[Productivity] How not to use "Important // Not Urgent"

by aaq1 min read17th Feb 2020No comments

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Epistemic status: Personal experience.

This is an Eisenhower matrix, named after President Dwight Eisenhower.

Eisenhower matrices have a very useful, very specific role in my life these days.

I usually bust one out on paper when I'm feeling overwhelmed by my own anxiety, and use it to focus my attention on what's in the first quadrant. I tell myself that I'll return to it by the time I finish the first quadrant, but usually by the time I've actually filled that quadrant out, my panic has subsided completely and I feel no issues in discarding the 2x2.

For a while, I also used the Eisenhower matrix as the basis for my Todoist Premium workflow. I actually still think that's a pretty good system for someone just getting started with using Todoist, and wanting a little bit more structure with how to use it outside of the box.

But I noticed that often, I would add things that I wanted to do way out in the future to the "Important // Not Urgent" filter. This is a bad idea, because economics tells us that ideas of things you want to do in the far future should probably be discounted quite heavily, relative to things you want to do in maybe the next month or so. You might well find that 5 years from now, you don't give a shit about learning to play Vivaldi or looking into moving to a different place; those are all things you can leave as amorphous ideas to play around with in your mind.

So my advice: Don't use the Urgent // Not Important quadrant for anything that isn't due more than two weeks out. That's a pretty aggressive cutoff point, yes, but we're talking planning your personal life here, not business; and we're talking a tool meant to focus your executive function in good directions. You don't want to overstretch it.

One objection that I could forsee someone saying is, "Well, what if I have a recurring task that I want to do every day, but it doesn't pay off immediately for me?", to which I say, the todo list is usually a fundamentally bad format for that, because you're probably talking about something that resembles practice (exercise, anything artistic, even studying).

Practice routines are time-delimited activites, not task-delimited ones. You usually want to do them for similar intervals of time, and they are usually done inside of similar environments. Use a calendar instead. Even if you have to go in every day and tweak the exact time you plan to do it, it's a much more natural fit than a todo list, which shines brightest for the thousand one-off things you have to do each day.

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