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Software development and the Eisenhower matrix

Agile Development Productivity Task and Project Management

We’ve recently explored how the Eisenhower Matrix can improve your time management skills by helping you focus on tasks that matter rather than firefighting through your to do list and managing crises while barely staying afloat.

The Eisenhower Matrix, also known as the urgent-important matrix, is a great tool for helping you stay honest about what kind of tasks you spend most of your time on. It’s a concept popularized by Steven Covey in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People that has two questions at its heart:

  1. Is this task important?
  2. Is this task urgent?

However, most of us might have a hard time placing our tasks neatly into the quadrants. So in this post we’ll look at how some of the tasks in software development fit into the urgent-important matrix.

The important-urgent quadrant

In this quadrant, we have urgent bug fixes. This is where you’re patching up code, fixing it rather than writing new, elegant code. The thing is, the more time you spend patching code, the more time you’ll spend in the future patching more code rather than creating good quality software. 

The more you stay in this quadrant, the more time you’ll spend in firefighting mode and the more likely it will be for you to crash into the not urgent-not important quadrant. So stay clear!

Important-not urgent quadrant

This is where you want to spend most of your time! In this quadrant, you’re working on what’s important and you have allowed the time it takes to do it properly.

Here’s where you write some elegant designs, plan architecture or refactor code. If you spend most of your time here, you will eventually spend less time in the important-urgent quadrant doing the bare quick and dirty minimum to fix bugs or meet a deadline.

Software Development and The Eisenhower Matrix

Not important-urgent quadrant

This is a tricky quadrant, because checking off tasks here might give you a false sense of productivity. Tasks in this quadrant give you a sense of urgency, but have no real value. It’s busywork. 

Some of the tasks you might find in this quadrant are fake deadlines, someone else’s priorities and certain phone calls and meetings. In the corporate world, it’s common to spend a lot of time in this quadrant. Management sometimes pulls deadlines from thin air in order to motivate employees. But studies on motivation tell us that this type of extrinsic motivation doesn’t work – instead, it motivates team members to do the bare minimum they need to do in order to meet the deadline.

Not important-not urgent quadrant

This is the quadrant of mindless activities. This is where binge watching Netflix, surfing the internet aimlessly, gossiping, etc. fit in.

This is not to be confused with leisure activities. Leisure does not belong in this quadrant. Things like picking up a hobby, personal development, or spending time with family and friends are important for your motivation and for bringing you closer to your personal goals. That’s why leisure actually belongs in the important-not urgent quadrant.

The Eisenhower matrix is a great technique for prioritizing your tasks and staying honest about where your time is most spent. It allows you to challenge activities that are a waste of time and effort – tasks handed down from others, habitual tasks, and even pointless deadlines.

The Eisenhower matrix allows you to plan toward your goals and to execute those plans effectively.

In what quadrant have you been spending most of your time lately? Share with us what your work looks like in comments below!

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