Efficient Productivity Matrix

"The most urgent decisions are rarely the most important ones." — Dwight Eisenhower

Dwight David Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States, serving two terms from 1953 to 1961. During his period of presidency, he started space exploration (NASA), created the Internet (DARPA), and built the Interstate Highway System. Previously, he was a five-star general in the US Army, served as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II. After war, he became President of Columbia University, and then served as first Supreme Commander of NATO. Due to his incredible ability to sustain productivity for years. many people study his productivity strategy. His most famous method is Eisenhower Matrix.

Einsenhower Matrix
It is a 2x2 matrix that helps us decide on and prioritize tasks by urgency and importance. Using the matrix below, we will separate our todo list based on four possibilities:
  1. Important and urgent (tasks to do first)
  2. Important, but not urgent (tasks to schedule)
  3. Urgent, but less important (tasks to delegate to someone else)
  4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks to eliminate)

The key of this matrix is differentiating between urgent and important. Urgent tasks require immediate attention, while important tasks contribute to our long-term mission, values, and goals. The objective of using Eisenhower matrix is to help us filter the noise from our decisions and concentrate on what really matters.

Quadrant #1 : Important and Urgent
Those are tasks that require our immediate attention and contribute to our long-term objectives. We should do it first in the morning. Examples:
  • Responding emails from top customers and top employees
  • Important deadlines that matter for our business or our careers
  • Emergency issues with health or family

Quadrant #2 : Important, not Urgent
Those are tasks that don't have a pressing deadline, but help us achieve our long-term objectives. We should schedule it or get those done in the afternoon to night. Examples:
  • Working on top priority projects
  • Annual / quarterly / monthly / weekly planning
  • Skills & knowledge improvement
  • Socializing : family time, volunteering
  • Quality me time : exercising, spending time with rewarding hobbies

Quadrant #3 : Urgent, but less Important
Those are tasks that require our immediate attention, but not really contribute to our life goals. Those are probably important for others, but not important for us. Mostly we need to delegate theme to someone else or just say no. If we decide to delegate them, we should keep track of delegated tasks by email, telephone or within a productive quick meeting to check back on their progress later. Examples:

Quadrant #4 : Neither Urgent nor Important
Those are just primarily distractions. We should eliminate them. Examples:
  • Watching useless TV programmes
  • Scrolling through social media

Now we can use this matrix for broad productivity plans ("How should I spend my time each week / month?") and for smaller / daily plans ("What should I do today?").

Efficient Productivity Matrix
This is from my real life experience. What if everything is already in Quadrant 1 & Quadrant 2? Which tasks should I do first in Quadrant 1 or Quadrant 2? In this case, Eisenhower matrix is not enough. We need to consider more than importance and urgency. We need not only being productive, but also being efficient. Effectiveness is doing the right things, while efficiency is doing things right.

To manage all my important tasks, I use an "efficient productivity matrix" which is a 3x3 box that helps me decide on and prioritize tasks by impacts and resources required.

Efficient Productivity Matrix : Top-left box is where "Work Smart" happens, while top-right is for "Work Hard"

Efficiency = Impacts / Resources
We need to realize that not all important tasks are worth the same. Some tasks are producing high impacts that could be higher monetary values or higher chance for us to successfully achieve our long-term missions, values, and goals. Meanwhile some other tasks are still important but producing less impacts.

In the other side, we also need to realize that we need different amount of resources to do each tasks. The resources could be our time, our efforts, our money, or our people. And if we think clearly, high-impact task doesn't always require high resources, vice versa. This is the key difference of work smart and work hard.

Work Smart, Work Hard
After we filter our todo list so that it contains only important tasks, we put each of them in one of the nine quadrants in 3x3 matrix above. Then, we should start working from the top-left box (tasks that produce high impacts but require less resources) toward to bottom-right box (tasks that produce low impacts but require high resources). Working smart means working on tasks on the top-left box and focusing our activities there. We should think hard to find what we can do with 20% of our resources that can create 80% of the impacts.

However, sometimes we find situations to choose between tasks with high impacts and high resources (box 2, 4, 7) and tasks with low impacts and low resources (box 3, 6, 8). Top-right is where working hard is necessary, giving the extra miles to achieve more than ordinary people.

Be Effective
Both Eisenhower matrix and efficient productivity matrix above help us to be more productive and efficient. However, the most important thing is we need to be effective. Peter Drucker in his book "Effective Executive" share how to be an effective leader, which I summarize in these three key points:
  1. Get the knowledge we need
    - What needs to be done?
    - What is the right to do?
  2. Plan and execute
    - Create action plans
    - Take responsibilities for decisions and communications
    - Focus on opportunities rather than solving problems
  3. Ensure everyone feel responsible and accountable

Good things come to those who work their asses off and never give up!