How to Make Better Decisions with The Eisenhower Box

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How to Make Better Decisions with The Eisenhower Box

Do you need help prioritizing tasks at work, home, or school?

Are you looking for a simple decision-making tool that can be used pretty much anywhere?

We all know decision-making is an important part of life.

While big life decisions often get all the attention, it is often the little decisions that determine our ability to get things done.

Think about it for a moment: each and every day you have to make countless decisions about which tasks to work on, and when.

What if you could make the process a whole lot easier by putting your tasks into some sort of overall context with one another?

You can do just that with the Eisenhower Box!

In this post, I’ll show you how to make better decisions using the Eisenhower Box.

You can use this tool to help you make decisions both big and small.

All you need is a sheet of paper and a pencil and you’re good to go!

Read on for more details…

Decision-Making 101: What is The Eisenhower Box?

The Eisenhower Box, also known as The Eisenhower Matrix, is simple tool that can help you prioritize your tasks and make better decisions.

The Eisenhower Box’s namesake is Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th President of the United States of America. Eisenhower was a five-star general in World War II. He later served as president from 1953-1961.

It’s a safe to say Eisenhower made an awful lot of important decisions during his professional career. The exact origins of The Eisenhower Box are somewhat unclear. It is believed the box is based on an alleged quote by Eisenhower: “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”

Whether or not Eisenhower actually said this, or made decisions using a quadrant box tool, is still up for debate. Regardless, we can still learn how to make better decisions using the Eisenhower Box.

Now, the basic logic of the Eisenhower Box is as follows, 1) identifying the importance of any task, and 2) identifying the urgency of any task.

The Eisenhower Box presents this is a convenient manner: a large box is divided into four separate and equally-sized quadrants. Each quadrant represents a task’s urgency and importance.

The quadrant setup is as follows:

  • Urgent and Important
  • Not Urgent and Important
  • Not Important and Urgent
  • Not Important and Not Urgent

For each of the tasks that appear in your life, you must assign it to one of the four quadrants of the box.

Let’s learn more about each of the quadrants:

The Components of The Eisenhower BoxImage of The Eisenhower Box

Q1. Urgent and Important

Key types: Emergencies, Deadlines, and Crises

You need to handle or address these items right away; there’s no time to delay!

There is a specific timeframe involved and you must take action right away.

Examples:

  • You were involved in a car accident, injured your head, and need to go to the hospital
  • Deadline for your college’s scholarship application is in two days
  • You have to deal with a billing issue with a client

Q2. Not Urgent and Important

Key types: Planning, Relaxation including Downtime, Vacation, Rest, Exercise

These items should be handled, they are not something you have to do right away, but must be completed nonetheless.

Examples:

  • Going to the park to get in your daily run
  • Planning an upcoming office event at work
  • Going to sleep by 10:30 PM each night

Q3. Not Important and Urgent

Key types: Distractions, Interruptions, Meetings

These items will come up and attempt distract you from your most important work, but for the most part, they aren’t things you need to deal with or attend to on a regular basis.

Examples:

  • Certain text messages, emails, and phone calls
  • A coworker interrupting a meeting to let you know there is cake in the cafeteria
  • A friend stopping by your house to ask if they can borrow a few pieces of clothing from you for an upcoming party

Q4. Not Important and Not Urgent

Key types: Wasting Time, Gossip, Trivial Matters

These are items that are a waste of your time, energy, or resources, or don’t allow you to get things done.

Examples:

  • Opening up and reading through junk postal mail
  • Chatting about the boss’ new car with a coworker
  • Spending the entire afternoon on Facebook

How to Make Better Decisions

The Eisenhower Box can be a great tool when it comes to making better decisions in your life.

Instead of simply viewing each and every task, distraction, interruption, email, meeting, text, or activity, as urgent and important, you must carefully categorize each in relation to the rest of your tasks.

You’ll have to identify which tasks are truly life and death situations, which ones are not, and which ones fall somewhere in-between.

Yes, this does mean you’ll have to stop and plan your actions, but doing so can save you a lot of time and effort.

Here are some tips to help you make better decisions:

Use the Eisenhower Box in your daily routine.

Don’t save the Eisenhower Box for big or ground-breaking decisions in your life. Get into the habit of using it on a frequent basis. The next time a task comes up at home, work, or at school that appears to be both urgent and important, take a moment to place the task in the proper quadrant. You may be surprised at what you find!

Let honesty be your best policy.

You can’t properly identify tasks if you’re using inaccurate details or information. Be 100% honest with yourself when sorting tasks into quadrants. While it may be tempting to place everything into Q1, think carefully about your tasks and their relationship to one another. Remember, the point of the exercise is to appropriately rank tasks according to their urgency and importance.

Practice makes perfect.

It takes practice to learn how to properly use any tool —Eisenhower Box included. Go easy on yourself and your progress. Practice placing tasks into quadrants and thoughtfully review your work. Ask yourself why you placed certain tasks into specific quadrants. For instance, were your decisions made on wishful thinking or were you grounded in reality? The more you practice, the easier it will be to identify and sort tasks into quadrants.

Put your current schedule in perspective.

Sure, you know you have a busy schedule. But are you placing your energies in the right place? Take a survey of your current schedule, calendar, or activities in relation to the Eisenhower Box. Are you spending a good chunk of your time  in Q1 and Q2, or are you hanging out too much in Q3 and Q4?

A version of this post appeared on the blog in 2015.

How about you? Have you ever used the Eisenhower Box to make decisions? Are you going to add it to your list of productivity and time management tools? Join the conversation and leave a comment below!

Do you want help better managing your time and energy? I offer time management coaching and organizing mindset coaching. Click here to learn more.

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How to Make Better Decisions with The Eisenhower Box
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Rashelle Isip is a New York City-based professional organizer and productivity consultant who helps people get organized so they can stress less, have more fun, and be happier at home. Her work has been featured in Good Housekeeping, Fast Company, Cosmopolitan, The Washington Post, Business Insider, and The Atlantic. Get access to her free guide, 3 Smart Steps to Organizing Your Home, by clicking here.