mind order

Eisenhower’s Matrix: An essential time management tool

Eisenhower’s Matrix: An essential time management tool 2503 1985 Manolis Stratakis

Is the time in our day enough?

Time is one of the most democratic things on the planet. Not intelligence. Not money. Not health. Not happiness. Time! Everybody has 24 hours. If you think about it, time is our most important asset. We start off as babies, having all the time of the world and as we grow up we come to a point when every single minute of our day is occupied with something. Then we complain we don’t have time. Wrong! We still have 24 hours. But our day is now filled with stuff.

The Matrix as a time management tool

“When you don’t have time, make time”. It may sound counter-intuitive, but perhaps it is a perfect advice. The Eisenhower Matrix is the tool we need to make time.

US General and President Eisenhower once said: “I have two kinds of problems: Urgent and Important. What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important”.

eisenhower matrix

A common pattern in businesses but also in our personal life is that we often move from one urgent matter to the next, devoting no time to the important issues. Like a never-ending queue of urgent things which, no matter how many we complete, new ones continuously appear. We are at a constant war with a modern Lernaean Hydra. We cut one head and two new heads spring out of nowhere.

If we analyse the four areas of the Eisenhower matrix, it will immediately become clear how it will help us manage our time:

Quadrant 1: (Urgent and Important): Do First!

This is the most critical area, it contains tasks that are both urgent and important. These are “do first” tasks because they are critical for our life or career. Typical Q1 activities include important problems, deadlines and crises.

Quadrant 2: (Important, but Not Urgent): Schedule!

Here we place the tasks that are important, but not urgent. This is where we need to invest most of our time. These are usually our personal and professional long-term goals and activities relevant to the significant areas of our life like education, career, family, recreation or personal growth. Put these tasks in suspension until you find enough time to work on them carefully. Beware, these tasks may not be urgent, but if left neglected, sooner or later they become urgent.

Quadrant 3 (Not Important, but Urgent): Delegate!

If a task deserves to be in this quadrant, then you don’t deserve to perform it. It is most likely a distraction and you better pass it to someone else or postpone it. Many tasks appear to be urgent when actually they are not. Most messages and telephone calls fall into this category. If you answer every call or text you receive immediately, then you will not be able to do anything that requires undistracted attention. The same is true with business meetings. You don’t have to participate in every meeting you are invited, you can choose if you need to be present or not. A common source of Q3 activities is other people. Saying “no” politely or encouraging them to solve the problem themselves usually does the trick.

Quadrant 4: (Not Important, Not Urgent): Eliminate or Keep to a minimum!

These tasks that are neither important nor urgent are simply time wasters and they should be eliminated, or cut down to a minimum. If you drastically reduce the amount of time spent in quadrant 4 tasks, you will free up lots of precious time for your quadrant 1 or 2 tasks. Mindlessly watching television, playing games or surfing the web are only some of the typical ways for wasting time. This does not mean of course that watching a good movie or resting is a waste of time. We need to be very careful when distinguishing what is and what isn’t important for us.


Sometimes, procrastination kicks in when we are not very clear about what is important or urgent. It causes confusion and leaves us standing still while trying to decide what to bring on the foreground next.

When you first try this tool, you may have some difficulty labeling your tasks. It may be frustrating and you may feel you are wasting your time. You are not wasting time, you are investing some of your precious time learning a great skill that will empower you with precious focus and self-awareness. It will save you way more time for the rest of your life.


How often do you experience Flow?

How often do you experience Flow? 2351 2126 Manolis Stratakis

Our Growth, Stagnation and Flow zones

Daily we all deal with various activities. Some of them are simple and easy or familiar. We have repeated them many times, and they have become “automatic”. They are not difficult for us, so they can often cause boredom. Dealing with them may feel comfortable but we soon lose our interest as we do never leave our comfort zone, which also happens to be our stagnation zone.

Some others are new to us, therefore unknown, or they may be familiar but tough. These move us out of our comfort zone and usually cause discomfort, anxiety or fear. But these are the ones that help us evolve. That’s where our growth zone is.

There are some others whose difficulty is almost matching our level of skill.

The mental state of Flow

We have all been involved in an activity in which we have experienced a state of intense concentration and total commitment. During these activities we feel that we are very capable and in complete control of the situation. Our skills operate to the fullest. The sense of time as well as any negative emotions disappear, and we are overwhelmed by a wonderful sense of transcendence. Whenever we have experienced this situation we are in a state of flow.

The phenomenon of flow has first been referenced by the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in 1990. He describes the mental state of a person in flow as “being completely absorbed in an activity for the activity itself and only. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement and thought inevitably follows the preceding, as if playing Jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost”.

The Optimal experienceas Csikszentmihalyi named this mental state – usually occurs if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. “Optimal experience, where flow is realized, is thus something we make happen”.

Csikszentmihalyi’s flow model recognizes eight emotional mental states:

  1. Apathy– no interest, the person is apathetic to the subject and situation
  2. Boredom– no interest in the situation, bored, and maybe run-down
  3. Relaxation– calmness or lack of excitement
  4. Worry– focus with worry, problems grow and are viewed as having no solution
  5. Control–feelings of dominance. Automatizing skills by practice; the activity is currently hard but the person feels that they have a command of the situation
  6. Anxiety– could be the reason for someone freezing or shutting down
  7. Arousal– with the reinforcement of arousal, the person approaches their surroundings more attentively
  8. Flow– the mental state that ensures the person focusing completely on the task or activity – generally results in the action being completed successfully

The state of FLOW can be seen in people who masterwork life, art, sports or a hobby. From the outside it may seem like they are doing the task with great ease, however, if you look at it from within, they have completely devoted themselves to what they are doing in order to achieve this level of skill.

Our Attention and Order in Mind

The best state of our inner experience happens when there is order in our minds. The prerequisite for this to happen is that our psychic energy, or otherwise our attention, is invested in realistic goals and our skills match our choices for action. The pursuit of a goal brings order to a person’s consciousness, because he must concentrate on the task at hand and forget about everything else. These times when one struggles to overcome various challenges are the happiest of his life. Thus, a person who has gained control over his mental energy and has invested in consciously chosen goals can only grow into a higher being.

Flow, then, is the mental state of a person who performs an activity in which they are completely absorbed, live the experience of being fully involved, with a sense of active concentration and complete immersion, while enjoying the whole process.

Note that it is not simply the balance between task difficulty and skill level which causes flow, but the balance in higher levels of difficulty and skill. In lower levels even when balance exists, we may be in a state of apathy or lack of interest.

Characteristics of Flow

We have all had flow experiences, therefore it is not difficult to recognize some of their characteristics:

  1. Clear, specific, demanding but feasible goals.
  2. High concentration on the present moment and in the actual activity, with no room in mind for any other information
  3. Activities are intrinsically rewarding
  4. Sense of tranquility. Actions and awareness are merged
  5. Transformation of time. Usually, time passes much faster than expected
  6. Immediate feedback on the progress
  7. A sense of balance between the task difficulty and our skill level. Feelings of assertiveness and self-confidence
  8. Sense of adequate control over the activity, with no worries about failure
  9. Losing awareness of physical needs

Theoretically, athletes and artists are more likely than others to have flow experiences. However, flow can be hiding in simple everyday activities like housekeeping or in reading a good book.

Electronic games is probably the most characteristic examples, as they have been designed to lead to flow. This is the main reason they cause strong addiction to teenagers and adults.

The following skills can help us achieve a state of flow:

  • curiosity
  • interest in life
  • persistence
  • low ego

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