pro tips for setting priorities.

  • career advice
  • June 18, 2020

When everything is an urgent priority, nothing is, as the saying goes. Yet for a lot of employees today — constantly moving from one five-alarm fire to the next — that might sound alarmingly like the reality on the ground as well.

Trying to get a grip on all of that chaos, more effectively prioritize tasks and up your productivity, all in one fell swoop? Signing up for our latest webinar, "prioritize like a pro," is the first step. The second is to start implementing some of the solutions outlined below.

widespread prioritization problems for employees today

Your average office worker receives 200 or more emails every day — and devotes approximately two-and-a-half hours to reading and replying to them. That means a significant chunk of the time you have to be productive each day is accounted for, right off the bat.

In fact, struggling to set priorities — and make the most of available time — is a key challenge across the org chart, a pain point cited by front-line workers and leaders alike. In one large-scale survey of 1,500 executives around the world, only nine percent of respondents said they were "very satisfied" with their time allocation. What's more, only slightly more than half felt that how they were spending their time reflected strategic business priorities.

In that context, what can time-strapped employees do to set better priorities, delegate and be more effective? Let's turn to one actionable model that can help.

introducing a more structured approach

Enter the Eisenhower Matrix, so named for President Dwight D. Eisenhower. As a five-star general during World War II and the 34th president of the U.S., Eisenhower knew a thing or two about getting things done and effectively managing priorities.

Eisenhower Matrix Image

So, what is the Eisenhower Matrix, exactly?

Think of it as a four-quadrant model for prioritizing and accomplishing tasks according to their degree of urgency (y axis) and importance (x axis). More critically, how and where you plot your tasks and responsibilities on the matrix can provide a useful roadmap for setting priorities and taking actions.

Let's look at the practical application of the Eisenhower Matrix in a little bit more detail.

putting the eisenhower matrix into practice

Everything that you do, both personally and professionally, can be plotted into one of the four quadrants of the Eisenhower Matrix. Schematically, these quadrants can be thought of as follows:

  • Top-right quadrant: Do these first! Urgent work deadlines, as well as self-care and wellness, all belong here. Attend to these things daily and immediately.
  • Bottom-right quadrant: Schedule these tasks. They're important, but not immediately urgent — and they probably can't be taken care of in a single burst of productivity. Think: exercise, learning and development efforts, high-quality creative output and more.
  • Top-left quadrant: Delegate. Things like mandatory paperwork and non-life emergencies may be urgent to someone, but that someone isn't you. Try to delegate these tasks to others wherever possible.
  • Bottom-left quadrant: Wait. No action is required here. These things are neither urgent nor important. They can wait.

Applied rigorously, the goal of the Eisenhower Matrix is twofold: reducing stress while increasing your productivity.

Finally, as you begin to think through the matrix — and how it applies to your own life — there's another insight to bear in mind: When you actually know everything you're committed to, you’ll probably wind up committing to less. And that's a good thing.

Watch our webinar to get concrete, step-by-step guidance on leveraging the Eisenhower Matrix in your own life today.

key takeaways

Constantly putting out fires is no way to organize your workday. Worse, being inundated with last-minute asks like that has been found to lead to higher levels of employee burnout as well. So it's high time we all get a better handle on our priorities. By taking decisive clear steps to improve time management, we can all be more productive.

The tips outlined in this article should help. But you should also be sure to check out our "prioritize like a pro" webinar to learn more about how to use prioritization to change your work life!