Why the Eisenhower matrix sucks

I love productivity methods, and I’ve spent far too much time evaluating which one fits my lifestyle best.

Lately my problem has been that all the non-urgent things that will eventually be urgent if you don’t take care of them in a timely manner.

Then there are the things I want to do for home improvement at some point with no real deadline, like figure out how to make my closets a little nicer and hang my NaNo posters and replace the track lights in my kitchen and over my desk. (Step one: figure out what type of lighting to put there.)

The Eisenhower matrix categorizes items into four categories based on the answers to two questions:

Is this important? That is, does completing this task satisfy some goal of yours, short-term or long-term?

Is this urgent? That is, does this task need to be done as soon as possible?

The answers to these questions let you categorize your tasks into four sections, according to proponents:

Important and urgent – these are impending deadlines, a broken air conditioner in the middle of summer. These are the items to take care of ASAP.

Important and not urgent – these are long-term hobbies, personal development, substantial home improvement, and most of the “I should do this at some point” items. These are the items to schedule and do.

Not important and urgent – these are the urgency effect items, the notifications. In theory these are the items to delegate.

Not important and not urgent – these are the time wasters that in theory give you no real value. In theory these are the items to just not do.

There are dozens of articles out there singing the praises of this matrix in professional and personal life. This post is not one of them.

If you’re using this matrix in your professional life, this system might works fine, especially if you can delegate a lot of the unimportant stuff. But I don’t buy that a regular middle-class person can delegate their way through their personal lives, especially a single person without much social support or spare income. That’s because some of the categorization of regular life maintenance from productivity blogs is detached from reality.

Let’s talk about the “important but not urgent” category. This category contains a lot of regular adulting items that aren’t immediate but will become pretty damn immediate if they aren’t taken care of at some point. Not renewing my passport will become a real problem when I have to turn down a cool international trip for that reason alone. Not applying for a homestead exemption will become a real problem when property tax payment time comes and I have to pay a lot more as a result.

Hobbies that contribute to long-term goals are usually in this part of the matrix. The goal of this matrix, proponents say, is to spend most of your time in this quadrant, the long-term goals area. But that’s not realistic for many people, and not just because we live in the age of distraction.

The “not important but urgent” category also contains a lot of adulting items, the category that these blogs like to label as “delegate”. Some of these items are technically delegatable. You can get groceries and essentials delivered. You can hire a cleaning person. You can also just not clean. But at some point these items catch up to you, and delegating any of these comes with a price tag. Delegating all of these is for the wealthy only, and this is where proponents of the Eisenhower matrix start to show their privilege; after all, Eisenhower himself had a staff to delegate to. Not everyone has this luxury.

Besides, getting groceries does satisfy a short-term goal of mine: the one of continuing to be alive and healthy, doubly so since I usually walk to and from the store.

A more realistic solution is to batch these boring adulting items. My approach to batching is to meal prep so I have five or six meals in the freezer at once. I’m extremely lucky to have a Flex Friday every month that I typically use to batch errands and other boring maintenance so I can take advantage of regular business hours, but not everyone is that lucky. For most people (me included), the “not important but urgent” category is filled with notifications and social media updates and things other people want them to do. Unless that notification is from someone coordinating something happening soon, it’s probably not immediate.

And then there’s the “not important and not urgent” category. Items I’ve seen in this category include mindless social media scrolling (fine, this one can live here), sorting through junk mail (uhhh), and other items that give you no real benefit.

According to this matrix my Pokemoning adventures would go to category four, not important and not urgent, and therefore I should just delete it, but look. Sometimes we just want to have fun, and my Pokemon hobby has improved my social life, which is important to me. Living your entire life in the other quadrants obsessed with productivity and goals means never letting go and having fun, and that becomes a problem when you get burned out on those goals and hobbies. Trust me, I know I have. Look at how Wikiwrimo barely got updated for a couple of years.

Sometimes you have to live a little, you know? Proponents will tell you that there shouldn’t be too many items in any section so that you aren’t overwhelmed.

If this method works for you, great, but it’s definitely not for me.

One reply on “Why the Eisenhower matrix sucks”

petition for you to do takedowns or overviews of all the most popular productivity methods Eisenhower never worked well for me either. I personally use a mix of GTD, Pomodoro, and Eat The Frog, and I think a combination is probably the way to go for most people. I don’t think One Perfect System really exists.

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