The Knowledge - David Elikwu

🟣 Effective prioritisation: The Eisenhower Matrix (Wayfinder #9) - The Knowledge

Published 8 months ago • 2 min read

Hey there

Welcome back to Wayfinder, your fortnightly compass for navigating life’s toughest decisions.

Ever found yourself putting out fires all day, only to later realise you let the bigger flames spread? Think of your day as a room full of alerts. Some are loud, urgent beeps while others are quiet vibrations which could be easily missed. The Eisenhower Matrix helps you distinguish between them.

Cutting through the fog of war

Dwight D. Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States and had the weight of a nation on his back as he led America through the Cold War.

But before becoming president, Eisenhower had worn many hats. He was a decorated military general known for meticulous planning, evidenced by an impressive 37-year military career.

During World War II, he rose to the rank of five-star General of the Army and led the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe.

Eisenhower oversaw two of the most consequential military campaigns of World War II: Operation Torch in the North Africa campaign and the D-Day invasion of Normandy.

This was a man used to having a million things on his plate, but he was able to cut through them effortlessly with a mental model that's since been named after him.

The to-do list problem

Nobody voluntarily leaves their to-do list untouched. The problem is how frequently we can get sucked into doing trivial things, letting hours slip by until we're confronted by the harsh reality of deadlines and fires that are out of control.

There’s a perverse joy in ticking off ‘buy milk’ while your grand project idea festers in obscurity. This happens because we're often, unwittingly, wading knee-deep in cognitive traps.

It often starts with bikeshedding: expending energy on trivial tasks just because they seem simpler. Then optimism bias sets in – where we believe our future selves are more efficient versions of today. This is compounded by the planning fallacy: a failure to accurately predict exactly how much time a task might gobble up.

Suddenly important things creep up on you and you're short on time to accomplish them.

Using the Matrix:

Picture a 2x2 grid. On one axis, you have ‘Urgent’ and ‘Not Urgent’, and on the other, ‘Important’ and ‘Not Important’.

Your mission? Slot tasks in accordingly.

  1. Quadrant I - Urgent & Important: These are your fires. Address them immediately.
  2. Quadrant II - Not Urgent & Important: The strategy room. Allocate time for these to ensure long-term success.
  3. Quadrant III - Urgent & Not Important: Delegatable distractions. Pass them on or set them aside.
  4. Quadrant IV - Neither Urgent nor Important: Time-wasters. Reduce or eliminate these.

The tyranny of the urgent

There’s a phenomenon known as the Mere-Urgency Effect which was investigated by Zhu, Yang, and Hsee in a 2018 study.

The study revealed that people typically prioritise urgent tasks over important ones, regardless of the rewards.

Our attention is swayed by urgency. The Eisenhower Matrix attempts to flip this, giving importance the limelight.


  1. What tasks have you been treating as Quadrant I, but they truly belong in Quadrant III?
  2. How much of your week is spent in Quadrant II, the zone of strategic thinking and planning?
  3. Are there tasks you can delegate or eliminate to free up more valuable time?

Time marches on, indifferent to our struggles. Some fires will rage but cause minimal damage. Some dangers will loom, seemingly at a distance, but arrive at your doorstep in a hurry and with devastating impact.

Add the Eisenhower Matrix to your toolkit and you'll never be shortchanged by your to-do list again.

Stay decisive.

Don't want to receive my Wayfinder newsletter?

Click here to unsubscribe

The Knowledge - David Elikwu

by David Elikwu

The Knowledge helps +20K driven people think deeper and work smarter with newsletters on productivity, creativity, and decision making.

Read more from The Knowledge - David Elikwu

Hey there, Welcome back to Wayfinder, your fortnightly compass for navigating life’s toughest decisions. Today, we’ll explore a phenomenon that stealthily compromises our ability to make sound judgements: decision fatigue. In Homer's epic, The Odyssey, Odysseus faces a multitude of decisions on his journey back to Ithaca. Perhaps none so poignant as when he must navigate past the Sirens, whose enchanting songs lure sailors to their doom. Odysseus, aware of his imminent decision fatigue and...

4 months ago • 2 min read

Hey there Welcome back to Wayfinder, your fortnightly compass for navigating life’s toughest decisions. Today we’re zooming out to consider the boundaries of our capabilities and the notion of circles of competence. The Cautionary Tale of the Spruce Goose The year was 1947. Howard Hughes was already an acclaimed businessman, film producer and aviation innovator. But now he embarked on his most ambitious project yet - constructing the largest aircraft in history, the H-4 Hercules, better known...

6 months ago • 3 min read

Hey there Welcome back to Wayfinder, your fortnightly compass for navigating life’s toughest decisions. Today we're talking about a fundamentally human bias - loss aversion. First, let me tell you a story. The view from 30,000 feet High above the world, where the air is thin and the sky touches the earth, lies the ultimate test of endurance, will, and decision-making: Mount Everest. The year was 1996, and the mountain was bustling with climbers, all vying to etch their names in the annals of...

7 months ago • 4 min read
Share this post