How to be more productive by using the eisenhower box

Dwight Eisenhower lived one of the most productive lives you can imagine.

Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States, and served two terms from 1953 to 1961.

During his time in office, he launched programs that directly led to the development of the Interstate Highway System in the United States, the launch of the Internet (DARPA), the exploration of space (NASA) and the peaceful use of alternative energy sources (Atomic Energy Act).

Before becoming president, Eisenhower was a five-star general in the United States Army, served as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II and was responsible for planning and executing invasions of North Africa, France and Germany.

At other points along the way, he served as President of Columbia University, became the first Supreme Commander of NATO and somehow found time to pursue hobbies like golfing and oil painting.

Eisenhower had an incredible ability to sustain his productivity not just for weeks or months, but for decades.

And for that reason, it is no surprise that many people have studied his methods for time management, task management and productivity.

His most famous productivity strategy is known as the Eisenhower Box, and it’s a simple decision-making tool you can use right now. Let’s talk about how to be more productive and how Eisenhower’s strategy works:

The Eisenhower Box: How to be More Productive

Eisenhower’s strategy for taking action and organizing your tasks is simple. Using the decision matrix below, you will separate your actions based on four possibilities:

1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).

2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).

3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).

4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

The great thing about this matrix is that it can be used for broad productivity plans (“How should I spend my time each week?”) and for smaller, daily plans (“What should I do today?”).

Here is an example of what my Eisenhower Box looks like for today:

Note: I created a spreadsheet template of the Eisenhower Box. You can download that spreadsheet template here.

The Difference Between Urgent and Important

Urgent tasks are things you feel like you need to react to: emails, phone calls, texts, news stories.

Meanwhile, in the words of Brett McKay, “Important tasks are things that contribute to our long-term mission, values and goals.”

Separating these differences is simple enough to do once, but doing so continually can be tough.

The reason I like the Eisenhower Method is it provides a clear framework for making decisions over and over again. And like anything in life, consistency is the hard part.

Here are some other observations I’ve made from using this method:

Elimination Before Optimization

A few years ago, I was reading about computer programming when I came across an interesting quote:

“There is no code faster than no code.” – Kevlin Henney

In other words, the fastest way to get something done — whether it is having a computer read a line of code or crossing a task off your to-do list — is to eliminate that task entirely.

There is no faster way to do something than not doing it at all. That’s not a reason to be lazy, but rather a suggestion to force yourself to make hard decisions and delete any task that does not lead you toward your mission, your values and your goals.

Too often, we use productivity, time management and optimization as an excuse to avoid the really difficult question: “Do I actually need to be doing this?”

It is much easier to remain busy and tell yourself you just need to be a little more efficient or to “work a little later tonight” than to endure the pain of eliminating a task you are comfortable with doing.

As Tim Ferriss says, “Being busy is a form of laziness — lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.”

I find that the Eisenhower Method is particularly useful because it pushes me to question whether an action is really necessary, which means I’m more likely to move tasks to the “Delete” quadrant rather than mindlessly repeating them.

And to be honest, if you simply eliminated all of the things you waste time on each day, you probably wouldn’t need any tips on how to be more productive at the things that matter.

Does This Help Me Accomplish My Goal?

It can be hard to eliminate time-wasting activities if you aren’t sure what you are working toward. In my experience, there are two questions that can help clarify the entire process behind the Eisenhower Method:

1. What am I working toward?

2. What core values drive my life?

These are questions I have asked myself in my Annual Review and my Integrity Report. Answering these questions has helped me clarify the categories for certain tasks in my life.

Deciding which tasks to do and which tasks to delete becomes much easier when you are clear about what is important to you.

The Eisenhower Method isn’t a perfect strategy, but I have found it to be a useful decision-making tool for increasing my productivity and eliminating the behaviors that take up mental energy, waste time and rarely move me toward my goals. I hope you’ll find it useful, too.

James ClearВ writes atВ JamesClear.com, where he shares science-based ideas for living a better life and building habits that stick. To get strategies for boosting your mental and physical performance by 10x,В join his free newsletter.

Sources

1. Thanks to Brett McKay at The Art of Manliness for his post on the Eisenhower Box.

2. The term “highest and best use” is a real estate concept for finding the most valuable use of a piece of property. My friend Mark Heckmann is a fan of using the phrase for personal time management, and I like it too. Thanks, Mark!

3. For other useful productivity tips, check out this article summarizing Scott Hansleman’s work.

Dwight Eisenhower lived one of the most productive lives you can imagine.

Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States, serving two terms from 1953 to 1961. During his time in office, he launched programs that directly led to the development of the Interstate Highway System in the United States, the launch of the internet (DARPA), the exploration of space (NASA), and the peaceful use of alternative energy sources (Atomic Energy Act).

Before becoming president, Eisenhower was a five-star general in the United States Army, served as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II, and was responsible for planning and executing invasions of North Africa, France, and Germany.

At other points along the way, he served as President of Columbia University, became the first Supreme Commander of NATO, and somehow found time to pursue hobbies like golfing and oil painting.

Eisenhower had an incredible ability to sustain his productivity not just for weeks or months, but for decades. And for that reason, it is no surprise that his methods for time management, task management, and productivity have been studied by many people.

His most famous productivity strategy is known as the Eisenhower Box (or Eisenhower Matrix) and it’s a simple decision-making tool that you can use right now. Let’s talk about how to be more productive and how Eisenhower’s strategy works.

The Eisenhower Box: How to be More Productive

Eisenhower’s strategy for taking action and organizing your tasks is simple. Using the decision matrix below, you will separate your actions based on four possibilities.

  1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
  2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
  3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
  4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

The great thing about this matrix is that it can be used for broad productivity plans (“How should I spend my time each week?”) and for smaller, daily plans (“What should I do today?”).

Here is an example of what my Eisenhower Box looks like for today.

How to be more productive by using the eisenhower box

The Difference Between Urgent and Important

What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.
-Dwight Eisenhower

Urgent tasks are things that you feel like you need to react to: emails, phone calls, texts, news stories. Meanwhile, in the words of Brett McKay, “Important tasks are things that contribute to our long-term mission, values, and goals.” 1

Separating these differences is simple enough to do once, but doing so continually can be tough. The reason I like the Eisenhower Matrix is that it provides a clear framework for making the decisions over and over again. And like anything in life, consistency is the hard part.

Here are some other observations I’ve made from using this method.

Elimination Before Optimization

A few years ago, I was reading about computer programming when I came across an interesting quote:

“There is no code faster than no code.”
–Kevlin Henney

In other words, the fastest way to get something done — whether it is having a computer read a line of code or crossing a task off your to-do list — is to eliminate that task entirely. There is no faster way to do something than not doing it at all. That’s not a reason to be lazy, but rather a suggestion to force yourself to make hard decisions and delete any task that does not lead you toward your mission, your values, and your goals.

Too often, we use productivity, time management, and optimization as an excuse to avoid the really difficult question: “Do I actually need to be doing this?” It is much easier to remain busy and tell yourself that you just need to be a little more efficient or to “work a little later tonight” than to endure the pain of eliminating a task that you are comfortable with doing, but that isn’t the highest and best use of your time. 2

As Tim Ferriss says, “Being busy is a form of laziness — lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.”

I find that the Eisenhower Matrix is particularly useful because it pushes me to question whether an action is really necessary, which means I’m more likely to move tasks to the “Delete” quadrant rather than mindlessly repeating them. And to be honest, if you simply eliminated all of the things you waste time on each day then you probably wouldn’t need any tips on how to be more productive at the things that matter.

Does This Help Me Accomplish My Goal?

One final note: it can be hard to eliminate time wasting activities if you aren’t sure what you are working toward. In my experience, there are two questions that can help clarify the entire process behind the Eisenhower Box.

Those two questions are…

  1. What am I working toward?
  2. What are the core values that drive my life?

These are questions that I have asked myself in my Annual Review and my Integrity Report. Answering these questions has helped me clarify the categories for certain tasks in my life. Deciding which tasks to do and which tasks to delete becomes much easier when you are clear about what is important to you.

The Eisenhower Matrix isn’t a perfect strategy, but I have found it to be a useful decision-making tool for increasing my productivity and eliminating the behaviors that take up mental energy, waste time, and rarely move me toward my goals. I hope you’ll find it useful too. 3

Thanks to Brett McKay at The Art of Manliness for his post on the Eisenhower Box.

The term “highest and best use” is a real estate concept for finding the most valuable use of a piece of property. My friend Mark Heckmann is a fan of using the phrase for personal time management and I like it too. Thanks Mark!

For other useful productivity tips, check out this article summarizing Scott Hansleman’s work.

Thanks for reading. You can get more actionable ideas in my popular email newsletter. Each week, I share 3 short ideas from me, 2 quotes from others, and 1 question to think about. Over 1,000,000 people subscribe. Enter your email now and join us.

How to be more productive by using the eisenhower box

Choosing the optimal productivity method can make an enormous difference in your work. A seamless workflow can take you from feeling unfocused, overwhelmed, and unproductive to feeling in control, calm, and fully ready to take on even the most daunting projects.

Luckily, there are new productivity methods being adjusted, developed, and shared all the time. There’s bound to be a workflow out there that fits your lifestyle and can be tailored to your individual projects and personality. But flipping through countless articles about different productivity methods can be a huge time suck – time better used actually getting things done .

To help you out, we’re highlighting a particular productivity system that you could implement in your own life today. It’s called the Eisenhower Matrix.

The Eisenhower Matrix was created by Dwight Eisenhower, who lived one of the most productive lives you could ever imagine. He was the 34th President of the United States, served as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II, was a 5-star general in the United States Army, and was also responsible for spearheading invasions of France, North Africa, and Germany. He also had stints as President of Columbia University and the first Supreme Commander of NATO, while also somehow finding the time to enjoy hobbies such as oil painting and golf.

Eisenhower had an amazing ability to preserve his productivity for decades during his storied career. So it’s no big shock that his methods for productivity and time management have been studied and implemented by people today.

What is important is seldom urgent liked to say, and what is urgent is seldom important.

– Dwight D. Eisenhower

The Eisenhower Matrix: How it works

The Eisenhower Matrix is a delightfully visual productivity method. It’s perfect for people who don’t quite see things in black-and-white, like graphs, and would prefer to prioritize on a continuum rather than putting tasks into a few categories. It allows for prioritizing more complicated projects, yet it’s easy and quick to implement.

The Eisenhower Box is well-known as his most famous productivity strategy, and it’s a simple decision-making tool that you can start using immediately. Stephen Covey, a prestigious business thinker, popularized the box method his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People . The endgame was to help individuals make qualified distinctions between what’s important and not important and what’s urgent and not urgent . Let’s talk about how it actually works.

To begin, take a piece of paper and draw a large plus sign. The X axis represents the urgency level, with the left side being the most urgent and the right side being the least urgent. The Y axis represents level of importance, with the lowest importance at the bottom, and the highest at the top.

You will now have four boxes. They are:

  • Urgent and Important (tasks of the highest priority that you will do immediately)
  • Less Urgent but still Important (tasks you will schedule to tackle later)
  • Less Important but Urgent (tasks you will delegate to someone else)
  • Less Important and Less Urgent (tasks you will erase)

You can write out all your tasks on a continuum within the four boxes, which will give you a clear and visual understanding of what really needs to get done now and what can wait.

You can create a new matrix at any time – all you need is a pen and a piece of paper. Just start drawing, and you’re off!

Using the Eisenhower Matrix with Email

Have you ever wondered just how many hours you waste dealing with email? According to a recent study by Adobe, office workers waste 47,000 hours sending and managing email. This translates to 5 years (!) wasted throughout the entirety of a career.

To break it down, that wasted time consists of:

  • Receiving 147 emails per day
  • Spending 2.5 hours per day on email
  • Spending 30% of the workweek managing email

Despite the rise of chat apps like Slack, analyses from researchers including the Radicati Group have shown that people are sending and receiving more emails than ever. In addition to the incredible volume, the Adobe study puts the spotlight on another perplexing factor – people expect their correspondents to reply in hours, if not minutes, which results in pressure building on everyone to constantly check their inboxes.

Often, these emails are neither important or urgent, rather they’re messages that contain exciting information such as “let me know if you got this, thx” and “ok great, let’s meet at 8am.”

Being busy is a form of laziness — lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.

– Tim Ferriss

The Eisenhower Decision Matrix is perfect for those who struggle with managing their inbox. It’s really all about mindset, and this strategy is perfect to help get you thinking about what’s really important, and what’s really worth paying attention to at a certain point in your day. It’s great for both time management and email management. That’s the beauty of the Eisenhower Box – in four small squares, you can clearly see which tasks you’re neglecting and which you can safely eliminate.

Who Uses the Eisenhower Matrix?

It’s clear that successful people — even if they have incredibly demanding jobs — schedule the “important but not urgent” tasks into their day ruthlessly.

Take President Barack Obama for example – when he was in office, he scheduled an hour of workout time every morning and dinner with his family every night. His logic was: “The rest of my time will be more productive if you give me my workout time,” Obama’s former campaign manager told WebMD .

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner is also a fan of this principle – he schedules blocks of meeting-free time on his schedule so he can process what’s happening at work and think about what he needs to do in the future. While this “buffer time” felt like an indulgence to him at first, he realized it was totally necessary for him to do his job in an organized and strategical way.

As the entrepreneur, author, and #ProductivityGiants series guest James Clear says , the best way to rid ourselves of the incessant “busy” feeling is to simply do fewer tasks. Which can be difficult to do because of the desire to avoid the difficult question of do I really need to be doing this? He suggests that it’s important to force yourself to make difficult decisions and erase anything that doesn’t lead you toward your goals.

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How to be more productive by using the eisenhower box

Dwight Eisenhower lived one of the most productive lives you can imagine.

Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States, serving two terms from 1953 to 1961. During his time in office, he launched programs that directly led to the development of the Interstate Highway System in the United States, the launch of the internet (DARPA), the exploration of space (NASA), and the peaceful use of alternative energy sources (Atomic Energy Act).

Before becoming president, Eisenhower was a five-star general in the United States Army, served as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II, and was responsible for planning and executing invasions of North Africa, France, and Germany.

At other points along the way, he served as President of Columbia University, became the first Supreme Commander of NATO, and somehow found time to pursue hobbies like golfing and oil painting.

Eisenhower had an incredible ability to sustain his productivity not just for weeks or months, but for decades. And for that reason, it is no surprise that his methods for time management, task management, and productivity have been studied by many people.

His most famous productivity strategy is known as the Eisenhower Box and it’s a simple decision-making tool that you can use right now. Here’s how it works.

The Eisenhower Box: Urgent vs. Important

Eisenhower’s strategy for taking action and organizing your tasks is simple. Using the decision matrix below, you will separate your actions based on four possibilities.

  • Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
  • Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
  • Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
  • Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

The great thing about this matrix is that it can be used for broad productivity plans (“How should I spend my time each week?”) and for smaller, daily plans (“What should I do today?”).

Here is an example of what my Eisenhower Box looks like for today.

How to be more productive by using the eisenhower box

The Difference Between Urgent and Important

What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.
-Dwight Eisenhower

Urgent tasks are things that you feel like you need to react to: emails, phone calls, texts, news stories. Meanwhile, in the words of Brett McKay, “Important tasks are things that contribute to our long-term mission, values, and goals.” [1]

Separating these differences is simple enough to do once, but doing so continually can be tough. The reason I like the Eisenhower Method is that it provides a clear framework for making the decisions over and over again. And like anything in life, consistency is the hard part.

Here are some other observations I’ve made from using this method.

Elimination Before Optimization

A few years ago, I was reading about computer programming when I came across an interesting quote:

“No code is faster than no code.” [2]

In other words, the fastest way to get something done — whether it is having a computer read a line of code or crossing a task off your to-do list — is to eliminate that task entirely. There is no faster way to do something than not doing it at all. That’s not a reason to be lazy, but rather a suggestion to force yourself to make hard decisions and delete any task that does not lead you toward your mission, your values, and your goals.

Too often, we use productivity, time management, and optimization as an excuse to avoid the really difficult question: “Do I actually need to be doing this?” It is much easier to remain busy and tell yourself that you just need to be a little more efficient or to “work a little later tonight” than to endure the pain of eliminating a task that you are comfortable with doing, but that isn’t the highest and best use of your time. [3]

As Tim Ferriss says, “Being busy is a form of laziness — lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.”

I find that the Eisenhower Method is particularly useful because it pushes me to question whether an action is really necessary, which means I’m more likely to move tasks to the “Delete” quadrant rather than mindlessly repeating them. And to be honest, if you simply eliminated all of the things you waste time on each day then you probably wouldn’t need any strategies and tips to become more productive at the things that matter.

Does This Help Me Accomplish My Goal?

One final note: it can be hard to eliminate time wasting activities if you aren’t sure what you are working toward. In my experience, there are two questions that can help clarify the entire process behind the Eisenhower Method.

Those two questions are…

  • What am I working toward?
  • What are the core values that drive my life?

These are questions that I have asked myself in my Annual Review and my Integrity Report. Answering these questions has helped me clarify the categories for certain tasks in my life. Deciding which tasks to do and which tasks to delete becomes much easier when you are clear about what is important to you.

Obviously, the Eisenhower Method isn’t a perfect strategy, but I have found it to be a useful decision-making tool for increasing my productivity and eliminating the behaviors that take up mental energy, waste time, and rarely move me toward my goals. I hope you’ll find it useful too.

Sources:

1. Thanks to Brett McKay at The Art of Manliness for his post on the Eisenhower Box.

2. I couldn’t find the original source for the quote, “No code is faster than no code.” If you know the answer, please let me know and I’ll update the article as needed.

3. The term “highest and best use” is a real estate concept for finding the most valuable use of a piece of property. My friend Mark Heckmann is a fan of using the phrase for personal time management and I like it too. Thanks Mark!

4. For other useful productivity tips, check out this article summarizing Scott Hansleman’s work.

Dwight Eisenhower lived one of the most productive lives you can imagine.

Eisenhower was the 34th president of the United States, serving two terms from 1953 to 1961. During his time in office, he launched programs that directly led to the development of the Interstate Highway System in the United States, the launch of the Internet (DARPA), the exploration of space (NASA), and the peaceful use of alternative energy sources (Atomic Energy Act).

Before becoming president, Eisenhower was a five-star general in the United States Army, served as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II, and was responsible for planning and executing invasions of North Africa, France, and Germany.

At other points along the way, he served as President of Columbia University, became the first Supreme Commander of NATO, and somehow found time to pursue hobbies like golfing and oil painting.

Eisenhower had an incredible ability to sustain his productivity not just for weeks or months, but for decades. And for that reason, it is no surprise that his methods for time management, task management, and productivity have been studied by many people.

His most famous productivity strategy is known as the Eisenhower Box, and it’s a simple decision-making tool that you can use right now. Let’s talk about how to be more productive and how Eisenhower’s strategy works.

The Eisenhower Box: How to Be More Productive

Eisenhower’s strategy for taking action and organizing your tasks is simple. Using the decision matrix below, you will separate your actions based on four possibilities.

Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

The great thing about this matrix is that it can be used for broad productivity plans (“How should I spend my time each week?”) and for smaller, daily plans (“What should I do today?”).

Here is an example of what my Eisenhower Box looks like for today.

How to be more productive by using the eisenhower box

Note: I created a spreadsheet template of the Eisenhower Box. You can download that spreadsheet template for your own use at the bottom of this article.

The Difference Between Urgent and Important

What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.
— Dwight Eisenhower

Urgent tasks are things that you feel like you need to react to: emails, phone calls, texts, news stories. Meanwhile, in the words of Brett McKay, “Important tasks are things that contribute to our long-term mission, values, and goals.”

Separating these differences is simple enough to do once, but doing so continually can be tough. The reason I like the Eisenhower Method is that it provides a clear framework for making the decisions over and over again. And like anything in life, consistency is the hard part.

Here are some other observations I’ve made from using this method.

Elimination Before Optimization

A few years ago, I was reading about computer programming when I came across an interesting quote:

“There is no code faster than no code.”
— Kevlin Henney

In other words, the fastest way to get something done — whether it is having a computer read a line of code or crossing a task off your to-do list — is to eliminate that task entirely. There is no faster way to do something than not doing it at all. That’s not a reason to be lazy, but rather a suggestion to force yourself to make hard decisions and delete any task that does not lead you toward your mission, your values, and your goals.

Too often, we use productivity, time management, and optimization as an excuse to avoid the really difficult question: “Do I actually need to be doing this?” It is much easier to remain busy and tell yourself that you just need to be a little more efficient or to “work a little later tonight” than to endure the pain of eliminating a task that you are comfortable with doing, but that isn’t the highest and best use of your time.

As Tim Ferriss says, “Being busy is a form of laziness — lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.”

I find that the Eisenhower Method is particularly useful because it pushes me to question whether an action is really necessary, which means I’m more likely to move tasks to the “Delete” quadrant rather than mindlessly repeating them. And to be honest, if you simply eliminated all of the things you waste time on each day then you probably wouldn’t need any tips on how to be more productive at the things that matter.

Does This Help Me Accomplish My Goal?

One final note: It can be hard to eliminate time-wasting activities if you aren’t sure what you are working toward. In my experience, there are two questions that can help clarify the entire process behind the Eisenhower Method.

Those two questions are.

  1. What am I working toward?
  2. What are the core values that drive my life?

These are questions that I have asked myself in my Annual Review and my Integrity Report. Answering these questions has helped me clarify the categories for certain tasks in my life. Deciding which tasks to do and which tasks to delete becomes much easier when you are clear about what is important to you.

The Eisenhower Method isn’t a perfect strategy, but I have found it to be a useful decision-making tool for increasing my productivity and eliminating the behaviors that take up mental energy, waste time, and rarely move me toward my goals. I hope you’ll find it useful too.

Free Download: I created a spreadsheet template of the Eisenhower Box that you can download and use whenever you want to improve your productivity and eliminate time wasting activities. Click here to download the spreadsheet now.

James Clear writes at JamesClear.com, where he shares science-based ideas for living a better life and building habits that stick. To get strategies for boosting your mental and physical performance by 10x, join his free newsletter.

This article was originally published on James Clear.com

Thanks to Brett McKay at The Art of Manliness for his post on the Eisenhower Box. The term “highest and best use” is a real estate concept for finding the most valuable use of a piece of property. My friend Mark Heckmann is a fan of using the phrase for personal time management and I like it too. Thanks Mark! For other useful productivity tips, check out this article summarizing Scott Hansleman’s work.

How to be more productive by using the eisenhower box

Dwight Eisenhower lived one of the most productive lives you can imagine.

Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States, serving two terms from 1953 to 1961. During his time in office, he launched programs that directly led to the development of the Interstate Highway System in the United States, the launch of the internet (DARPA), the exploration of space (NASA), and the peaceful use of alternative energy sources (Atomic Energy Act).

Before becoming president, Eisenhower was a five-star general in the United States Army, served as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II, and was responsible for planning and executing invasions of North Africa, France, and Germany.

At other points along the way, he served as President of Columbia University, became the first Supreme Commander of NATO, and somehow found time to pursue hobbies like golfing and oil painting.

Eisenhower had an incredible ability to sustain his productivity not just for weeks or months, but for decades. And for that reason, it is no surprise that his methods for time management, task management, and productivity have been studied by many people.

His most famous productivity strategy is known as the Eisenhower Box and it’s a simple decision-making tool that you can use right now. Let’s talk about how to be more productive and how Eisenhower’s strategy works.

The Eisenhower Box: How to be more productive

Eisenhower’s strategy for taking action and organizing tasks is simple. Using the decision matrix below, you will separate your actions based on four possibilities:

  1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately)
  2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later)
  3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else)
  4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate)

The great thing about this matrix is that it can be used for broad productivity plans (“How should I spend my time each week?”) and for smaller, daily plans (“What should I do today?”).

Here is an example of what my Eisenhower Box looks like for today:

How to be more productive by using the eisenhower boxNote: I created a spreadsheet template of the Eisenhower Box. You can download that spreadsheet template for your own use at the bottom of this article.

The Difference between urgent and important

Urgent tasks are things that you feel you need to react to: emails, phone calls, texts, news stories. Meanwhile, in the words of Brett McKay, “Important tasks are things that contribute to our long-term mission, values, and goals.”

Separating these differences is simple enough to do once, but doing so continually can be tough. The reason I like Eisenhower’s method is that it provides a clear framework for making the decisions over and over again. And, like anything in life, consistency is the hard part.

Here are some other observations I’ve made from using this method.

Elimination before optimization

A few years ago, I was reading about computer programming when I came across an interesting quote by Kevlin Henney: “There is no code faster than no code.”

In other words, the fastest way to get something done—whether it is having a computer read a line of code or crossing a task off your to-do list—is to eliminate that task entirely. There is no faster way to do something than not doing it at all. That should not be seen as a reason to be lazy, but rather a suggestion to force yourself to make hard decisions and delete any task that does not lead you toward your mission, your values, and your goals.

Too often, we use productivity, time management, and optimization as an excuse to avoid the really difficult question: “Do I actually need to be doing this?” It is much easier to remain busy and tell yourself that you just need to be a little more efficient or to “work a little later tonight” than to endure the pain of eliminating a task that you are comfortable with doing, but that isn’t the best use of your time.

As Tim Ferriss says, “Being busy is a form of laziness—lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.”

I find that the Eisenhower Box is particularly useful because it pushes me to question whether an action is really necessary, which means I’m more likely to move tasks to the “Delete” quadrant rather than mindlessly repeating them. And to be honest, if you simply eliminated all of the things you waste time on each day then you probably wouldn’t need any tips on how to be more productive at the things that matter.

Does this help me accomplish my goal?

One final note: it can be hard to eliminate time wasting activities if you aren’t sure what you are working toward. In my experience, there are two questions that can help clarify the entire process behind the Eisenhower method:

  1. What am I working toward?
  2. What are the core values that drive my life?

These are questions that I have asked myself in my Annual Review and my Integrity Report. Answering these questions has helped me clarify the categories for certain tasks in my life. Deciding which tasks to do and which tasks to delete becomes much easier when you are clear about what is important to you.

The Eisenhower Box isn’t a perfect strategy, but I have found it to be a useful decision-making tool for increasing my productivity and eliminating the behaviors that take up mental energy, waste time, and rarely move me toward my goals. I hope you’ll find it useful too.

Free Download: I created a spreadsheet template of the Eisenhower Box that you can download and use whenever you want to improve your productivity and eliminate time wasting activities. Click here to download the spreadsheet now.

This article was originally published on JamesClear.com.

James Clear writes at JamesClear.com, where he writes about scientific research and real-world experiences that help you rethink your health and improve your life. To get more ideas on mastering your habits, optimizing your performance, and improving your health, join his free newsletter.

Dwight Eisenhower was the 34 th President of the United States and is said to have lived the most productive lives one can imagine. He served two terms from 1953 to 1961. During his time in the office he launched several programs which led to the development of the Interstate Highway System in the United States, the launch of the internet (DARPA), space exploration (NASA), and also the peaceful use of alternative energy resources.

Before he took over the President’s office, Eisenhower was a five-star general in the United States Army, he had also served as the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe during World War II.

Eisenhower was the kind of a person who could sustain his productivity, not just for weeks, or months but for decades. And for that very reason, his techniques of time management, task management and productivity have been studied by many.

One of his most famous strategies of productivity is called as the Eisenhower Box (or the Eisenhower Matrix). Let us find out how Eisenhower’s strategy works and how to be more productive.

The Eisenhower Box- How to be more productive

This strategy by Eisenhower about organizing your tasks and taking actions is easy. By using the decision matrix below, you can separate your actions based on four possibilities.

  1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately)
  2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later)
  3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else)
  4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks you will eliminate)

One of the great things about this matrix is that you can use it for long-term or broad productivity plans, or even for the daily tasks.

Here is how the Eisenhower Box looks like-

How to be more productive by using the eisenhower box

The Difference between Urgent and Important-

The things you feel you need to react to are the urgent tasks- like emails, calls, texts, news stories. In the words of Brett McKay, “Important tasks are things that contribute to our long-term mission, values, and goals.”

To separate the differences between the two can be an easy task to do for once, but to do so continuously can be tough. The Eisenhower Matrix provides a clear framework with which you can make the decisions over and over again.

One of the fastest ways you can get a task done is by simply eliminating that task entirely. There is no other way to do a task faster than not doing it at all. This may seem as a reason to be lazy, but it is not. By doing this, you can force yourself to make hard decisions and eliminate any task that does not lead you to your goals, missions etc.

Very often, we dodge the question, ‘Do I really need to do this?’ by using productivity, and optimization as an excuse. Because many of these ties, remaining busy and convincing yourself that you need to be a little more efficient, or even “work later tonight” is much easier than actually eliminating the task you are comfortable with doing.

The Eisenhower box or the Matrix is particularly useful here as it pushes one to answer the question, whether doing a particular task is necessary? Is it the best use of your time? When you segregate your task in the four possibilities, the useless and time consuming tasks can easily be eliminated. And then you wouldn’t need any tips on how to be more productive!

Does it Help You Accomplish Your Goals?

It surely can help you accomplish your goals. But the process gets tough when you aren’t sure what you are working towards. There are two questions you can ask yourself which can help you clarify the entire process behind the Eisenhower Box-

  1. What am I working towards?
  2. What are the core values that drive my life?

Asking these questions daily can surely help you set a clear goal in your life. With this, you can also easily eliminate the tasks that are time-consuming, and do not account to what you are working towards.

Even though the Eisenhower Box cannot be termed as the perfect strategy, but it sure can help you in your decision making process!

Dwight Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States of America. He served two terms from 1953-1961. During his tenure, he launched programs that directly led to the development of highways, internet, NASA and the peaceful use of alternative energy sources in the form of Atomic Energy Act.

Before becoming the president he was also a General in the Army and the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces during World War II. At other points in his life he was also the President of Columbia University and the Supreme Commander of NATO. And in the middle of all this, he also found the time to pursue hobbies such as golfing and oil painting.

You can imagine how productive he must have been in order to achieve so many things. He made the best use of his time not for a few weeks but for decades. That is why he has been studied a lot to understand how he achieved what he achieved. One of the famous methods that led to his productivity is called as the Eisenhower Box.

The Eisenhower Box is pretty simple. (Refer to the featured image) It separates actions based on four possibilities :

  • Urgent and important
  • Important but not urgent
  • Urgent but not important
  • Neither urgent nor important

The activities that are urgent and important are the ones that we carry out immediately. The activities that are important but not urgent are the ones that we schedule to do later. The tasks that are urgent but not important are delegated to someone else and finally, the activities that are neither urgent nor important are eliminated.

As Eisenhower said,

“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”

Urgent tasks are the things that we want to react to like the phone calls, text messages, e-mails, etc. Important tasks are the things that contribute to our long-term goals.

Kevlin Henney, a computer programmer summed up perfectly the need to eliminate tasks. He said,

“There is no code faster than no code.”

In other words, the fastest way to get something done is by eliminating the task. Some might consider this as being lazy. However, it is forcing ourselves to eliminate the tasks that do not lead towards our mission. It is easier to remain busy and work longer rather than enduring the pain of eliminating tasks that we are not comfortable with.

As Tim Ferriss said,

“Being busy is a form of laziness – lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.”

This method pushes us to think about all the activities that we carry out on a daily basis. We think about the necessity of the activities that we do. It ensures that we don’t mindlessly repeat mundane and useless tasks. It also ensures that we make the best use of our time as we eliminate all the unnecessary activities.

However, there is one thing that we should keep in mind when using this method. In order to eliminate unnecessary tasks, we need to be sure what we are working towards. We need to be sure what our actual goal and long-term vision is.

For understanding that, we can ask ourselves these two questions

  • What am I working towards?
  • What are the core values that drive my life?

When you know what is important and what is not, it is much easier to decide the tasks that are important and the ones that are unnecessary.

This method is not a perfect productivity tool but is very useful in decision making and increasing productivity when simultaneously eliminating behavior that takes up mental energy, wastes time and rarely moves us towards our goals.

This post was inspired by James Clear’s article on the Eisenhower Box.

How to be more productive by using the eisenhower box

Dwight Eisenhower lived one of the most productive lives you can imagine.

Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States, serving two terms from 1953 to 1961. During his time in office, he launched programs that directly led to the development of the Interstate Highway System in the United States, the launch of the internet (DARPA), the exploration of space (NASA), and the peaceful use of alternative energy sources (Atomic Energy Act).

Before becoming president, Eisenhower was a five-star general in the United States Army, served as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II, and was responsible for planning and executing invasions of North Africa, France, and Germany.

At other points along the way, he served as President of Columbia University, became the first Supreme Commander of NATO, and somehow found time to pursue hobbies like golfing and oil painting.

Eisenhower had an incredible ability to sustain his productivity not just for weeks or months, but for decades. And for that reason, it is no surprise that his methods for time management, task management, and productivity have been studied by many people.

His most famous productivity strategy is known as the Eisenhower Box and it’s a simple decision-making tool that you can use right now. Let’s talk about how to be more productive and how Eisenhower’s strategy works.

Eisenhower’s strategy for taking action and organizing your tasks is simple. Using the decision matrix below, you will separate your actions based on four possibilities.

  1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
  2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
  3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
  4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

The great thing about this matrix is that it can be used for broad productivity plans (“How should I spend my time each week?”) and for smaller, daily plans (“What should I do today?”).

Here is an example of what my Eisenhower Box looks like for today.

Note: I created a spreadsheet template of the Eisenhower Box. You can download that spreadsheet template for your own use at the bottom of this article.

What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.
-Dwight Eisenhower

Urgent tasks are things that you feel like you need to react to: emails, phone calls, texts, news stories. Meanwhile, in the words of Brett McKay, “Important tasks are things that contribute to our long-term mission, values, and goals.”
Separating these differences is simple enough to do once, but doing so continually can be tough. The reason I like the Eisenhower Method is that it provides a clear framework for making the decisions over and over again. And like anything in life, consistency is the hard part.

Here are some other observations I’ve made from using this method.

A few years ago, I was reading about computer programming when I came across an interesting quote:

“There is no code faster than no code.”
–Kevlin Henney

In other words, the fastest way to get something done — whether it is having a computer read a line of code or crossing a task off your to-do list — is to eliminate that task entirely. There is no faster way to do something than not doing it at all. That’s not a reason to be lazy, but rather a suggestion to force yourself to make hard decisions and delete any task that does not lead you toward your mission, your values, and your goals.

Too often, we use productivity, time management, and optimization as an excuse to avoid the really difficult question: “Do I actually need to be doing this?” It is much easier to remain busy and tell yourself that you just need to be a little more efficient or to “work a little later tonight” than to endure the pain of eliminating a task that you are comfortable with doing, but that isn’t the highest and best use of your time.

As Tim Ferriss says, “Being busy is a form of laziness — lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.”

I find that the Eisenhower Method is particularly useful because it pushes me to question whether an action is really necessary, which means I’m more likely to move tasks to the “Delete” quadrant rather than mindlessly repeating them. And to be honest, if you simply eliminated all of the things you waste time on each day then you probably wouldn’t need any tips on how to be more productive at the things that matter.

One final note: it can be hard to eliminate time wasting activities if you aren’t sure what you are working toward. In my experience, there are two questions that can help clarify the entire process behind the Eisenhower Method.
Those two questions are…

  1. What am I working toward?
  2. What are the core values that drive my life?

These are questions that I have asked myself in my Annual Review and myIntegrity Report. Answering these questions has helped me clarify the categories for certain tasks in my life. Deciding which tasks to do and which tasks to delete becomes much easier when you are clear about what is important to you.

The Eisenhower Method isn’t a perfect strategy, but I have found it to be a useful decision-making tool for increasing my productivity and eliminating the behaviors that take up mental energy, waste time, and rarely move me toward my goals. I hope you’ll find it useful too.

Free Download: I created a spreadsheet template of the Eisenhower Box that you can download and use whenever you want to improve your productivity and eliminate time wasting activities. Click here to download the spreadsheet now.

James Clear writes at JamesClear.com , where he shares science-based ideas for living a better life and building habits that stick. To get strategies for boosting your mental and physical performance by 10x, join his free newsletter .

This article was originally published on James Clear.com

  1. Thanks to Brett McKay at The Art of Manliness for his post on the Eisenhower Box.↩
  2. The term “highest and best use” is a real estate concept for finding the most valuable use of a piece of property. My friend Mark Heckmann is a fan of using the phrase for personal time management and I like it too. Thanks Mark!↩
  3. For other useful productivity tips, check out this article summarizing Scott Hansleman’s work.↩