How to Prioritize Your Time: The Eisenhower Matrix

Table of Contents

If you spend a bit of time on my channel, you’ll see that I am somehow able to dedicate and excel at a lot of things in the quest to become my best version and master each of my dimensions, physical, mental, occupational, and expressive.

This channel, which had 4 full-time employees, is something I’m able to run in only about 5 hours a week, a lot of what I can do today is a result of learning to work with my brain so I can sustainably achieve a high level of constant efficiency across the entire spectrum of things that I do.

Which you can see firsthand if you guys follow me on instagram, @NelsonQuest! 

Now it takes real experience to be able to shape the way we think and to learn how to work with ourselves, now then, when it comes to developing efficiency, if I could rewind the clock, there are a few systems, created by the great thinkers and doers across history, that I wish I had taken advantage of. One of those systems is The Eisenhower Matrix. Which I believe is one of the greatest overall systems not only for cultivating efficiency and getting things done, but for cultivating the right efficiency and getting the right things done. 

So without further adieu, let’s dive into the Eisenhower Matrix and see how this simple system can produce massive improvements in how we manage the most important aspect of who we are: the decisions that we make. 

In the words of one of JP Sartre

“We are the sum of our choices”

The Eisenhower Matrix was designed by former US President, Dwight Eisenhower, before being president, he served as the supreme commander of the allied forces during WW2 and later, supreme commander of all of NATO, over the course of his lifetime, I think it’s fair to say that he was faced with some of the most difficult decisions that any human being has ever had to make. And so The Eisenhower Matrix, also referred to as the “Urgent-important Matrix” was the system that he used to manage his entire decision-making process. 

Popularized and built upon by Stephen Covey in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, The Eisenhower Matrix is essentially 4 quadrants in which we organize our decisions and tasks:

  1. Urgent and Important
  2. Urgent and Not Important
  3. Not Urgent but Important
  4. Not Urgent and Not Important

We’ll go into detail about each quadrant in a minute, but first I want to discuss why this system is so effective.

You would think that it should be common sense for us to prioritize the Urgent and Important tasks first, and that’s what scholars used to think as well. In reality, there are two interesting forces at play here:

1. The mere urgency effect

A study published in 2018 called The Mere Urgency Effect observed that people have a tendency to be more drawn to tasks that have a perceived expiration date and therefore have a quicker payoff, than to important tasks that are usually harder to do and have a delayed payoff.

2. The principle of dominance

The Mere Urgency Effect is a direct violation of the Principle of Dominance, which is what we should really  be prioritizing. This principle of dominance basically dictates that we expect rational decision makers to choose the objectively dominant strategy, like working on important tasks even if they’re harder, since the payoffs are greater even if they come later.

So to put this all in simpler terms, the principle of dominance has us believe that we should naturally choose to work on the important tasks with bigger payoffs, but as we’re seeing more and more especially in the age of email and social media, we tend to instead work on stuff that has a quicker payoff, often to the detriment of what’s really in our best interest. 

The Eisenhower Matrix helps us better understand all of this, so that we can negate the “mere urgency effect” to instead make the “principle of dominance” the key principle through which we operate. If you’re interested in this topic, I cover it extensively throughout my hugely popular Dopamine Detox series. 

Ok, now let’s dive into the details of the Eisenhower matrix. 

As I’ve already mentioned, the Eisenhower Matrix is made up of 4 quadrants:

  1. Urgent and Important
  2. Urgent and Not Important
  3. Not Urgent but Important
  4. Not Urgent and Not Important
  5. Our goal is to sort our tasks into one of the four quadrants, each quadrant has a corresponding action that dictates how we should engage with them. I’m going to start with some relatable examples, then show examples of what my matrix would look like.

Our goal is to sort our tasks into one of the four quadrants, each quadrant has a corresponding action that dictates how we should engage with them. I’m going to start with some relatable examples, then show examples of what my matrix would look like.

So let’s start with a list of tasks and start sorting:

  • Finish tomorrow’s paper
  • Read a self-help book
  • Do the laundry
  • Respond to emails
  • Go to the gym
  • Work on a class project

Quadrant 1: urgent and important

These are the “Do now!” tasks, they have an immediate deadline and the task is one that we consider important. So here’s where we would put the task to Finish tomorrow’s paper. 

Quadrant 2: important, but not urgent

Quadrant 2 tasks are considered Important, but we don’t have to do them immediately. This is the planning quadrant, and we want to schedule the tasks listed here.

A good example of a Quadrant 2 task is the Class Project, let’s assume that this counts for a huge chunk of our grade but isn’t due for a couple of days or weeks.

Quadrant 2 tasks are ones that we want to stick on a calendar and actually do on the date that we’ve planned to do them, so that they don’t end up in Quadrant 1.

Quadrant 3: urgent, but not important

Quadrant 3 tasks need to be done immediately, but it’s not important that we do them ourselves, ideally, we want to delegate our Quadrant 3 tasks so that it frees up more time for us to do the tasks that are important to us, at least until we’re done putting out fires in Quadrant 1.

Respond to emails is a great example of “busy work” that our brains are drawn to when we have difficult things that we should really be focused on, like Finishing tomorrow’s paper.

If we know we’re on a time crunch, we could list it under Quadrant 2 and schedule it for a later time, or when you get to the point where it makes economic sense, you can hire someone to manage our emails, which is what I do. 

Laundry falls into Quadrant 2 as well, when you’re young and broke, it makes sense to do your laundry, but as soon as you get some resources, laundry, and really all of your chore related tasks, you should be delegating to a housekeeper.

If you still live with your mom and she sees that you’re busting your ass trying to create a better life for yourself, she’s probably not going to mind doing your laundry for you. I’m not ashamed to say that when I was 26 years old, I moved back in with my parents to not only cut costs, but to gain efficiencies, my mom saw that I was working 15 hour days and she had no problem doing my laundry and cooking all of my meals to help her boy out.  

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Quadrant 4: not urgent and not important

The final Quadrant, Quadrant 4, holds tasks that are Not Urgent and Not Important, these tasks are to be totally eliminated from our life, these are time wasters that contribute no value to us or our long term goals.

There are loads of tasks disguised as “busy work” that allow us to feel productive, without getting any actual meaningful work done. More often than not, Quadrant 4 tasks actually consume most of our time throughout the day, so we have to be extremely merciless when doing a purge.

A great example of this is Inbox Zero, by setting up certain filters in G-Mail and taking the time to unsubscribe from the hundreds of newsletters that we’re  mysteriously subscribed to, we can cut down the time we spend in our inbox. 

Another example here is Cooking dinner, while we certainly set up this task in Quadrant 2, we can also do a week’s worth of meal prep, instead of spending 1-2 hours every day cooking, if we prepared all of our meals over the weekend, we can spend just a few minutes every day heating them up in the microwave. 

So now we’ve got just one task left, Read a self help book, this is a fun one, depending on where you’re at on your journey, this may fall into any of the 4 quadrants, If you’re just starting out on your journey, you may consider this urgent and important and stick this in quadrant 1, If you’ve made some progress on your journey, this may be important but not urgent, so you can stick it in quadrant 2 and plan to read it over the weekend, if you’ve already read lots of self-help books, you may be better served by sticking the task in quadrant 3 and delegating it, what do I mean? well you could watch or read a summary of the book and instead focus on applying key points, if you’re where I’m at in the journey, most self-help books are a complete waste of time for me, and so they’d go into quadrant 4.

My Matrix

Now that we’ve discussed each of the 4 quadrants, I’ll show you an example of what my own Matrix would look like.

If I have a video shoot coming up, coming up with the content for the Script is one of my top priorities, this task is important to me and it has an immediate deadline, Quadrant 1. 

I sometimes meet with other business owners who want to partner with AgentFire, so preparing for those meetings is also a top priority for me, so also Quadrant 1. 

When I was just starting out, any bugs would automatically fall into Quadrant 1, with no employees and no money, I had to fix bugs myself, and each bug was literally a matter of life and death when it came to the survival of my business. In Quadrant 1 we can only react, and so keeping Quadrant 1 as free as possible is important in ensuring we have the bandwidth to deal with urgent-important tasks that have a tendency to pop up out of nowhere. Thankfully, these days, if a bug pops up, it goes into Quadrant 3 and gets delegated to my team of developers.

For my Quadrant 2, I sometimes hold local Speaking Conferences especially for the youth, I talk about a lot of what I discuss in these videos, creating the content for that presentation is something that’s very important to me, personally, but it doesn’t have to be done immediately.

The ability to master Quadrant 2 will help us learn how to plan a few steps ahead and avoid loading up our Quadrant 1, leading to less stress and more time to do quality work. 

Learning to leverage Quadrant 3 has been one of the biggest challenges, but also one of the most important skills I picked up as AgentFire started to grow, I started as a one-man business, and stayed that way for years, barely scraping by, but learning how to hire, trust, and manage others is what really allowed me to go next level. 

For Nelson Quest, I delegate the entire process except for creating the actual content. Editing, graphics, translations, SEO, I have an entire team to do that for me, but don’t worry, it’s really me that responds to all the comments. 

As for my quadrant 4, because of the life I’ve created for myself, these days I rarely if ever have anything that goes in there. In the past, this quadrant was mostly filled with social invitations, I think it’s important to be social, and truth be told, it’s something I need to work on, but invitations to go out to bars and clubs I used to give high priority, on closer inspection, I realized that these things were not only not adding anything to my life, they were actually subtracting, so I eliminated them.

Summary

So guys, in summary:

The Eisenhower Matrix is a system that allows us to sort our tasks into 4 quadrants that each each have a corresponding action.

  • If the task is Urgent and Important, do it now.
  • If the task is Not Urgent but Important, schedule it for later.
  • If the task is Urgent but Not Important, delegate it.
  • If the task is Not Urgent and Not Important, eliminate it.

The Eisenhower Matrix is a tool that helps us work around our brain’s many vulnerabilities and biases. It helps us work around The Mere Urgency Effect, which states that we’re more likely to work on tasks with an immediate deadline and payoff over bigger and more important tasks.

The Mere Urgency Effect is a violation of the Dominance Principle, which states that a rational thinker would always choose the strategy that is objectively better in alignment with that person’s long-term goals.

I’m a huge fan of simple systems that produce real results and this is actually the first video in a brand new playlist which I’m calling Productivity systems.

Next up is a deep dive into the 80/20 principle, so if you want more content like this click subscribe. 

Make sure to check out the Dopamine Detox playlist and if you think you’re ready, the most hardcore productivity system ever created, Dark Mode, the system that I’ve personally used to achieve some of the most incredible things I’ve been able to achieve in my life. 

Ciao and cya in the next video!

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