How to Plan Your Day with the Productivity Matrix

You can’t do everything, but you can do the right things.

You’re probably familiar with Eisenhower’s 2×2 productivity matrix. It’s a common productivity tool, popularized by A. Roger Merrill and Dr. Stephen R. Covey, usually used to help decide which of two tasks we should be spending our time on.

Someone recently asked if this is a tool that you can only use when you’re planning your week or setting goals, or can you use it to plan your day?

Yes! You can use Eisenhower’s productivity matrix to plan and execute your day! Several years ago, my team switched to planning with nothing but the Productivity matrix, and the results were incredible.

Photo courtesy of © Adobe Stock / Gautier Willaume

The process starts like most other methods: write down everything you’re considering doing. We would start by reviewing what we did last week and choose to carry forward incomplete tasks that were still important, drop anything we didn’t do that didn’t matter, and use the things we did do as a starting point for next actions. We’d review the calendar for upcoming events, meetings, and appointments to find things we needed to prepare.

Next, assign every task to a quadrant. Urgency is usually straightforward. Importance is the tricky one to evaluate. A lot of things can seem important just because they’re urgent. Don’t let a deadline urge you into something you shouldn’t do.

Pro tip: you can also assign meetings to Quadrants. Many meetings are in Quadrant 3. Is it really more important for you to be there or should you spend the time working on that Q1 task? What about a Q2 task?

  • Q1 is putting out fires. This is the quadrant of crisis. You’re flying by the seat of your pants.
  • Q2 is quality preparation. It’s the most important place we can spend our time. Unfortunately, it’s also the first place we usually cut tasks.
  • Q3 is the gravel that needs done. Eliminate, automate, or delegate what you can.
  • Q4 is blowing off steam. It’s better to do Q2 relaxation and sustainable margin, but like so many cooking spices, it will do in a pinch. And use just a pinch.

Once you have your list of possibilities written out, start picking. Q1 gets scheduled first, then Q2, Q3, and Q4. Yes, they go in order. That’s not an accident. It makes for a nice tie-breaker.

When my team did this, we would intentionally choose more than we thought we could ever get done. We didn’t want to work from a short list, burn through everything by 2:00, and then not have a plan for the rest of the day. Instead, we wanted to have a rich list to draw from and give ourselves permission up front to not get everything done. As long as we were working on the right things, we could call it a day with a clear conscience and let the rest wait.

We started our weekly planning sessions by reflecting, going over what we’d tried to get done that week. A question we regularly asked ourselves was “What should we do this week to make sure we don’t spend that much time in Q1 again?”

When we started using the productivity matrix as our primary planning tool, we were spending over 70% of our time in Q1. We were getting a lot done, but it was stressful. Two months later, we had practically eliminated Q1 from our calendar. We were learning to let go of the trivial tasks that keep so many teams chasing their tails and focus on the vital few tasks that bring the best results.

The Eisenhower productivity matrix is an essential tool for your planning toolbox. Use it to set goals, plan your time, and adjust as the landscape changes around you. It will help you focus your energy on the right things instead of spreading yourself too thinly over too many things.

Question: How do you focus on doing the right things every day? Share your thoughts in the comments, or on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

About

Colter writes software and blogs about personal growth and productivity. He lives in Silicon Valley (California) with his wife and children, recently took up golf, and watches mostly British TV shows.

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