(3-minute read)

With the end of the year rapidly approaching, most of us feel like there’s too much to do and too little time.

Every day we’re confronted with a long list of To-Do’s that expands because of unexpected requests. Managing your personal time, work and in-the-moment projects can feel overwhelming and stressful-especially as we bump up against the holidays.

If you hear yourself saying, “My To-Do list never gets done,” “work gets dumped on my desk,” or “I don’t have time to prioritize,” take control over your workload by using the Eisenhower matrix.


The Eisenhower matrix is a visual decision-making tool for understanding the importance of individual tasks, then determining when and how to complete them. President Eisenhower developed and used the matrix for prioritizing workload based on importance rather than urgency- and he certainly had plenty of both.

The matrix uses four quadrants: Do, Schedule, Delegate, Avoid. With your tasks and projects divided on this list, you can more easily decide which will have the most significant impact on your business goals or organizational mission. You will almost certainly find that some are truly urgent but may not move your goals ahead. For others, you may choose to delegate or eliminate.

For staff, use the matrix as a visual aid in advance of meetings with your supervisor. If you aren’t sure where to categorize a task, ask for advice. The benefit is that you’ll have a better-prioritized To-Do list and a valuable connection between your work and organizational success. If you are in a supervisory position, the matrix will help you delegate to the best person.

Before using the Eisenhower Matrix, identify and write down the objectives or outcomes you or your organization seek to accomplish. The goals serve as your guide for compartmentalizing tasks.


Step 1: Use every quadrant

Our natural tendency is to focus on defining what needs to get done. However, it is also beneficial to identify the tasks that are neither important nor urgent. Use the Avoid quadrant for initiating a conversation about thankless tasks that continually show up on your To-Do list. You may be happily surprised to discover that some tasks have outlived their relevance. There is no greater morale booster than the elimination of thankless work!


Step 2: Ask questions

The matrix is a tool to help design workflow, but people do the work. Because people show up at work with personal responsibilities and pressures, the second step in creating better prioritization is to promote open conversation around assignments. For managers, before realigning tasks, connect with staff and ask questions.

  • What’s on your plate right now?
  • What are your must-do’s?
  • How can I help you move or reassign other work to get what’s most important done?

Clarity in these areas will help you assign and reassign workload more effectively.

For staff, ask questions to understand the connection between tasks and larger organizational objectives. Managers reporting to senior leaders should be able to make these connections. With an understanding of how your work, or your team’s work, connects with overall success, the work itself becomes more meaningful.

Examples of questions to ask

  • How does this support our overall mission?
  • If we don’t do this now, what is the effect?
  • If we don’t do this, will it affect our clients?
  • Does this need to be done by me?
  • Who else can we engage to help?
  • What’s the most realistic timeline for accomplishing this task?
  • If it can’t be completed by the deadline, where does it fall in my matrix?


Step 3: Recognize and appreciate

Using the matrix and engaging in prioritization conversations requires adoption and takes time. Celebrate your team’s effort. Recognizing a job well done and celebrating individual and group success is essential for morale. This tool increases productivity, leading to success, two major contributors to keeping stress and burnout in check.

Prioritizing work is a daily activity and it can get messy. There will definitely be times when the urgent supersedes the important. That’s just how the world operates. Consistently using the matrix and promoting open lines of communication will identify these occurrences as temporary. We can all push through a temporary crunch.

The bigger win is controlling your workload and keeping your stress down.


Happy prioritizing and happy holidays!



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You can also check out Forbes.com/CFO blog where I write about communicating with and motivating teams.