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DIY Eisenhower Matrix

· Productivity

I'm sure you've encountered the idea of Eisenhower's matrix for managing our ever-growing To-do lists.

This post isn't really about explaining that - Shane already illuminates it extremely well in his Farnham Street post:

But I found a small wrinkle - or maybe I overthought the nuances of the matrix - and so I struggled with it for years, until I made a breakthrough very recently.

However I think I've resolved the conundrum, at least to my satisfaction. This shortcoming came about because of my pathological inability to prioritise tasks, particularly those endless house/car repair/DIY jobs that stack up, need doing but maybe not right now, and which weigh on your mind.

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Indeed, consideration of home or car-based DIY tasks is fertile ground for testing the Eisenhower Matrix.

My girlfriend thinks I'm mentally ill for wasting energy on this, but that's because she's a sort of incredible human triaging machine instinctively able to always do the most important jobs first.

So I felt that the Eisenhower Matrix didn't properly address those kind of household DIY tasks. I'll explain why in a moment.

Maybe a quick tour of the Eisenhower Matrix would be helpful for both of us.

Here is a my squiggled summary:

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So, a few quick points, mostly paraphrasing the excellent Farnham St article.

Important items:

These are tasks meaningful to me. While they're still non-urgent, I should schedule and do them during creative hours. Never neglect these. Never allow them to become urgent.

If something does go wrong and an important task becomes it immediately, even though the execution will probably be sub-optimal - because of anxiety and the short deadline. This is the problem with urgent tasks - that they tend to be rushed and so poor decisions are made.

Non-important items:

If not urgent: ignore or eliminate. If urgent, delegate or say 'no'.

So, back to the problem.

There are all those annoying small jobs at home that seem very minor, but they deteriorate. You can ignore them for a while, but eventually a tipping point is reached. And if these jobs go bad you can be looking at spending a lot of cash and wasting weeks when you might instead be writing blog posts...

Suddenly a small patch of rust on your car breaks through into a hole, and you’re looking at a new hood.

Also problems will lead to other problems, such as a barely-leaking radiator pipe. If it starts haemorrhaging water you'll have ruined carpets, ceilings, and floors.

It occurred to me that the problem here is that this is a class of tasks that start life as unimportant, and therefore non-urgent..., but can transform into something both imp and urg.

So it’s a sudden transition directly from non-urgent and non-important, to urgent and important.

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If the shit hits the fan, and unless it's fixed pronto, you'll soon be trapped into a non-trivial expenditure of time and money. The problem worsens exponentially.

The importance and urgency are not independent. They are directly linked.

It seems to me that this is the limitation of the Eisenhower Matrix - it doesn't deal with those shape-shifting tasks that change and flow directly from non-imp & non-urg (ie eliminate or ignore) to imp & urg.

Why was this neglected?! Do it now!

This is expressed by the diagonal arrow in my sketch:

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The solution?

1. Identify the task. Is it:

A. non-important & non-urgent?

B. if ignored, will the situation deteriorate?

C. will a tipping point be reached, leading to exponential worsening, or triggering a slew of other problems?

2. If yes, then move the task from non-imp & non-urg to important & urgent. Schedule accordingly. Get the fucker fixed.

And that's it!