The Eisenhower Matrix is a well-known instrument of prioritization. You divide your tasks according to two criteria: urgent and important. Urgent means if you don’t do it, something bad will happen. For example, paying your electricity bill is urgent, because otherwise you are without power. Since the bad thing usually depends on a timeline, time works against you in this dimension. Important means if you do it, something good – a benefit – will ensue. Taking a training is important, because then you have a new skill. If you take these two criteria to be the x and y axis, you get a two-by-two matrix.
Out of these four quadrants you can draw specific conclusions:
If it is neither urgent nor important, dump it.
If it is urgent and important, do it now.
If it is urgent but not important – can you delegate it? Can you do it for now but make sure in the future you don’t have to do it anymore?
If it is important but not urgent, plan it so you can defend your time against the onslaught of urgent, but unimportant things.
Looking at this matrix, we can ask ourselves a meta-level question: In order to improve our work method in the long term, what should we change? Our best try is to make sure we have less things urgent and important, and more things important but not urgent. This way we make sure to be the master of our time more often, instead of being pushed by deadlines.
So far so good.
But my MESG friend Markus Orengo has pointed out that the Eisenhower matrix, while depicting how we should be deciding in an ideal world, lacks an essential third dimension that takes effect in reality: awesomness. A task can be awesome or it can be dull.
That gives us a three-dimensional cube.
The reality is that most of us, consciously or unconsciously, change our attitude towards tasks according to this third dimension. It may not be what employers hope for, but awesomeness is an important criterion with which we decide how to dedicate our time.
So now we can do the same exercise as before, and see how it looks different.
If a task is dull, unimportant and not urgent, we dump it with a feeling of superiority. Stupid task!
If a task is dull, important but not urgent, we procrastinate.
If a task is dull, important and urgent, we grudgingly do it. Argh!
If a task is dull, unimportant and urgent, we shout at it and either angrily do it, or “forget” to do it with an air of defiance.
If a task is awesome, important and urgent, we feel we are doing meaningful work, perfectly motivated – a flow experience.
If a task is awesome, important but not urgent, we pull it anyway and convince ourselves we are masters of our own agenda.
If a task is awesome, unimportant but urgent, we slave away happily – we can’t do anything about it, can we?
If a task is awesome, unimportant and not urgent, we do it anyway with a nagging bad conscience.
Now here’s where we should ask ourselves the meta-level question, just as we did in the two-dimensional version of the matrix: In order to improve our work method in the long term, what should we do about some of these boxes?
What is your take?