Before he was the 34th president of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower was a general during World War II. Between creating plans to defeat Germany, overseeing D-Day, and allocating troops across Europe, he was a very busy man. To help himself prioritize the correct projects and decisions, he created the time matrix, also known as the Eisenhower matrix.
Today, people use the time matrix to organize their tasks, priorities, and life. Here’s how you can use it in yours.
How Does the Time Matrix Work?
The time matrix breaks down your life into four categories:
1. Urgent, Important
This is your highest priority work. These items are deeply impactful and have deadlines that are approaching quickly.
For example, a paper that’s due tomorrow and worth 25% of your grade would qualify for this section.
This is where most people spend their time. These tasks pile up quickly, and you always need to focus on them. However, your goal should be to actually spend no time in this category. Instead, try to keep your tasks in category 2.
2. Not Urgent, Important
These items are as impactful as those in category 1, but they don’t have a deadline approaching soon.
For example, most homework starts as important but not urgent. It’s only when you procrastinate that it gets moved to the first category.
Your best work will occur when you can work on important tasks without the stress of a looming deadline. You don’t want to rush important work, so you want most of your work to fall into category 2.
There are also many important areas of your life that fall into this category. Spending time with family, learning new hobbies, and taking care of your physical health are all category two activities.
3. Urgent, Not Important
These items aren’t very important, and if you didn’t do them, it wouldn’t be the end of the world, but they are coming at you fast.
For most students, things like surprise phone calls, organization meetings, and responding to group chats fall into this category.
In a lot of productivity articles, it’s recommended that you delegate items in this category. That’s obviously not possible for most students. However, you can try to defer these items to others as much as possible.
Dealing with category 3 is inevitable, but your goal should be to recognize these items quickly and avoid planning your life around them.
4. Not Urgent, Not Important
These are things that don’t have a deadline and don’t contribute to your long-term goals. You’ll find a lot of time-wasters in this category. For example, watching TV or browsing social media. Try to remove these items from your life as much as possible.
How to Use The Time Matrix
- Write down all the tasks, obligations, and routines in your life.
- Review each item on your list and assign it to a category in the matrix.
- Try to minimize or entirely remove the items in category 4 from your life.
- Try to reduce or defer responsibility for items in category 3.
- Schedule items in category 2.
- Do items in category 1 immediately. Then, analyze how you could move them into category 2 in the future.
Frequently Asked Questions About The Time Matrix
What counts as important?
Anything that contributes to your long-term goals or growth counts as important. It’s easy to think about homework in this context, but things like family time and hobbies can be just as important.
Are you saying I should never watch TV again?
It isn’t always bad to spend time on things in category 4. Sometimes you just want to relax and play video games, and that’s ok. It’s just important to limit the amount of time you spend in this category. Items in category 4 don’t contribute to your long-term goals, so spending a large amount of time on them won’t be healthy for you in the long run.
How do I delegate items in category 3 to others?
Delegation requires a bit of creative thinking for students. Let’s look at an example.
Say you have a student organization that is having a meeting at lunchtime. This is urgent because it has a deadline, but attending this meeting isn’t necessarily important to your long-term goals. A way to delegate this meeting would be to skip it and ask one of your friends to send you notes on anything important that comes up.
Time Matrix Resources
At the end of the day, the Eisenhower matrix is about taking a step back and getting a bird’s-eye view of our lives. The matrix reminds us that it’s not just about getting more done, but about doing the right things at the right time. It’s a simple tool that might just make a huge difference in how you approach your schoolwork.