenhower was a general in the US army and the 34th President of the United States from 1953 to 1961. As a five-star general and a Supreme Commander in the US Army, he drafted the strategy for an Allied invasion of Europe.[1]

Eisenhower had to make tough decisions every time about which tasks to prioritize out of many he needed to focus on daily. So, he came up with the famous Eisenhower Matrix, or the Prioritization Matrix.

What Is the Prioritization Matrix?

The Prioritization Matrix is a tool for rating your tasks based on urgency. It helps you know the critical activities and those tasks that you should bypass and can be useful in project management, small businesses, or personal tasks.

Eisenhower famously said of the matrix:

“Most tasks that are urgent are not important, and most tasks that are important are not urgent.”

This quote became the maxim for Eisenhower in managing his time.

There are four quadrants in the Prioritization Matrix, which help in comparing choices of what to do first and last, allowing you to prioritize projects and create strategic plan[2].

Advertising

Eisenhower Matrix Template

    The quadrants are:

    • Do
    • Schedule
    • Delegate
    • Eliminate

    Do

    Do is the first quadrant in the Prioritization Matrix, and it incorporates important activities. That is, those tasks you need to carry out urgently — crises, deadlines, and issues that need your urgent attention and are highly relevant to your life mission.

    Hw do you know which task falls into this quadrant?

    Start by analyzing your priorities, and then establish if it falls within the ‘do it now’ criteria. If the task is achievable within a day, or within 24 to 48 hours, it’s urgent.

    Another approach you can adopt in prioritizing tasks in this category is to adopt the “eat the frog” principle by Mark Twain. This principle recommends that you do the most urgent activities as soon as you wake up.

    Here’s a practical example.

    Let’s say you need to draft a content strategy and submit a report to your manager. It’s Saturday, and the deadline for submission is Monday. Can we say the activity is urgent? Definitely!

    Schedule

    The second quadrant of the prioritization matrix is Schedule. The Prioritization Matrix classifies tasks in this category as important but not that urgent.

    They are long-term objectives and tasks with no immediate deadline. Those tasks could include meditation, journaling, studying, family time, and exercising.

    You can plan out activities in this quadrant for some other period. For instance, you should exercise for good health, but you can allocate time to do it.

    Advertising

    Schedule these activities in such a way that they don’t transfer to the “Do” or “Urgent” quadrant. Ensure you have sufficient time to carry them out.

    Delegate

    The third quadrant of the prioritization matrix is Delegate.

    These tasks are not important to you but are quite urgent for others. This is where teamwork comes into play.

    You can technically perform tasks in this category, but it makes sense to delegate them. Delegating tasks will ensure you have more time to pursue activities in your first two quadrants.

    You should also monitor the tasks you have delegated. It will only amount to a sheer waste of time if you don’t have a tracking system for delegated tasks.

    Eliminate

    The last quadrant highlights your productivity killers. They are tasks that are not important to your goals and not urgent. The only way to boost your productivity is to eliminate them.

    Some examples are constantly checking your phone, watching movies, or playing video games.

    They could also be bad habits that you need to identify and delete from your daily and weekly schedule.

    Successful people have learned how to prioritize and stick to what’s important. They have learned to find a better person for a task or eliminate less significant tasks.

    Let’s consider two inspiring personalities that have designed their prioritization system.

    Advertising

    Warren Buffet developed a two-list prioritization model to determine which task deserves his best attention. The bottom line is bypassing things that are important and useful but not top of the priorities.

    Mark Ford, a business advisor, marketer, self-made millionaire, and author devised his strategy:

    “Start work on the most crucial priority, take a break, work on the second most important task, take a break, then sort out the less important activities and any tasks he received from other individuals by afternoon.” [3]

    How to Use The Prioritization Matrix

    Using the Prioritization Matrix can be tricky if you’re new at it, but by following a few simple steps, you can learn to utilize it in the best way possible.

    1. List and Rank Your Priorities

    Highlight all the tasks you need to carry out in a day. Then, classify them with weighted criteria based on urgency and importance.

    Identify any activity that requires prompt action. I’m referring to a task that if you don’t complete that day, it could produce a grave consequence. For instance, if you don’t submit your content strategy, other content writers cannot work. It means you need to check for high-priority dependencies.

    2. Define the Value

    The next step is to examine the importance and assess which of them impacts your business or organization the most. As a rule of thumb, you can check which tasks possess higher priority over others. For instance, you need to attend to client’s requirements before you take care of any internal work.

    You can also estimate value by examining how the task impacts the people and customers in the organization. In a nutshell, the more impact a task has on people or the organization, the higher the priority.

    3. Take out the Most Challenging Task

    Procrastination is not a symptom of laziness, but avoidance is. The truth is that you will typically avoid tasks you don’t want to do. The former CEO of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein, once said he would take out the most dreaded task first thing when he got to the office.

    Brian Tracy called these tasks the frogs you need to eat. That will remove the nagging dread, which mounts pressure on you when you postpone necessary tasks[4]. This is where the Prioritization Matrix can help; eat the “Do” frogs immediately.

    Advertising

    If you need help overcoming procrastination, check out this article.

    4. Know What’s Important to You

    As long as you are in this cosmos, you will always encounter different choices that may be contradictory to your goals. For instance, a fantastic promotion that requires excessive travel will isolate you from important relationships. If you are not priority-conscious, you may accept it, even though your family is your priority.

    Therefore, it makes sense to identify what is important to you and to prepare yourself not to compromise those important things for immediate pleasure or gain.

    Yogi Berra captioned it this way:

    “If you do not know your destination, you might end up somewhere else.”

    5. Establish Regular “No Work” Time

    YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki established a rule not to check her emails between 6 pm and 9 pm. According to a CNN Business report, she was the first woman to request maternity leave when Google just got started. She prioritizes dinner time with her family despite being the CEO of YouTube[5].

    Is it possible to cut out time for our relationships and interests outside of work?

    Of course, and that’s why you need to set out your “no work” time. This approach will enable you to renew your energy levels for the next task. Also, you will be in the best position to introspect as you are not in your usual work zone.

    6. Know When to Stop

    You can achieve everything on your list sometimes. After you have prioritized your workload and assessed your estimates, remove the remaining tasks from your priority list and focus on your most urgent and important tasks.

    Conclusion

    It’s not enough to be successful at work. Ensure you make out time for your family and an important relationship in your life.

    Advertising

    Getting started and finding time may be tricky, but with some practice using the Prioritization Matrix, you’ll find that you are more productive and better able to divide your time between the things that are important to you.

    More Tips on Prioritizing

    Featured photo credit: William Iven via unsplash.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    Leon Ho

    Founder & CEO of Lifehack

    A Complete Guide to Goal Setting for Personal Success How to Get Motivated Every Day When You Wake Up Can’t Focus? The Mistake You’re Making and How to Focus Better 17 Traits That Make a Successful Person Stand out from the Crowd What Is Creativity? We All Have It, and Need It

    Trending in Focus

    1 5 Simple Steps to Creating a Productive Daily Schedule 2 Can’t Focus? The Mistake You’re Making and How to Focus Better 3 7 Best Noise-Canceling Headphones For Productivity Boost 4 Why Making Yourself a Priority Boosts Your Productivity 5 How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising

    Published on August 3, 2021

    5 Simple Steps to Creating a Productive Daily Schedule

    5 Simple Steps to Creating a Productive Daily Schedule
    Advertising

    These days, it’s harder than ever to focus on your daily tasks and stay productive. There’s just too much going on around us. Between endless social media notifications, mountains of emails, and the latest must-watch content on countless streaming media services, staying focused isn’t easy. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to maintain a productive daily schedule.

    You might be shocked to find out that there are some simple tricks you can use to take back control of your day and get everything done. It all begins with organization. If you plan out your days in the right way—taking distractions into account in advance—you can eliminate some of the unexpected diversions that rob you of productivity.

    Of course, you’ve got to commit yourself to following a schedule every day. And if you aren’t willing or able to do that, you can stop reading right here.

    But if you are willing to learn what it takes to build a productive daily schedule, you’ve come to the right place. We’re going to go over the five simple steps you can use to maximize your output, eliminate wasted time, and work at peak efficiency every day. If you’re ready to take back control of your day, let’s get started.

    1. Discover Your Optimal Work Schedule

    Before you can decide how to make the best possible use of your day, you need to understand how your physiology and personal work style play a role in your productivity.

    For example, if you’re a morning person, it might be best for you to put your most important tasks right up front in your daily schedule. Conversely, it would be a disaster to leave those things for the end of the day.

    But you can even go further than that.

    Advertising

    To discover your optimal work schedule, you must first collect some data. Start by tracking your work habits (whatever they currently are) for about two to three weeks. Make note of the times of the day when you get the most done, and log any external distractions that may be interfering in your work. The idea is to discover when you’re at your natural energy peak and filter out external factors working against you.

    This accomplishes two things. First, it will help you to zero in on your most productive hours. Second, it will identify which distractions rob you of the most time. And once you know those two things, you will be in a much better position to build a schedule that maximizes your productivity.

    2. Block Off Your Productive Time

    After you’ve figured out what times of day are the most productive for you, the next step in creating your new schedule is to block off that time and reserve it for your most important work—and by blocking it off, I mean you have to arrange for those times to be distraction-free and preserved completely for working.

    If that means you have to configure your Wi-Fi to shut off during those hours to keep from falling down the internet rabbit hole, so be it. If you have to set an auto-responder in your email to let everyone know they’ll have to wait for a response at a later date, do it. If you’ve got to turn to a time-locking app to prevent you from taking too many smartphone breaks, that’s fine, too.

    In short, you need to create an environment where you can concentrate on the tasks at hand and see to it that you only have the tools you need to complete those tasks. Then, you can schedule your most important work each day into those time slots and you can be reasonably sure you’ll get all of it done.

    If you think that’s extreme, let me assure you, it isn’t—and I can demonstrate why.

    Just look at the repeated studies that indicate that the average worker is only productive for about three hours per day.[1] Now, go ahead and look back at your data from step one. I’d wager that you came up with average daily productivity that’s somewhere close to that number.

    Advertising

    If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be reading an article looking for the path to a more productive schedule. You’d be writing one, instead.

    In any case, you should now understand why it’s so critical to jealously guard your most productive time in this way. By maximizing what you get done in those hours, you’re maximizing your total output. It’s that simple.

    3. Schedule Appropriate Break Times

    There is one thing—and one thing only—that you should allow to interrupt your most productive time: periodic breaks. As strange as it might sound, we tend to be most productive when we work in sprints. And even stranger, statistical analysis reveals that the ideal length of each work sprint is 52 minutes, followed by a 17-minute break.[2]

    Yes, you read that right. And yes, this means you should allocate almost an hour of your standard 8-hour workday to doing non-work-related tasks. It will allow you to focus better during your work sprints and help you get more done. So, you don’t even have to feel guilty about it!

    The best part is that this also holds during your less productive hours. That means you won’t be wasting the time before and after your peak productivity hours. And while you won’t be at peak efficiency, you’ll still get more done than you once did.

    Before we move on, you might be wondering: isn’t this just the Pomodoro Technique by another name? The answer is—sort of.

    That particular technique calls for working in shorter sprints—25 minutes, in fact—with even shorter breaks in between them. While it may boost productivity as well, it’s also quite difficult to build a schedule around. The reason for that is obvious: most peoples’ workdays include things like mandatory meetings and check-ins that last longer than 25 minutes (whether your schedule should include these is another matter we’ll get to momentarily). That means you’ll be trying to carve up your time in a way that can’t help but become inefficient.

    Advertising

    With a sprint time closer to a full hour, your options increase. You can cluster your 15-minute and half-hour meetings together to get them out of the way during one of your less productive hours and cluster your task-filled sprints together in your most productive periods. And once you get a handle on how long your average task length is, you’ll come to see why this works out well compared to the Pomodoro approach.

    4. Schedule Availabilities in the Shortest Possible Windows

    The trouble with what we’ve covered so far is that you won’t be working in a vacuum. That means co-workers, family members, and even phone scammers are going to do everything they can to interrupt your days and harm your productivity. They don’t mean to do it—except the phone scammers, of course—but the effect is the same either way.

    To accommodate this, you’re going to have to schedule time in your day to deal with things like phone calls, face-to-face conversations, and email correspondence. But there are two tricks that can help you tame all of those time-draining tasks and keep them from overwhelming your day.

    The first is to set aside specific times to handle such tasks and to let everyone around you know that you won’t be available at any other time. By doing this, you’re pre-empting many of the distractions that you’d otherwise have to deal with. If you warn others about your availability times in advance, you don’t have to feel bad about ignoring calls and emails as they come in—or sending them straight to voicemail or an auto-reply.

    But none of that will stop people from making demands on your time, anyway. After all, you can’t eliminate every meeting from your schedule—even though there’s strong evidence to suggest you should try.[3] But what you can do is change the default conditions of those meeting requests.

    To wit: if you have a calendar system where people can request meetings with you, try lowering the default meeting time in that system. This is possible in Google Calendar as well as in Microsoft Outlook, and likely other scheduling apps, too. Change your default to the shortest time that makes sense for your specific needs. For Elon Musk, this translates into 5-minute windows.[4] For the rest of us, something like ten or fifteen minutes should suffice.

    The reason this works is that it forces people requesting your time to ask for more of it, instead of consuming it by default. And guess what? You’ll likely find that most people either won’t bother to ask or even notice that you’ve shortened your availability windows. That’s an instant time-saver for you.

    Advertising

    5. Avoid Multitasking at all Costs

    Even though you may believe yourself to be an all-star multitasker, I have bad news for you—you’re not. Nobody is. Multiple studies have proven this again and again.[5] And the more you try to do it, the less efficient you’ll become. And you’re also likely to increase the number of errors you make in your work and have to waste even more time cleaning up your own mess.

    From a daily scheduling perspective, the takeaway here is obvious. It’s that you should try to find a place in your schedule for every single necessary task you’re aware of, and try to avoid the temptation to squeeze unscheduled tasks into the mix. But you can do even better than that.

    If you examine the reason that we humans are so bad at multitasking, you’ll find that it’s because our brains struggle to navigate switching between different types of tasks. This creates an effect that researchers call a switching cost, which means we unconsciously waste time fumbling to adapt to each new task. In other words, trying to complete two tasks at the same time will always take longer than doing them in succession.

    You can use this knowledge to your advantage by scheduling similar tasks back-to-back in your individual work sprints. When you do, you’ll find that you’ll get more things done in each time window and waste much less time. When you add that time savings up over the course of a day, it’s a bigger deal than you think. Research indicates that switching costs rob us of up to 40% of our productivity, so reorganizing your task list in this way might almost double your productivity.[6]

    Final Thoughts

    If you’ve made it this far, then you should now know how to build yourself a daily schedule that maximizes your productivity. And if you can manage to stick to that schedule even as the world around you tries its best to get in your way, you’ll have a major advantage over your peers.

    Just try not to gloat when you wrap up your work early and get back to your life while everyone else struggles to keep up. Instead, you should offer them your help with getting their schedules under control. They’ll be certain to appreciate some tips from an acknowledged expert.

    More Tips on Daily Planning

    Featured photo credit: Eric Rothermel via unsplash.com

    Advertising

    Reference

    Read Next