How to Nail Your To Do List – Caroline Ferguson, Mindset Trainer

How to Nail Your To Do List

By Caroline Ferguson | Procrastination

Picture of woman contemplating to do list“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”(Dwight Eisenhower)

I’ve been as guilty as anyone when it comes to ‘busy-ness’ – where we end up running on the spot with a to do list as long as both legs. I’m learning to kick that habit now by focusing on The One Thing (thank you, Gary Keller) that I want to achieve on any given day.

How to break down your to do list using the Eisenhower Matrix.

Sometimes it can be difficult to cut through the chaos to work out what That One Thing is. Fortunately, ex US President Mr Eisenhower had a simple but effective way of identifying the priority action in his massive Presidential workload.

Below is his famous Decision Matrix, with some tweaking by me. He designed it to separate out the tasks that really ARE necessary from those that merely feel like it.

Eisenhower matrix

First, draw the matrix above on a piece of paper (or use a word processor, slide, spreadsheet or mind-mapping program). Then take a long, hard look at your to do list. Assess each task as objectively as you can, then allocate it to one of these four boxes:

Box 1 – This is for tasks that are Important and Urgent. These are your priority.

Box 2 – This one is significant and we don’t spend nearly enough time in there. Box 2 tasks are incredibly Important, but not necessarily Urgent. These are your goals and your dreams that take you towards “A Life That Matters”. Box 2 tasks will change your life, no mistake. Make them your next priority after the Urgent/Important jobs from box 1.

Box 3 is where we tend to spend a lot of time on stuff that feels Urgent but is not actually all that Important (e.g. phone calls, answering emails, shopping several time a week instead of once [hello, the delivery driver is your friend], and coping with interruptions that suck up your day. Box 3 is the thief of time. Assess whether those task are really necessary and allocate an hour a day to doing the ones you can’t get rid of any other way.

As for box 4 – here’s where you put all the jobs you routinely use as procrastination fodder, plus the long tail of the to do list that’s been there for weeks, months or even years. If you haven’t done it by now and you’re not that bothered, does it really need to be done at all? If it does, put it in box 3 and either schedule it or delegate it.

The first time you use this method, after you’ve assessed your to do list:

  • Start by deleting as many of those in box 4 as you can. Move anything that needs to be kept into Box 3.
  • Next, schedule or delegate the tasks in box 3.
  • Now diarise the box 2 tasks so you know exactly when you’re going to deal with them. Ring-fence that time and make it sacrosanct. Call it ‘Time for Building A Life That Matters’.
  • Finally, the tackle the most urgent/important task from Box 1.

OOPS… I realise I’ve told you to make box 1 your priority and then left it until last, but this is only applies the first time you do this exercise. After today, each job you’re tempted to add to your to do list should first be put through the Eisenhower Matrix filter and allocated to a box.

From now on, decide that you’re going to be heavily selective about tasks you take on, favouring those that are Urgent and Important (box 1), and Important but not Urgent (box 2).

Divide the bulk of your time between these two boxes, with an hour a day to keep on top of those in box 3 (Urgent but not Important). Box 4 is going to stay as clear as possible because of course you will no longer take on a whole bunch of tasks that are neither Important not Urgent!

My task today is writing the “Stop Procrastinating” workshop that I’m delivering in a couple of days. That feels suitably Urgent and Important to me.

Let me know how you get on.


About the Author

Caroline is a Mindset Trainer and speaker who works with sensitive, high-potential leaders who know they were born for something more. She shows them how to beat mindset blocks and habits, such as limiting beliefs, low self worth and procrastination, that are preventing them from making a bigger impact.