How to Use the Eisenhower Matrix in Every Area of Your Life

Jun 08, 2021
Photo: Dougal Waters/Getty Images


Over the past year and a half, I’ve heard people say they don’t feel like they are working from home, but living at work. It’s hard to deal with all the competing interests in our lives: work, relationships, family, friends, relaxation, and exercise.

There’s one tool I’ve found effective in navigating this issue: the Eisenhower Matrix. Originally created by President Dwight Eisenhower, the graphic helps you prioritize tasks based on urgency. While most people use it for work, I’ve expanded it to include everything I do in a day.

How it works: Get a piece of paper and divide it into four quadrants. Label the sections like this:

Graphic by the author

Now think about the tasks you have swirling about in your head and write them down on the sheet. In our context, “urgent” means it needs to be done today. These are your non-negotiables. For instance, a friend of mine goes for a walk with his wife at 6 p.m. no matter what. One of my urgent tasks is calling my family.

Here’s an example of what my matrix might look like:

Created by the author

It’s okay if you have to add and shuffle around priorities throughout the day. When time is running low, I will sacrifice the tasks closer to the center of the matrix first. In this example, while I’d prefer to help my colleague today, I know it’s okay if I do it tomorrow instead. I use arrows to adjust my priorities when needed.

Everyone’s priorities will look different. You might be surprised to see “watching a soccer game” as something that’s “urgent” for me, but it’s the way I de-stress at the end of the day.

The way you start off the sheet is what you imagine your best self would do. The mess at the end of the day with arrows pushing things into tomorrow is what you really do. This isn’t an exercise to make you feel bad about yourself, but rather to help you close the gap between the real you and your ideal you.

It’s harder to be in denial about the everyday trade-offs you are making when they are mapped out in front of you. Over time, as you notice less movement on the page, you’ll know you’re living in greater alignment with what really matters.

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