Too much to do? Matrix it.

Time to enter the matrix. One of my favourite tools for organizing the stuff on my plate is the Eisenhower Matrix.

"I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent."

  • Dwight D. Eisenhower

What is a matrix?

At the most basic level a matrix is a box with a horizontal and vertical axes that split it into 4 smaller boxes. I know it can be more complicated than that, but let's keep things simple. I will attempt to draw this now:

basic matrix

what values you assign to each axis is where the matrix becomes powerful. For example, Radical Candor uses a matrix with "Challenge Directly" on the horizontal and "Care Personally" on the vertical. You end up with four quadrants:

  1. Low caring, low directness
  2. High caring, high directness
  3. Low caring, high directness
  4. High careing, low directness

Here is the Radical Candor matrix in all its glory:

radical candor framework

Back to Eisenhower

If we take the quote from earlier in the post we can use urgency and importance to create a matrix of our own:

  1. Low urgency, low importance
  2. High urgency, high importance

You get the idea.

poorly drawn eisenhower matrix

Now take all the tasks and things you have to do and map them on the matrix. Some tasks are going to be really urgent and important. Some will be important but not urgent. The box a task lands in will give you a better sense of priority for that task.

  1. A high urgency and important task you should try to do right away
  2. A low urgency and high importance task should be scheduled
  3. Low urgency and importance? Throw that task in the bin. It isn't worth doing.
  4. High urgency and low importance? Maybe this isn't that urgent in the first place. Maybe there is someone else who would view this as an important task for them and you can delegate. Or maybe this task also goes in the bin.

These aren't hard rules. They are meant to be a guide to help understand the workload and where attention should go.

The Eisenhower matrix helps keep me sane when I've got a tonne of stuff to do and feel like time is slipping away from me. I'll sit down and in a few minutes have a much clearer idea of where I should put my attention.