The crucial difference between "urgent" and "important" tasks - that will change the way you work.

How do you decide how to divide up your work day? Do you work through your tasks as they appear on your list? Do you jump from spot-fire to spot-fire all day long? Do you often leave work feeling like you didn’t accomplish much?

Fixing it could be as simple as reconsidering how you prioritise your work.

It can be hard to tell the difference between the stuff you have to get done right away, and the stuff you need to doat some point. That’s when decision making becomes crucial to your workflow.

The Eisenhower Matrix, named for 34th President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a former war general accustomed to making a lot of decisions every day, is a simple work triage system that will have you back on track to meet all your deadlines every single day.

It also recognises that “urgent” and “important” aren’t the same thing.

Urgent tasks are time-sensitive: They have to get done either today, or maybe first thing tomorrow. But they could be as mundane as doing the laundry before you run out of underwear.

Important tasks could be way less time-sensitive. But they matter, like making time to catch up with a staff member you’ve noticed seems to be struggling. You could put them off to get the urgent stuff done, but you can’t put them off altogether.

The matrix’s most useful tip is that it encourages you not to split your day into “work” and “personal” tasks, but to simply go through everything you want to get done that day and figure out how crucial it is. It sorts your responsibilities into “do first”, “schedule”, “delegate”, and “don’t do”.

And it’s worth trying—because if you don’t have work-life balance, you’re going to burn out, hard.

Eisenhower matrix

Image via Eisenhower.

"Do first"

The "do first" tasks are things like that report your boss is expecting at lunch time, or the submission that's due by close of business. You know, the stuff that literally cannot wait any longer to be done.


The "schedule" stuff is the important stuff no one else can do for you but that isn't super urgent, like spending some time checking your emails and responding where needed.


"Delegate" is the stuff you can palm off on someone else but still needs to get done soon. Maybe your partner can take the cat to the vet, or your colleague can book the conference room for next Thursday? You don't have to do everything yourself to ensure it gets done. Micromanagement is never going to get things done faster.

Listen: A CEO texts her employees after hours to see if they will respond. (Post continues after audio.) 

"Don't do"

Finally, "don't do" is the stuff that you simply do not have to do. Spending hours looking at pictures of Barack Obama as President might be bittersweet and adorable. But you do not need to do this. Strike it from the list.

It's important to not put too many things on the list—the people at recommend no more than eight things in each category at a time. That way, you can realistically get it all done.

Excuse me while I go cross "lurk on Chrissy Teigen's Twitter" off my list.

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