Time management: time planning with the Eisenhower principle

Monday morning, 8 a.m.: you have your coffee in your hand and are ready to get started. Your to-do list is in front of you, you have your calendar in view and your inbox is open. There's just one thing missing: a plan of where you should start.

Logical: we start with the most important task. Or your favorite task that requires little effort to make it easier to get started? Or, on the contrary, with the worst task, according to the motto "worst first"? Perhaps the whole thing is not as logical as it first seems.

Prioritizing is not always easy. This is exactly where the Eisenhower principle comes in: With a simple scheme for assessing tasks, the principle has been able to establish itself as one of the classics of time management. The stringent evaluation of the various tasks makes it easier to sort tasks and consequently complete them. But let's start at the beginning.

Zeitmanagement-Methode Eisenhower-Prinzip

Dwight D. Eisenhower: American president and time management genius?

Anyone familiar with American history will know that Dwight D. Eisenhower was certainly rarely boring. It is therefore hardly surprising that one of the best-known time management methods is attributed to him. And this despite the fact that there is actually no historical evidence that Eisenhower ever practiced the method!

Instead, the naming refers to one of his speeches from 1954, in which he quoted:

"I have two kinds of problems: urgent and important. The important ones are never urgent, and the urgent ones are never important."

What does this mean?

Eisenhower principle: bringing order to chaos

The Eisenhower method is a simple way of categorizing tasks according to importance and urgency. The principle is based on the ingenious Eisenhower matrix on two axes: four evaluation criteria form four fields on the basis of which tasks can be categorized:

Tasks are either urgent or not urgent and important or not important.

The resulting four fields are labeled with the letters A, B, C and D. The tasks are A, B, C or D tasks according to the assignment.

In practice, most tasks can be categorized and sorted in this way.

You can find our Eisenhower principle template here:

Eisenhower-Prinzip Vorlage

From theory to practice: The Eisenhower matrix

You don't need to draw or print out an Eisenhower matrix to apply the Eisenhower method. All you need to do is have it in front of you on the screen while you look at your to-do list.

Now ask yourself the following two questions for each item on your to-do list:

  1. Is this task urgent or not urgent?
  2. Is this task important or unimportant?

Based on the answers, you already know which category each task falls into. Make a note of the corresponding letter next to the task.

The Eisenhower method not only helps you to get an overview of the urgency and importance of tasks. It also provides specific instructions for the various task categories.

A-tasks: A for "top priority"

All tasks with the letter A have the highest priority. This is probably self-explanatory. These tasks include, in particular, tasks that are already scheduled - and often relatively tight.

For example, if you have an important customer appointment tomorrow and need to prepare a presentation for it, this is a clear A task that needs to be completed immediately. There is simply no putting it off.

The instruction given by the Eisenhower matrix is correspondingly simple: get it done. Immediately and personally.

Mann arbeitet konzentriert am Schreibtisch.

B tasks: Far more than hard work

Everyone knows them, everyone has them: Tasks that are actually important, but don't seem urgent and therefore feel like they're on hold forever. In most cases, however, these tasks are far more than just busywork and are essential for career advancement.

One example would be the relaunch of the company's own website, which is constantly being pushed back due to customer orders.

The clever instruction of the Eisenhower principle here is: Schedule. By setting a time frame for the task, it will sooner or later become an A task - and will therefore finally be completed!

C-tasks: The annoying bits and pieces

C-tasks are not really important. Actually. But they still need to be done. An example of a C-task would be booking a seminar room for a workshop. A task that is not important in and of itself, but still needs to be completed due to its urgency.

The Eisenhower principle says about C-tasks: Delegate. If you have the opportunity to hand the task over to someone else, do it. This will give you time to focus on your A tasks.

If you don't have the option of delegating the tasks, you need to evaluate them again: Is it really a C task? If you are solely responsible for organizing the workshop, booking the seminar room may actually be more of an A task for you. And as we all know, these have to be handled completely differently.

Aufgaben priorisieren mit der Eisenhower-Methode

D tasks: And get rid of them!

If a task is neither important nor urgent, it has no place on your to-do list, but rather on your wish list. The instructions of the Eisenhower method are correspondingly simple: simply "eliminate" D tasks.

In principle, however, you can also put these tasks on the shelf. If you have enough time to take care of them later, you can still do so.

An example of such a task would be reading an article that is of interest to you but has no acute relevance.

The Eisenhower principle in practice

The Eisenhower Principle is one thing above all: pragmatic.

tasks are assessed according to clear and easy-to-use criteria and
categorized at the same time. The result is a straightforward action sheet that simplifies
to-do lists and their implementation. There is no room for coincidences and arbitrariness here, and that's a good thing. Or is it?

We think so: Yes and no. While certain tasks should definitely not be postponed or put off, we believe that even supposed C and D tasks have their place on our desks. After all, urgency and importance mean different things to different people and always depend on the individual situation.

Research, further training and supposed "busywork" are far more than just a nice pastime and often pay off in the long term - even if they are neither immediately urgent nor important.

Frau arbeitet und achtet auf die Zeit.

Eisenhower method: decision support in stressful times

Nevertheless, the practical value of the Eisenhower principle cannot be denied. Especially in stressful phases, the principle can help to make efficient decisions. This is not the only reason why the Eisenhower Principle has clearly earned its place among the classics of time management.

Elements of the Eisenhower Principle can be integrated into almost any existing daily and time planning.

Consciously reflecting on tasks in terms of importance and urgency can be particularly important. In this way, blind spots, such as often forgotten B-tasks, can also be identified.

We think: The Eisenhower method is definitely worth a try! Whether the regular application of the method will then become an A or B task for you will certainly become clear in practice.