On prioritizing

IMG_20150809_115612I really liked the time management strategy I came across on James Clear’s blog the other day, called Eisenhower Box, aka the Eisenhower Method. With this method, we evaluate tasks using the criteria important/unimportant and urgent/not urgent, which we then place in according quadrants in an Eisenhower Matrix.

  1. Important/Urgent quadrants are done immediately and personally.
  2. Important/Not Urgent quadrants get an end date and are done personally
  3. Unimportant/Urgent quadrants are delegated.
  4. Unimportant/Not Urgent quadrants are dropped completely.

The simplicity of the strategy is stunning and since the day I learned about it, I’ve been looking at things from a totally different perspective. It reminded me of another fantastic method of planning (or goal setting) Josette LeBlanc has developed and shared on her blog. Both strategies are simple and ‘user-friendly’. One can’t help wondering why not everybody on the planet follows the rules and succeeds in everything they do. This is why I think why:

If you’re not the procrastinating type, the one who always puts off impending tasks to a later time, the hardest part for you will be to decide which tasks should be done immediately and which can be given a deadline. Perfectionists I know are likely to do everything immediately – sometimes days or even weeks ahead of time – without much prioritizing. You have to try hard to ignore these types at your workplace because their approach will only drive you crazy. Once you are able to pretend they don’t exist, you’re fine. To be completely fair, though, there is an advantage to having people like this around you; as they have completed all their tasks, they can help you with yours. Also, they are like walking planners – they constantly keep reminding you of the upcoming deadlines.

However, there’s a more dangerous type of perfectionists – your superiors. If you’re your own boss, skip this paragraph. The danger lies in the fact that they want to get things done immediately, but they don’t always handle them personally – they simply delegate them. In such a case, your enlightened approach to planning and goal setting goes down the drain because it’s their ‘urgent’ tasks you have to do immediately and personally, no matter how unimportant they may appear to you at that moment. As a result, the goals you consider really important and urgent will turn into stressful nightmares because you are too busy to deal with them.

Number three is another hard nut to crack. It’s not easy to decide which tasks should be done personally and which can be easily delegated. It’s a common belief that good managers can delegate jobs effectively. I believe that a good teacher is good at delegating stuff too – outside and inside the classroom. Why should you prepare tens of word cards for a vocabulary game if your students can help you? Why should you do the board work if a student can do that? Of course, you need to delegate tasks in a meaningful way – not because you had a bad night and feel tired. You can’t fool your students anyway.

If number 3 is a challenge for you then number 4 is likely to give you a hard time too. Based on my experience, dropping unimportant stuff is not a piece of cake. The first question you have to ask yourself is: What is unimportant? Once you find the answer, you’re almost there. Must all your materials be laminated or will it suffice if your vocabulary cards are just quick scribbles on pieces of ordinary paper? Do you need to make an elaborate presentation to tell your students about the difference between the present simple and present continuous or is it ok if you have your notes written down and copy them on the board instead?

I think I’ve listed all the pitfalls of the Eisenhower Box. Can you think of more? What strategy do you use to prioritize?


About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for almost 25 years and I still love my job. You can find out more about my passion here on my blog.
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6 Responses to On prioritizing

  1. Marc says:

    Hana, great! I used to spend ages on lifehacker.com looking at time management hacks.

    My flash cards and such only get laminated if I *know* they’ll be used more than a couple of times. Communicative games get tested as felt pen on paper before the computer is used to pretty them up.

    Another mantra I learned is ‘No-one will die’ if I drop some personal tasks. We are human and to pretend we can operate beyond capacity is a fool’s errand.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Thanks, Marc. It seems that lots of people (including me) love reading stuff about ‘how to manage their time’, but the hardest part is to actually follow the rules. Unfortunately, one sometimes ends up doing nothing. You say: “Communicative games get tested as felt pen on paper before the computer is used to pretty them up”. Absolutely. Nicely put. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sandy Millin says:

    I agree with Marc’s comment that no-one will die if we don’t get some things done. Sometimes we put too much stress on ourselves by thinking that things are life or death. I’ve been so much more relaxed since I realised that as long as it gets done at some point, in the long run nobody will remember if it was yesterday or today 🙂
    I first learnt about the Eisenhower method/box from a talk Josh Round did at IATEFL. I suspect it will come in useful in my new job! Just hoping I can get the delegation right too.
    Oh, and one of my classroom mottos has long been “Never do anything yourself that you can get the students to do”, especially if it involves some use of language!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hana Tichá says:

      You say: .. “in the long run nobody will remember if it was yesterday or today”. I totally agree, Sandy, but it’s not the hindsight that usually worries me but an endless list of things to do.

      Well, it seems I’m the last one who didn’t know about Eisenhower Method. 🙂 Anyway, I believe that whatever name you give your time management strategy, once you focus on it consciously, things will get much easier than when you only let unpleasant thoughts constantly nag at the back of your mind.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Hana,
    I agree with both Mike and Sandy above as far as the “life or death” part is concerned. I’ve also discovered (after a lot of meaningless worry and stress) that being human also involves not doing everything according to a rigid schedule/plan. The truth though is that time management and goal setting have both helped me a lot. I used to be a procrastinator all my life until I started teaching and that’s when I discovered I’m a perfectionist when it comes to my work (it is a weird, deadly combination :P) In fact, there’s a part of perfectionism we often overlook – the fact that perfectionists might spend all their time (free or not) adding finishing (aka perfect) touches to what they do. This process is both time consuming and nerve-racking. Until I started my own prioritizing system (which, to my surprise, is very similar to the Eisenhower box), I lost precious free (and quality) time. As I’ve mentioned in one of my comments in your blog, I use colors – red are the urgent tasks, orange the “neutral” ones and green the ones I can postpone. Now, I need to come up with a color for the tasks I can delegate. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Haha. I think I know what you mean when you talk about the deadly combination. I suspect I might be suffering from the same ‘disease’. 🙂 You describe the symptoms perfectly – it’s time-consuming and nerve-racking. I remember when Josette LeBlanc talked about the concept of enoughness; people have to learn to know when it’s time to stop polishing and refining. Anyway, I love the idea of using colours and I’m going to test it out as soon as I start planning my work in September. I’ll keep you posted on the results. Thanks for sharing!


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