If you are a goal-setter, a planner, and perfectionist like me, you probably take pleasure in sitting down each day to write a to do list. The need to dos, the want to dos, the should to dos, the could to dos. By the end, you’re staring at a list a mile-long with no idea where to begin.
Do you start at the top and work your way down? Do you start with the hardest task first or maybe the task you are most in the mood for at the time? Do you get so overwhelmed that you procrastinate starting at all?
Trust me when I say I’ve been there, and when faced with task overwhelm, I would shut down and procrastinate more often than not. Even on my most productive days, I still couldn’t accomplish all the tasks I set for myself. I was so focused on feeling like a failure for the things I didn’t do that I couldn’t even feel like a success for the things I did do.
But the truth is, I wasn’t the problem- my to do list was.
Not all tasks are weighted equally. This seems like such a simple and obvious concept, but perfectionism convinces us that if it’s on the list, it has to get checked off. But does it really? Most likely, there are only three or four tasks on your list that are both urgent and important and need to be done today. The rest can be scheduled for another day, passed off to someone else, or ignored altogether. The easiest way to separate your tasks by importance and urgency is with an Eisenhower Decision Matrix.
The Eisenhower Decision Matrix is named for US President Dwight Eisenhower, who was known to rank his tasks according to urgency and importance to save time and increase productivity. The matrix is a four-quadrant grid featuring columns labeled Urgent and Not Urgent and rows labeled Important and Not Important. Where a task falls on this grid indicates the action that should be taken in regards to that specific task. By using this method, you can create a shorter, more manageable to do list that makes a bigger, more powerful impact on your life.
Ready to get started? Download your FREE printable worksheet at the bottom of the post and read on to learn how to prioritize your to do list!
DETERMINE THE URGENCY AND IMPORTANCE OF EACH TASK
Start by reviewing your to do list line by line. For each task, ask yourself two questions:
1. Is it Urgent?
Urgent tasks have a deadline, usually one that is approaching within the next day or so. Some urgent tasks have obvious, stated deadlines like a bill that is due today, and some have more abstract deadlines like needing to do laundry before you run out of clean clothes. That being said, if a task has a deadline a week or a month into the future, it should not be considered urgent as long as there is still a reasonable amount of time to get it done. Urgent tasks typically need immediate attention and not giving them that attention within a short time period will have negative consequences.
2. Is it Important?
Important tasks affect your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Important tasks are also those that fall in alignment with your long-term goals and inner values. Tasks and activities that contribute to your personal growth in areas like your relationships, spirituality, creative passions, and career aspirations would all be considered important. Important tasks have an impact on your life either in the present or the future.
Once you have determined the urgency and importance of each task, plug them into the corresponding spaces in the matrix.
TAKE THE APPROPRIATE ACTION FOR EACH TASK
Here is a breakdown of the types of tasks that in up in each quadrant and what to do with them.
Q1 – Urgent & Important – DO IT
These tasks are of high value and are extremely time-sensitive, so you should do them as soon as possible. Some examples would be a bill that is due today or packing and shipping Etsy orders to customers. Maybe it’s a big school project that is due tomorrow or a work project that has to be turned in by morning. These tasks have quickly approaching deadlines and have a direct effect on your life.
Q2 – Not Urgent & Important – PLAN IT
These tasks align with your goals and values but don’t necessarily have to be done right now. While you may not have time to get to them today, they are important and deserve a place in your schedule. A perfect example of this is exercise. You know it’s important for your well-being, but if you don’t actually plan to do it, it’s much less likely that you will manage to do it. This quadrant is where most of your personal growth happens, so it’s important to plan effectively so you can spend as much time on these tasks as possible.
Q3 – Urgent & Not Important – DELEGATE IT
These tasks are time-sensitive, but they don’t affect your long-term goals. These are often daily chores that need to be done or things you feel obligated to do. No one can do it all, so maybe it’s time to let go of control over these tasks and pass a few on to your significant other or children. If you have the option, consider hiring someone or using a service to save your time. Or you can create a new system or try a new tool to make these tasks easier and more efficient. And if this quadrant is full of obligations that you don’t find valuable, start making an effort to say “no” more often. You can’t do everything, so make sure the things you say “yes” to align with your goals and values.
Q4 – Not Urgent & Not Important – DELETE IT
These tasks don’t have a deadline and don’t contribute toward your goals. The obvious examples are the things we consider “time-wasters” like scrolling mindlessly through Facebook or binge watching Netflix. But they could also be busy work you have created for yourself like cleaning out a junk drawer or reorganizing your bookshelves. Leaving tasks that you simply want to do on your list creates distraction from the tasks you actually need to do. Once all your other tasks are done for the day, you can relax by playing games on your phone or watching TV without the guilt of procrastination hanging over you.
CREATE YOUR NEW TO DO LIST
Hopefully, through this exercise, you have realized that there is way less that needs to be done today than you originally thought. Start your new, more manageable to do list with tasks from Q1 that are both Urgent & Important. Those are your first priority. If, and only if, you finish those, you can start working on the Urgent & Not Important tasks from Q3. Complete those in order of urgency, and don’t feel the need to do them all today. Remember, you already deemed that they are Not Important, so there’s no reason to feel guilty if some have to wait until tomorrow. Instead, focus on the sense of accomplishment and peace of mind you feel knowing that everything that was Urgent & Important is done.
I hope that using the Eisenhower Decision Matrix is as helpful for you as it has been for me, and if you haven’t already, be sure to sign up for your free worksheet below so you can start prioritizing your to do list with ease!
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