One of the hardest parts of building a good productivity system is knowing what to work on.
Pre-time blocking, I used to create a plan for the day that got thrown into disarray within a few minutes of clocking in for work because someone needed something and they need it yesterday. It was like walking into the scene below every day.
Enter the Eisenhower Decision Matrix
A tool that I have been using for the past two years to help deal with this struggle is the Eisenhower Matrix.
The basic idea behind the matrix is that you place tasks into one of four quadrants based on their level of importance and urgency.
The matrix then helps you prioritize what you should do with that task.
The Four Quadrants
The Eisenhower matrix has four quadrants where tasks can land. Below are the four quadrants and some ways that my team uses them.
- Important and Urgent tasks
These are the things that you should be working to complete as fast as possible. For my team these are the things that require us to drop everything and try to resolve them as quick as possible.
e.g. The entire school network is down. None of our students can access a learning app. Tasks that block us from pushing forward our priorites.
- Important but not Urgent tasks
These are tasks that you should schedule to get done. I personally create blocks in my timeblock plan to get them done.
e.g. working on a long term project, brainstorming improvments to a system, reflecting on how we are doing.
- Not Important but Urgent
These tasks are items that need to get done and can maybe be given to someone else. My team also uses this quadrant for tasks that can be delayed a bit as long as they don’t prevent anyone from not doing their job.
e.g. asking a clarifying question about a non important ticket that you are working on.
- Not Important and Not Urgent
These are tasks that can either be eliminated or put into a someday file. No one is going to be inconveinced or blocked from doing their work if you do not complete them. For my team these are tasks we typically add to our check in meetings. During those meetings we then decided what quadrant these tasks will ultimately land in.
The Matrix in Action
Let’s take a look at a few real-life examples from my past week. Before reading my rationale try and think about where you would place each request in the matrix.
A staff member needs a document camera for next week
Pre Eisenhower Matrix I would have stopped what I was doing and ran to get the document camera. Now with the matrix, I was able to take a few seconds and decided the best way to approach this.
In looking at this request I decided that it was important but not urgent so I scheduled it to make sure I got it done by the end of the week.
If the staff member had said they needed it the next day, then it would have gone to the important and urgent quadrant and I would have done it asap.
A student can not log into our SIS
I placed this in the important and urgent quadrant.
We are pushing the use of our SIS portal in my district. This means that my team and I need to make sure that the process is smooth for students and parents.
Since this is a priority for my team, the task was given priority in our day.
Create a beta version of our communication matrix.
Communication is super important. Having clear norms and guidelines for communication is super important.
So this should go into the important and urgent quadrant, right? I should drop everything and work on it now.
Well, I didn’t. Even though this is an important task, it is not urgent.
I also chose to schedule a time for this task because it is going to take some deep thinking.
So is the matrix the magic sauce I need?
Yes….and no. The matrix is not 100% foolproof but it is a good tool for helping get everyone on the same page about the priority of tasks.
If you disagreed with my placement of the tasks above I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.