A decades-old time-management strategy can help you become more productive and less stressed at work


  • President Dwight D. Eisenhower developed the “Eisenhower Matrix.” It’s a tool for figuring out what’s important versus urgent.
  • The tool was featured in Stephen Covey’s book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”
  • Your goal should be to spend time on tasks that are important but not urgent for maximum productivity.


The world of work has changed a lot since the 1950s. But some things have stayed the same.

The “”. Is a tool developed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who served as president from 1953 to 1961 &mdash. It’s still a useful framework.

The tool was highlighted in the late Stephen Covey’s bestselling business book, “,”. Originally published in 1989.

The Eisenhower Matrix allows you to schedule your week according to what’s most important to you and what'll have the most meaningful results. It’s introduced as part of Habit 3 of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,”. “Put first things first,”. It’s designed to help you become a more effective self-manager. 

MerrillCoveyMatrixHere’s the matrix, pictured on the right and taken from a book Covey co-authored later, titled “First Things First“.

As you can see, the two main criteria on which you evaluate tasks are urgency and importance. Urgent activities require immediate attention. Important ones contribute to your mission, values. Goals. You’ll want to focus most of your energy on activities that are important but non-urgent &mdash. A.k.a the activities that fall in Quadrant II.

According to Covey, Quadrant II includes relationship-building, recognising new opportunities, planning. Prevention.

You’ll want to stay out of Quadrant I, which is filled primarily with crises. Quadrant III, which includes interruptions and unnecessary meetings. Quadrant IV, which includes busy work and time wasters.

It sounds simple enough. The problem is that we’re far more likely to deal with urgent activities, regardless of importance, because we can see them right in front of our faces. Think an email coming in, a phone ringing. A coworker barging into your cubicle.

Covey writes: “Urgent matters are usually visible. They press on us. They insist on action. They’re often popular with others. They’re usually right in front of us. And often they're pleasant, easy, fun to do. But so often they're unimportant!”

Quadrant II activities, on the other hand, don’t have the same immediate consequences. We’re less likely to attend to them.

You’re probably spending too little time on stuff that’s important in the long term

Covey gives an example of how the conflict between urgency and importance plays out in real life.

He asked a group of shopping centre managers to identify one change they could make that'd've an enormous impact on their results. All the managers said they'd build personal relationships with the owners of the stores in the shopping centre.

Unfortunately, when Covey helped the managers analyse their daily schedules, they realized they were only spending about 5% of their time on this important (Quadrant II) activity. That’s largely because they were busy with other seemingly important tasks, like meetings and phone calls (Quadrant I).

Meanwhile, the store owners were plagued with employment and inventory problems, among other issues. Had minimal management training.

The managers decided to be proactive and spend about one-third of their time in building relationships with the store owners. As a result, Covey says, the managers’. Numbers increased 20%. And they acquired more potential tenants because of increased sales by the stores in the shopping centre.The main takeaway here is that sometimes you need to take a step back so you can see the disparity between how you should spend your time and how you're spending your time. Then you can make a plan to adjust your schedule so that you allot more time and energy to the activities that'll actually produce long-term results, instead of the ones that'll produce results five minutes later.

As a consequence, Covey says, you’ll end up with fewer Quadrant I activities to deal with: “Your crises and problems would shrink to manageable proportions because you'd be thinking ahead, working on the roots, doing the preventive things that keep situations from developing into crises in the first place.”

Of course, unless you’re a senior manager, you’d be hard pressed to say you’re no longer showing up to seemingly useless meetings. But what you can do is resist the urge to respond to emails, phone calls. Coworkers’. Requests as soon as they come in. (You can respond to them at a designated time later in the day.)

Then you can use the time you save to plan ahead for big projects that'll truly make a difference for you and your team.

SEE ALSO: This simple exercise can help you achieve your goals in 2016

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