Time Management with The Eisenhower Decision Matrix

Time Management with The Eisenhower Decision Matrix

The Eisenhower Decision Matrix stems from a quote by then President Dwight D. Eisenhower, speaking at the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches in August 1954, “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” That said, there are two terms we need to define: Urgent and Important.

Poor planning on your part does not necessitate an emergency on mine.

A single caveat applies to everyone who may use this: what’s urgent or important to you is dictated by you. While this won’t apply across the board, I’d also like to note that I follow Bob Carter’s mantra (quote), “Poor planning on your part does not necessitate an emergency on mine.” So, I will always ask for the details to see where we stand (I do allow exceptions, of course- I’m not a monster).

Here is how I define urgent and important, pertaining to the matrix, in a project management setting:

  • URGENT: Those activities that require my attention now are direct customer, budget, and stakeholder issues. This covers anything that, if not dealt with promptly, will jeopardize a project and, thus, potentially, an entire program. It may be referred to as being in a “crisis mode,” an urgent matter will make you narrow your focus.
  • IMPORTANT: I consider anything that has to do with long-term goals or mission success and is within my control as being important. Historically, I’ve felt anything with an attached deadline of fewer than 60 days, in terms of a project, as potentially important (to an extent). Also, as noted by AOM, “When we focus on important activities, we operate in a response mode, which helps us remain calm, rational, and open to new opportunities.”

Once you know what is urgent and important, you can begin the journey. However, there are some administrative items you’ll need to do first (aren’t there always?). First things first, we need to write out a to-do list. There are two schools of thought to this: just in time or planned. For our exercise, let’s make a list to work with some prepared items:

  • Schedule grooming sessions with PO and DevTeam
  • Update weekly budget for end-of-week sync [in two days]
  • Create a brief for customer/stakeholder’s monthly update [in one week]
  • Submit a proposal for (another) customer, due today
  • Work on 2023 tasking/resource plans for (third) customer projects
  • Prepare for daily standup (team one)
  • Prepare for twice weekly standup (team two)
  • Prepare for thrice weekly standup (team three)
There’s no code faster, than no code.

This is a good start for a demo list. When looking at this, or any list, I would first eliminate anything you don’t need to do. This compels me to share another great quote by Kevlin Henney that any dev team would appreciate: "There’s no code faster, than no code.” However, for our demo, there’s nothing to get rid of; it’s all got to get done.

Looking at our matrix, I use a number system, 1 to 4, left to right, top to bottom.

  • 1 is Do Now
  • 2 is Schedule
  • 3 is Delegate
  • 4 is delete
  • Here’s a good example (sloppy number added by me) of what each of the four quadrants represents, per doing-projects.org, which I agree with.

If it’s hard to read, here’s a description of each quadrant (there’s another excellent example at the bottom of the page):

  • Do: Tasks with precise deadlines and significant consequences if uh not completed in a timely [manner]. Do it now.
  • Schedule: Tasks with no set deadline bring you closer to your long-term goals.
  • Delegate: Tasks that need to get done but don’t need your expertise to be completed.
  • Delete: Tasks that distract you from your preferred course and don’t add any measurable value.

Using our list above, let’s assign a number (or descriptor) to each task:

  • Schedule grooming session with PO and DevTeam (2, Schedule)
  • Update weekly budget for end-of-week sync [in two days] (2, Schedule)
  • Create a brief for customer/stakeholder’s monthly update [in one week] (2, Schedule)
  • Submit a proposal for (another) customer, due today (1, Do)
  • Work on 2023 tasking/resource plans for (third) customer projects (2, Schedule)
  • Prepare for daily standup (team one) (1, Do)
  • Prepare for twice weekly standup (team two) (2, Schedule)
  • Prepare for thrice weekly standup (team three) (4, Delete (it’s not my team))

From a project manager’s perspective, delegating and deleting is not usually a luxury that is afforded. Of the above list, we see there are two items we need to get done ASAP, five that we need to plan for, and one that we needn’t worry about. Unless I’m going on vacation or otherwise over-saturated with work, I’ll seldom delegate my tasks (as a PM, but as a manager, this is part of the game).

That’s seriously all there is to it. In my current position, I don’t usually use the Eisenhower Matrix. However, in previous years, it was my go-to (I even had a poster on my office wall)- and it will save you a lot of time in managing your tasks once you get the hang of it. But, of course, if you’re a pen/paper type, have different sticky note colors or colored pens to start with.

I don’t usually use Wikipedia for articles, but this was a pretty good summary of the four quadrants:

  1. Important/Urgent quadrant tasks are done immediately and personally [17], e.g., crises, deadlines, and problems.[16]
  2. Important/Not Urgent quadrant tasks get an end date and are done personally [17], e.g., relationships, planning, or recreation.[16]
  3. Unimportant/Urgent quadrant tasks are delegated,[17] e.g., interruptions, meetings, and activities.[16]
  4. Unimportant/Not Urgent quadrant tasks are dropped,[17] e.g., time wasters, pleasant activities, and trivia.[16]