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Eisenhower Matrix for RTM

mehardin says:
It's difficult when planning our day and our actions to lose sight between the difference in those items that are urgent and those that are important. For example, answering the phone is urgent. If you don't do it now, the caller will hang up. But the vast majority of the time, for most of us, it isn't all that important. Spending time with your spouse or children, exercising, scheduling a physical, etc. are all examples of tasks that are important, but they may not be urgent at the moment.


Quadrant 1: Important and Urgent
Crying baby
Kitchen fire
Some calls

Quadrant 2: Important not Urgent
Family time

Quadrant 3: Urgent not Important
Other Calls

Quadrant 4: Neither Important nor Urgent
Busy Work
Time Wasters

Most of us live in Quadrant 1, and it can't be ignored, because it truly is important. But it is also where all of the stress is. The trick of finding peace and productivity is prioritizing Quadrant 2 over Quadrants 3 and 4. The more time we can spend in the second Quadrant, the more we can shrink Quadrant 1. Quadrant 2 is the Quadrant of proactivity, Quadrant 1 is the quadrant of reactivity. If we spend time exercising in Q2, we may avoid the trip to the ER of Q1.

Over the years that I've been a RTM user, I've seen this addressed in the forums by others. Some suggest using the Priorities built into RTM to handling them, assigning each task a priority corresponding to it's quadrant.

Priority 1: Urgent and Important
Priority 2: Important, but not Urgent
Priority 3: Urgent, but not Important
No Priority: Neither Urgent nor Important

Others have suggested tagging tasks with Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4.

The problem with both of these is that they require constant editing of either the priorities or tags. The tasks listed in Quadrant 1 of the table above will never show up in your list. They are too urgent to write down. But a time sensitive task that starts out in Quadrant 2 or 4 may migrate to quadrant 1 or 3 as the due date nears. That TCP report that is due next Friday might not be urgent today, but it becomes very urgent next Thursday. However, either that TCP report is important, or it isn't. That actually doesn't change over time. Tasks do NOT become more important as a deadline draws near, just more urgent. If they are important when they are due tomorrow, they were important all along. Urgency is dynamic, Importance is static.

I propose the best way to manage these quadrants in RTM is by combining Priorities and Due Dates. To do this, I made 6 smart lists. 1) Important, 2) Urgent, 3)Q1, 4)Q2, 5)Q3, and 6)Q4. My search terms for the lists are as follows.

List: Search Terms
Important: priority:1 OR priority:2 OR priority:3
Urgent: dueBefore:"3 days"
Q1: list:Important AND list:Urgent
Q2: list:Important AND NOT list:Urgent
Q3: list:Urgent AND NOT list:Important
Q4: NOT(list:Important OR list:Urgent)

Using this method, when I process my inbox I ask myself if a task is truly important or not. Hopefully I'm not putting many unimportant tasks on my list to begin with, so most tasks get a priority of 3. I start out giving them a 3 because I'm not trying to determine yet HOW important they are, but just whether they are important. But there could be some things I want to do that aren't necessarily important, that are just fun time wasters, or maybe something someone else has asked me to do that I really don't view as important. It's hard to admit you have something on the list that isn't important. Most times you may just delete it if you don't think it's important, but others you may prefer to just leave it on the list with no priority assigned. The second thing you would do in processing your inbox is to assign due dates. Many Q2 tasks may not need due dates. We really want to give family time a high priority, but it's not normally urgent.

With these lists events will automatically flow either from quadrant 2 to quadrant 1, or quadrant 4 to quadrant 3 when they are due in less than 3 days. Of course you can adjust your search criteria for urgent down to dueBefore:tomorrow to include only things that are due today or overdue, or you could change it to dueBefore:"1 week" to include anything due this work week. You have to decide on your definition of urgent. Three days seemed good to me.

Begin your day by looking in Q1. The first question to ask yourself is, "Is everything in this list REALLY important? What would happen if a particular task didn't get done?" Something we thought was important when we first entered it may not look so important today. If you can find some tasks that are not so important after all, either delete them (preferred) or remove their priority. Now that you are certain that everything left on your quadrant 1 list is important, determine which are most important. Some will stay priority 3, while others will be changed to priority 1 or 2. Now you have to use some judgment. You are going to have to decide what order you work through this list based on both priority and importance. You may do the priority 3 that is due today before the priority 1 that is due in 2 days. Or that priority 1 that is due in 2 days may be so important, that you decide it's worth being late on the priority 3 that's due today.

While we have to spend time in Quadrant one, the goal is to get into Quadrant 2. Quadrant 2 is where we sharpen the saw, build relationships, and prevent fires so that we don't spend our time putting them out in quadrants 1 or 3. A lot of things in Quadrant two will also need to be put on your calendar somewhere. Because they are not urgent, you will need to schedule time for them to make sure they get done. You may never check "spend time with children" off your list in RTM, but seeing it there may cause you to put a trip to the skating rink or your kids soccer game on your calendar.

Quadrant 3 is a list we should only go to when we have 1 and 2 well under control. It's tempting to go from 1 straight to 3, because urgent things scream at us. But if they truly aren't important, then it won't matter if they don't get done. Focus on quadrant 2 first. But if you have put out the fires of quadrant 1, invested some proactive time in quadrant 2, then maybe, you might spend some time in quadrant 3 doing something someone ELSE finds important.

One word of warning, don't ignore quadrant 4. It may be tempting to think you don't even need this list. Why would anyone bother to do something that is neither urgent nor important? Well of course, you shouldn't do it if it's neither urgent nor important, but the problem is we often do anyway. Often times we find ways to waste our time as a way of procrastinating or avoiding something that is important. Consider putting some items in your "don't do" list.

* don't play mindsweeper due:never
* don't gossip due:never
* don't grumble or complain due:never
* don't waste time on social media due:never
* don't (whatever YOUR area of time wasting weakness is) due:never

One of your daily quadrant 2 items might be reviewing these items in Quadrant 4, as a reminder not to waste time doing these things.

Posted at 11:37pm on November 9, 2013
mehardin says:
I almost forgot. I typed this up in Evernote, and some of the formatting looks better there due to the use of tables. If RTM will let me post a link to the note, you can also read my tip there.
Posted 4 years ago
tvchris says:
This is a fantastic post. I'm traditionally a GTD guy which RTM doesn't always play well with. And I find priority matrix a much better system for the way I work. Thanks for the suggestions.
Posted 4 years ago
emily (Remember The Milk) says:
Hi mehardin,

I love the use of Smart Lists for quadrants! Thanks for sharing your tip -- you're this week's Tips & Tricks Tuesday winner, so we've added a free year of Pro to your Remember The Milk account. :)
Posted 4 years ago
sgri says:
Great way to implement the Covey methodology
Posted 4 years ago
eriugena says:
Great post. I consider Q4 as my backlog. And I also excluded in the selection my Tickler list (they are popping up in the Q3 list anyhow). And if tasks are really not Important and not urgent you should delete them.
Posted 4 years ago
phlancelot says:
great stuff!
Posted 4 years ago
kennymobley says:
This is very good. A nice, clean implementation for those of us not into GTD.
Posted 4 years ago
giswok says:
This looks like a neat solution and an excellent post, thanks
Posted 4 years ago
raymond.bergmark Power Poster says:
Well thought out system, excellent post!
Posted 4 years ago
fernando.angeli says:
Brilliant solution, thanks!
Posted 4 years ago
(closed account) says:
Great post ! I'm gonna use it !!
Posted 4 years ago
joinjess says:
just converted my list to this method - thanks! Love Q1 - much smaller list than my old daily lists. Only problem I am finding is that lots of Q2 have a specific and far-off timeframe attached. (like a birthday for example) Still thinking this one through.
Posted 4 years ago
raymond.bergmark Power Poster says:
joinjess: You could combine this method with the sleeper tag method described here:
in order to hide those far-off timeframe tasks.
Posted 4 years ago
mariko_work says:
Just read this tip, I'm excited to try it out! Thanks for sharing :)
Posted 4 years ago
hlear says:
Hi, I just joined today and one of the reasons I chose RTM pro is that I could then create 4 Eisenhower quadrants by placing 4 RTM widgets on one of my phone's screens (each 2x2 in size). I can edit any of the widgets as I see fit to make a full Eisenhower Matrix. I can't say if this is more or less effective than other methods posted here.
Posted 4 years ago
mcmbunck says:
Thank you for this tip!
Posted 2 years ago
kern3lly says:
Very nice, I'll test the method.

For priorities - I grade them by positive impact on my life in the long run:
1 - big
2 - some
3 - minimal
Posted 1 year ago
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