College years can often feel overwhelming. Students must find the time and energy to juggle their studies, work, and personal life. We know it can feel tough to keep up with your schedule when all your deadlines are burning. That’s why we recommend that you separate urgent issues from long-term goals. Otherwise, you won’t be productive, and, more importantly, you’ll have difficulty reaching your larger life goals.
The Eisenhower Matrix will help you delegate the things that don’t contribute to your success so that you can focus on your essential tasks.
In this article, you’ll find the answers to the following questions:
- How can prioritizing particular tasks help you reach an agreeable study-life balance?
- What is the Eisenhower Matrix, and how can it improve your time-management skills?
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🔦 The Eisenhower Matrix Explained
The Eisenhower Matrix is a helpful technique you can use to prioritize your tasks. It is also known as the Eisenhower Box, the Eisenhower Method, the Urgent-Important Matrix, and the Time Management Matrix. In this section, we’ll look deeper into the Eisenhower Matrix and how you can use it to manage your time and tasks efficiently.
What Is the Eisenhower Matrix?
The Eisenhower Matrix is one of the most popular time-management frameworks. It is designed to help people sort their tasks according to their urgency and importance.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, president of the United States during World War II, once said that he had two kinds of problems, urgent and important. He believed that an important issue could never be urgent and vice versa.
Many years later, American businessman and author Stephen Covey transformed the President’s idea. He introduced one of the most popular task management tools, the Eisenhower Matrix, in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. For this framework, he used the same two characteristics – urgency and importance – but argued that they aren’t mutually exclusive. Covey’s matrix includes four boxes: important and urgent, important and non-urgent, non-important and urgent, and non-important and non-urgent tasks. In this article, we’ll refer to these boxes as quadrants. For a more detailed explanation, keep reading.
When to Use the Eisenhower Matrix?
The Time Management Matrix is a #1 helper when:
- You have long-term goals but don’t have the time or energy to work on them.
- You feel like your friends and groupmates are more productive than you.
- You find yourself procrastinating a lot.
- You miss your deadlines.
- You want to start a side job but cannot find any free time.
- You study excessively and miss seeing your friends and family regularly.
- You find it hard to say “no” to other people.
- You fear missing out on events and college life experiences.
- You quickly get distracted by things around you.
- You want to become the best version of yourself.
Benefits and Limitations of the Eisenhower Matrix
Students often struggle with poor time management, all-nighters, and emotional burnout. However, the Eisenhower Matrix allows you to change your approach to organizing your studies and life.. Consider the benefits and deficiencies of this tool:
|✅ It helps you to reevaluate the importance and urgency of your tasks.|
✅ It enables you to monitor your daily tasks and not overlook something.
✅ It is easy to use even with no experience in time-management techniques.
✅ It challenges you to eliminate extraneous activities from your routine by delegating.
✅ It enhances your life-study balance and prevents emotional burnout.
✅ It helps you visualize a clear structure to organize your thoughts.
✅ It improves your academic performance by making you work on complex assignments step-by-step.
|❌ It doesn’t consider the complexity of the tasks – only their importance and urgency.|
❌ It takes some time to get used to the matrix as a part of your daily routine.
❌ Evaluating a task’s importance or urgency is challenging if you haven’t started it yet.
❌ You must limit the number of tasks for each quadrant. Otherwise, the matrix can become chaotic and overwhelming.
⚖️ Important Vs. Urgent Tasks
The core of the Eisenhower Matrix is to evaluate tasks according to their importance and urgency. Consider that these two characteristics are highly individual for each case.
Important tasks have the following features:
- They contribute to your long-term missions.
- They can be broken down into several sub-tasks.
- They are time-consuming and effort-intensive.
- They determine the direction of a person’s life.
- They may or may not have a concrete deadline.
- They often require organizational planning instead of immediate action.
An example of an essential task for every student is writing their final thesis. An efficient strategy for writing your research is to divide it into sections and work on them individually throughout the year.
The features of urgent tasks are different:
- They demand immediate attention and action.
- They have a visible deadline or a deadline that has already passed.
- They are often driven by external factors.
- They require a focused, narrow mindset.
Examples of urgent tasks include answering an emergency email from your professor, preparing for the next day’s test, or any other situation where you need to respond quickly.
⚠️ Note that since important tasks take longer to work through, people often neglect them. And if you’ve been putting them off for too long, they become urgent. For instance, some students start their thesis a few days before the deadline, making it both a very urgent and very important task.
Don’t make this mistake – distribute your tasks in all four quadrants!
🔢 The Four Quadrants of the Matrix
The key advantage of the Eisenhower Matrix is that it is a simple task-management tool with four boxes to fill. They are also called quadrants and differ based on their level of importance and urgency. The idea of the matrix is to put the tasks you have into one of these quadrants:
Important & Urgent Quadrant #1
Important and urgent tasks are inevitable and demand that you act quickly. Typically, these tasks occur when you have a deadline looming, when you experience an emergency, or when you’ve been procrastinating for too long. Some issues from this quadrant can be foreseen, but others are impossible to predict and require you to act ASAP.
Important & Non-Urgent Quadrant #2
Important but non-urgent tasks are the steps you need to take to achieve your long-term goals. Sometimes they don’t have a deadline, so you can put them off in favor of more urgent tasks. However, these tasks bring you opportunities to strengthen your skills and energy. If you gradually take on meaningful and non-urgent tasks, you decrease the number of problems that may arise in the first quadrant.
Non-Important & Urgent Quadrant #3
Non-important tasks are a part of every student’s routine. These tasks are based on expectations set by others, for example, professors or parents. Since they are related to other person’s priorities, you might prefer to do something else. If possible, try to delegate these tasks so they don’t take over your day.
Non-Important & Non-Urgent Quadrant #4
Non-urgent and non-important tasks are activities you can eliminate from your daily routine. Identify the biggest time wasters you have and think about how to avoid them. However, don’t remove all the fun or relaxing activities from the matrix, as that may lead to burnout.
Let us introduce you to Harry. He’s a college senior studying business and finance. Besides studying, he regularly helps his mother run their family’s restaurant and takes care of his elderly dog. Harry recently met the girl of his dreams, Meg. If you wonder how Harry manages to have his life together, look at his Eisenhower Matrix!
|QUADRANT 1 – IMPORTANT & URGENT||QUADRANT 2 – IMPORTANT & NON-URGENT|
|QUADRANT 3 – NON-IMPORTANT & URGENT||QUADRANT 4 – NON-IMPORTANT & NON-URGENT|
📑 How to Use the Eisenhower Matrix: Step by Step
Implementing the Eisenhower Matrix can be a life-changing experience. You’ll find a step-by-step Matrix manual below if you don’t know how to organize it yourself.
Prioritizing and Managing Tasks
All your assignments must be sorted first: identify high-priority tasks, your overarching goals, and the sub-goals you need to complete. Assessing the importance and urgency of a task might be challenging at first, but it becomes easier with practice. These are the steps for you to take:
- Ask yourself powerful questions.
What will happen if you don’t get a task done? Can someone else do it for you? How long have you had this task on your to-do list? These questions will help reveal the importance and urgency of each task.
- Consider in which quadrant each of your tasks belongs.
Assess if the task has a concrete deadline or none at all. Those that don’t need your attention immediately but contribute to your long-term success belong in the second quadrant. And the ones you need to do ASAP go into the first quadrant. Don’t worry if your matrix isn’t perfect the first time; it will take a bit of practice to get used to distributing the tasks correctly.
- Estimate the time required to complete each quadrant.
This way, you can check if the Eisenhower Matrix works efficiently for you. Organize a trial period of two weeks and use your timer to see how time-consuming each task is.
- If one of the quadrants takes up all your time, try rearranging your matrix.
There may be tasks you can delegate, or you might need to reevaluate their priority. This is good if most of your assignments are in the 2nd quadrant! It means that you approach your daily tasks intelligently.
Sometimes you might find yourself stuck in one quadrant for too long and have no energy for others. This is entirely natural, especially during the college years when you are easily overwhelmed with new tasks and experiences. However, this is also a sign to rebalance your matrix. Here’s how to do it:
- Quadrant 1
If you feel stuck on all the deadlines in the first quadrant, try working on those tasks gradually. Often students postpone doing their assignments until the night before the deadline. Instead, you can try working on your essay 20 minutes a day during the week before the deadline and save yourself from pulling an all-nighter.
- Quadrant 2
Activities from the second quadrant often end up in the first one because they are easy to neglect. We recommend creating deadlines for yourself for non-urgent tasks. This way, you can work on your long-term goals step-by-step and track your progress.
- Quadrant 3
Try delegating or eliminating some tasks to minimize your time in this quadrant. For example, high-achieving students often take on too many responsibilities during a group project. Next time you work with a team, don’t be afraid to ask for help or to say “no” to things you don’t want to do.
- Quadrant 4
It’s OK to unwind from your daily routine and do the fun things you like. However, if your hobbies turn out to be complete wastes of time, it might be better to look for some alternatives. Try relaxing activities that will also be empowering, like walking or journaling. And if you feel like watching some Netflix, make sure you limit the time you allot for it.
⏲️ Tips for Successful Time Management – Hack the Matrix
Consider these tips to ensure you get all the benefits of using the Eisenhower Matrix.
- Fill in your matrix at the same time every day or week to turn the process into a habit.
- Avoid obsessing, and don’t be too hard on yourself if something doesn’t work out as planned.
- Use other time-management tools to complete the matrix, for example, the Pomodoro Technique.
- Try social media blocking software to minimize your time on non-important and non-urgent things.
- Ensure you include no more than eight tasks in every quadrant so as not to make the matrix unbearable.
- Keep your matrix on hand or make a digital version to help you stay focused and avoid procrastination.
At college, everyone is rushing to keep up with their schedules. Unfortunately, we can’t create more time in our day, but we can use our time efficiently. The Eisenhower matrix is a universal tool that can improve productivity and teach anyone how to manage their priorities and resources. By using the matrix, you learn which things are worth your time and effort and which aren’t.
The Eisenhower matrix is based on the difference between important and urgent tasks. Learning to distinguish and complete these can significantly affect your progress and personal growth. Once you can easily distinguish between urgent and important tasks, you also better understand what is productive and what isn’t. And this is a great stepping stone toward finding what you want to do in the future.
- Avoid the “Urgency Trap” with the Eisenhower Matrix
- The Eisenhower Matrix: How to Prioritize Your To-Do List • Asana
- The Time Management Matrix: Making The Best Use Of Your Time | BetterHelp
- How to prioritize work when everything’s important
- Time Management Skills: Examples and How To Improve Them | Indeed.com
- 5 Ways to Work and Study at the Same Time – wikiHow
- 10 Tangible Tips to Balance Working Full-Time and Going to College | Rasmussen University
- Mastering Time Management for College Students
- The Pomodoro Technique Really Works for Productivity | The Muse
- The Eisenhower Matrix: Introduction & 3-Minute Video Tutorial