In this increasingly interconnected world, staying on top of priorities can become a full-time job in itself. If you find yourself freezing up when considering your to-do list, you’re not alone. This post will share one method to keep priorities in check and your productivity correspondingly secure!

If you find yourself facing decision fatigue, one option is to use the [Eisenhower Method][], named after former President Dwight D. Eisenhower. (There are plenty of other methods to explore on that page; this article is tackling just the one). With this framework, you give each task two labels: urgent/not urgent and important/not important. Urgency tells you how time-sensitive the task is, while importance tells you how critical it is to complete the task at some point. Some examples (yours might differ a lot):

  Urgent Not Urgent
Important Plumbing leak Pay bills
Not Important Sale today only! Video games

Oftentimes this method is represented by drawing a square with four quadrants on a piece of paper: one quadrant corresponds to urgent and important; another, urgent and not important; another, important and not urgent; and another, neither important nor urgent. You can also use a simple list:

  • Important/urgent: Plumbing leak
  • Important/not urgent: Pay bills
  • Not important/urgent: Sale today only!
  • Not important/not urgent: Video games

When you use this method, any tasks labeled urgent and important would ideally be tackled first, making “what to do first” a much simpler job! After that, you can use your judgment on the urgent/not important and important/not urgent tasks, and finally unwind (if you want) with the not important/not urgent tasks. You can use multiple charts, such as one for personal arrangements and another for work tasks. An entire chart might even apply to a single project, like buying a car or renovating a home.

No matter how you use the Eisenhower Method, keep in mind that it is an iterative process: you may go through several drafts before finding one that works or “feels” accurate. In particular, if you find you have too many items in important/urgent, do spend some time exploring whether any can be demoted to not urgent and/or not important. In fact, this might be the most important part of using the Eisenhower Method: questioning your beliefs about what makes something urgent or important is a great first step toward getting things in order, not to mention being more in touch with yourself.

For instance, suppose that fishing were a hobby of mine and that I’ve had my eye on a nice fishing rod for six months now. I might put buying the rod into “important” because it’s important to me and not especially time-sensitive. Suddenly I see that it’s on sale this month, 20% off! I might be tempted to move the purchase to important and urgent.

Do not let emotions take control in this situation. Incentives to buy are a form of social engineering. They pose a threat to the security of your budget! The rod itself is no more urgent than it was a month ago. Instead I could put something like “take advantage of rod sale” into urgent/not important, leaving the rod purchase in important/not urgent. This separates the act of buying from the act of owning, letting me prioritize them individually.

In this article I explored one task management method using the Eisenhower Box. Please let me know what you think in the comments!