You’ve got a lot on your plate. In addition to your actual projects, it feels like you also have 50 other little tasks that demand your attention. There are a ton of unanswered emails in your inbox. A coworker on another project desperately needs your input on something, and they’re on a deadline. Not to mention that overflowing laundry bin waiting for you at home.
With all of these priorities whizzing around your brain simultaneously, it’s hard to actually tackle any of them. The anxiety of not knowing where to start is leaving you in a state of analysis paralysis. You feel overwhelmed, and stuck.
But it’s not all bad news. Solutions for prioritization and decision-making are not new. In fact, one of the greatest frameworks for thinking about decision-making came over a half a century ago, from old school productivity master and very busy fellow Dwight Eisenhower, 34th President of the United States.
The Eisenhower Matrix
The Eisenhower Matrix is an easy way to figure out how to prioritize your tasks so that the most important don’t fall by the wayside to the sudden, unexpected, and urgent ones.
The idea is that all of your tasks can be sorted into four quadrants, with axes of Important and Urgent on either side. These four quadrants are given number values of 1 through 4 based on their priority.
Image credit: Jamesclear.com
Tasks that are both “Important” and “Urgent” receive a priority level of 1, and should be your focus. On the other end of the spectrum, tasks that are deemed both “Not Important” and “Not Urgent” should be put to the wayside. In the middle are tasks that can either be scheduled for next up, or even delegated to someone else.
The Eisenhower Matrix is a simple framework that helps you break out of that pernicious analysis paralysis which occurs every time you “feel like you don’t even know where to start.” By assigning each task to a quadrant, it is easy to understand what actually requires your attention this very second.
Why Is It Hard To Make Decisions?
Research shows that decision-making is inextricably tied to emotion. The part of your brain linked to rationality and decision-making, the orbitofrontal cortex, and the part of your brain associated with emotion, the amygdala, are often working together when you are processing higher thought.
This means that decision-making is actually tied to mood regulation. Indeed, anxiety and depression are often categorized as feelings of immobility, being stuck, and an inability to make decisions.
That’s why adopting a framework like the Eisenhower Matrix to help you triage your tasks, or decisions you need to make, is an easy way to reduce your emotional load.
Make It Visible
The Eisenhower Matrix can be translated into a Trello board of your tasks. Make a list for each quadrant, as well as an “Incoming” list where you can dump everything you need to do, and triage when you’re ready. It will look something like this:
Just looking at your board will give you the visual ease of load balancing. Do you have a lot of cards in the Not Important/Urgent list? Start tackling little things on there to make those lists seem more manageable.
Only put what is truly pressing in the Important/Urgent list. These are tasks that simply cannot be put off, and for which you must give your undivided attention. Tasks that are Urgent but not necessarily Important are often tasks that can be delegated to someone else when appropriate.
Remember that assigning priority to tasks means different things to different people. For you, scheduling that flight for the conference might be urgent because if you don’t do it in advance, airline fares will break your budget. For others, that might be a task that is better delegated to an assistant.
If you collaborate closely with someone, like an assistant or a spouse (depending if it’s a work or home to-do list), add them to the board so you can assign them some of those tasks.
If you want to keep this board to yourself, use the copy card function to move them to another board where you are collaborating with others.
Automate The Incoming
Part of the anxiety of having multiple tasks is not being able to see them all in one place. If you’re in your email and you see something you need to answer but don’t have the time, use Trello’s email-to-board feature to forward this automatically to the Incoming list. After a few of these pile up, you know it’s time to triage those cards into their Eisenhower categories.
You can also use automation tool Zapier to create cards in your Incoming list. Connect other apps you’re using to Trello, and when specific events happen, it will trigger a Zap and send a card to your Trello list.
For example, automatically create a Trello card every time a new row is created in a Google spreadsheet. Or if you’re on the go and jotting notes down in Evernote, set them to Zap to your Trello board so that they can be turned into action items later.
And don’t forget that you can also simply add cards from other Trello boards into your Eisenhower Matrix by using the Copy function under Actions listed on each card.
Drop The Dread Of Decision Making
The Eisenhower Matrix is a visual framework that can be used with productivity tools you’re already in, like Trello, to keep everything organized. It’s an easy way to batch tasks into four priority levels, one of which (Not Important/Not Urgent) is immediately dropped, so really it’s only three categories of attention-worthy tasks to focus on.
In short, you’ve already got plenty on your plate. Don’t make the process of prioritization yet another thing you need to deal with. Thanks, Ike!