I used to consider myself a productive person. Always doing “stuff”. Always busy. But still, I was feeling like I was not going forward at the desired pace.
I was a hero in accomplishing small tasks, but I never seemed to find the time to pursue my long-term goals.
This was a big problem for me, causing me a lot of stress. The solution came from one of my mentors who told me: “You know, there is this trick you can use. It’s called the Urgent – Important Matrix…”
I followed his advice and trust me, you should check it out too!
The Urgent – Important Matrix
The Urgent – Important Matrix is a super useful tool that helps you prioritize the tasks on your to-do list by urgency and importance.
As I was recently informed, this tool is also known as the “Eisenhower Matrix”.
To be honest, even though I had been using his matrix for quite a long time, I had no idea who Eisenhower was. So, I googled him up and he turned out to be a US President (among other things) who led pretty much the definition of a productive life.
Anyway, without any intention to be disrespectful, I will still refer to his tool as “the Urgent – Important Matrix” because it reflects better its essence and functionality.
How to be more Productive with Urgent – Important Matrix
The problem arises not from doing too little, but from doing too much of the wrong things. You complete a thousand unimportant small tasks but you neglect that one or two goals that are really going to make the difference.
The philosophy behind this tool is to organize your tasks by their urgency and importance and then decide on the action you should take.
Enough with the talking. Let’s see how it’s done.
First, you draw (guess what?) a 2×2 Matrix, as shown in the picture below. Make it big enough so you can write tasks inside the cells.
If you live paper-less like me or you can’t find a functioning pen right now, you’re in luck because I have done the work for you. I’ve made a cool Sheet in Google Drive that you can copy for free. You can download it at the bottom of this page.
Step number two is to place every task from your to-do list into one of the squares, according to the task’s importance and urgency status.
Each of these four squares actually represents the kind of action you should take. These actions are no other than the famous “4 Ds of Productivity”:
| Do | Defer | Delay/Delegate | Delete |
Here’s an example:
#1 Urgent – Important (green square)
Place here: Tasks of high importance concerning your life, career, family that you need to do immediately
Best action: Do them first
Tip: These tasks need to be done today or tomorrow at the latest, so move them up immediately at the top of your to-do list. Do them first of all and as early in your day as possible.
#2 Not Urgent – Important (blue square)
Place here: Tasks concerning your life goals, career, family, quality activities etc that are really important but can wait for later
Best action: Defer
Tip: The best course of action for these tasks is to open your Calendar, find an appropriate time and schedule a time to do them.
#3 Urgent – Not Important (orange square)
Place here: Tasks that are not important to you but need to be done by someone as soon as possible.
Best action: Delay or Delegate.
Tip: If there is someone who can do them for you, that’s perfect. If not, then try to delay them for a couple of days. You will see that in most cases these tasks are not so urgent as you thought at first, or you can avoid them altogether. In case they still need to be done, then I’m sorry but you have to do them yourself. Schedule a time and do them.
#4 Not Urgent – Not Important (red square)
Place here: Neither urgent nor Important tasks like internet, social and fun stuff.
Best action: Delete.
Tip: Delete them from your to-do list and nothing bad will happen. You should only do them if you really have free time, and especially not in expense of the important tasks.
5 Tips to take the most out of your Urgent – Important Matrix
# 1 Resist the temptation to place too many tasks in the Urgent – Important square
Putting too much on the green square makes your daily agenda too crowded and inflexible.
These are the tasks with a day or two deadline, remember? Trying to do ten of them in one day is clearly impossible and exhausting at best.
Very few tasks are actually both Important and Urgent.
The only reason a task becomes urgent is that your past-self failed to schedule it appropriately.
So try to find a time to complete your important tasks long before they turn Urgent.
#2 Don’t postpone your Important – Not Urgent tasks indefinitely, for God’s sake!
The worst single thing you can do with your planning is to postpone the tasks that live inside your blue box.
Why would anybody do such a thing? Because it’s easy.
These tasks usually are hard to do, time-consuming, require strategic thinking and sometimes not fun at all. But these are the things that are the most important for your personal development, that will have the greater impact on your life and the world, that will make you a happier person in the long run.
The bad thing about “I’ll do it later” is that there will always be a “later”.
Set your priorities straight. Don’t let your Important to-dos for later. Plan them instead.
Decide on a time to do them and when that time comes and your lazy-self starts making excuses, be ruthless with him and do what’s Important!
#3 Avoid tasks that don’t align with your personal goals
These tasks usually fill up the Urgent – Not Important square.
Lots of people ask you every day to do something for them and if you are always saying “yes”, then you will end up doing other people’s tasks throughout your entire day.
Saying “No” is difficult because these people asking usually belong to work, family or friends category.
I’m not suggesting that you should never help others. You should. But if and when you have the time to do it.
When a colleague asks for your help to complete his assignment on the same day the deadline ends, then you have the right to say no if you don’t have the time. If he had asked you a week ago, then you would have the time to schedule it and provide the help he needed.
Seriously, don’t let others define your priorities and distract you from achieving your own goals.
Your Important tasks come first, then everybody else’s.
Learn to say “No” when you have to.
#4 Avoid all tasks that can be avoided
If you use this Matrix for some time, you will notice that many tasks you labeled as urgent, turned out to be not urgent after all.
That’s why a way to deal with Urgent – Not Important tasks is to delay them for a while, so you can see if there are tasks that should be done by you or can be avoided altogether by deleting or delegating to someone else.
Delegating doesn’t mean to pass the hard stuff to others in order to be lazy yourself.
You should only delegate tasks to other people when they offer to help or they will benefit in some way, such as getting knowledge, experience or… paid.
If this is the case, fine. Delegate and proceed to do other tasks. If there is no one around to delegate, then delete the task or schedule a time to do it.
#5 Be smart with your free time
This tip is about the red cell containing Not Urgent and Not Important tasks.
Or should I say… all the fun tasks?
I’m not actually suggesting that you should delete anything fun, entertaining, or scroll-involving activity from your life. If you try to cut them off entirely you will probably turn into an unhappy robot.
You can’t only do the Important stuff.
I’m currently 25 years old. I don’t want to work 15 hours a day or operate like a task-completing machine. And I don’t actually intend to make big money or become famous for eternity.
All I want is to live a productive, balanced and happy life.I like seeing my friends, going on dates, meeting new people regularly and watching the Vikings series.
Are these things Important? Probably not.
Should I do them? Hell yeah.
Anyway, all I’m saying is try to use your free time wisely.
Do things that relax you, take the tension out of you and rejuvenate you.
You know better what works for you. But keep in mind that engaging in low-quality activities like endless lurking in social media or a weekend gaming-marathon won’t refill your batteries and won’t prevent you from burning out.
The Philoso-pill to Take
The transforming power of the Urgent – Important Matrix lies on the fact that it urges you to ask yourself some difficult but necessary questions.
Which are my priorities in life? Which are my goals? Am I really moving towards them? Do my actions align with my life path and values? Do I even have a life path or am I wandering aimlessly in this world?
There are no quick and easy answers to these questions, but ignoring them is not an option for anyone.
You need to be sincere when examining your motives and objective when judging your actions. The process is hard, but the answers invaluable.
This is why I recommend you start using this practical tool. It worked for me and it also worked for countless people.
It will not only help you define your daily and near-future plan but also keep your actions in check with your long-term life goals.
Small price to pay for a productive and fulfilling life! ????
To receive your own Urgent – Important Matrix fill the form below and you will find it in your inbox. Share any questions or comments in the comment section below. Enjoy!
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