share TWEET PIN IT share share 0
Analog Attorney

This Is How Eisenhower Boxes Effortlessly Organize Your Life

By Bull Garlington

Dwight D. Eisenhower was a productivity monster. His ability to sustain that productivity throughout his varied careers — five-star general, university president, supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe and NATO supreme commander, two-term U.S. president — may be from his use of a simple tool: the Eisenhower Matrix. It’s been around, well, since Eisenhower, and I think maybe it’s time to look at new uses for this brilliant hack.

Two New Ways to Use the Eisenhower Matrix

I’m a big fan of the Eisenhower Matrix because it is an analog tool. I know there are Excel spreadsheets and apps and websites, but they’re all missing the greatest value of this trick: It’s easy, it’s disposable, and it’s fast. Look at this thing:

The first box is the most important. It’s for urgent tasks, things you need to do immediately. Box two is for things to do ASAP, but not instantly. For me, it means things I have to do today or in the next couple of days. Box three is for work you can hand off to someone else, your delegation box. The fourth box is for things you will never get to or things you are not going to do.

Use an Eisenhower Box Right Now

I’m sure your inbox is glaring at you with thousands of unopened emails. Every one of them is on fire. Instead of drilling down from the top of your inbox, try doing this:

  1. Divide a cheap piece of paper (like, I don’t know, a legal pad?) into four sections by using a big plus sign.
  2. Emails requiring action can be noted in the box corresponding to their urgency and priority. Just write a quick note — you don’t have to write, “Give Charlene the dep excerpts for the Johnson case file.” Just write “Charl/dep.”
  3. If you can pawn an action off on someone else, drop it into the delegation box
  4. Emails requiring no real action, the ones you can put off pretty much forever, can be dropped into the delete box.

Here, you can either transfer your newly prioritized to-dos to a list or put them into your app. However you organize your day, you’re done.

But Not Everyone Works Like That: The Baby Eisenhower Box Bullet

I’m a relentless list-maker. I keep an Ampad legal pad next to my laptop with my running to-do list on it. I know the Eisenhower box is fast, but could it be faster?

I think so. I’ve always used checkboxes for the bullets on my to-do list. Recently, I turned those checkboxes into baby Eisenhower Matrixes, and it has changed my to-do list entirely.

Just draw a square bullet, then divide it into fourths. Now shade in the region your list item belongs to. You can either reorder it all on a new piece of paper or leave it. It’s a visual reminder of the priority level of each task.

analog attorney productivity Eisenhower boxes
This picture shows an Apuntes slim legal pad. Unfortunately, they went out of business. I’m still crying.

Nested Boxes for Enormous Lists

I just got back from a week in Mexico, and my inbox burst off of my screen, down the side of my desk, and out into the yard. My Eisenhower box looked like a dictionary. I needed to prioritize within the sections. So I turned each quadrant into its own Eisenhower box.

Chris's Eisenhower Boxes Notepad

Crazy? Yeah, it’s crazy. But after an hour of punching my inbox in its face, I had everything sorted perfectly, and I didn’t have to open my phone.

Eisenhower Boxes Aren’t Magic, But They’re Close

The way an Eisenhower box prioritize is so simple and effective; it quickly rearranges the way you think about task lists. I think of them more as training templates. With a very short learning curve (two minutes?), you’re up and running. This kind of simplicity gets into your head. Soon enough, you stop labeling the boxes and automatically prioritize items in your head before you even have a chance to get them down on paper.

The best technology, the most effective tool, is always the one closest to not being a tool at all.

Spending a lot of time working on how you’re going to organize your work … isn’t working. This is why so many people are putting down their iPad. Instead, they’re thinking on paper. The Eisenhower Matrix, in whichever way you use it, is a skeletal framework that won’t get in the way of getting to work.

Image ©

Don’t miss out on our daily practice management tips. Subscribe to Attorney at Work’s free newsletter here >

Categories: Analog Attorney, Lawyer Productivity, Lawyer Time Management
Originally published March 6, 2023
Last updated June 26, 2023
share TWEET PIN IT share share
BULL Garlington Bull Garlington

Analog Attorney columnist Bull Garlington is an award-winning author, columnist and public speaker. He is the author of the books “Fat in Paris,” “The Full English,” “Death by Children” and “The Beat Cop’s Guide.” He prefers South American literature, classic jazz, Partagas 1945s, a decent Laphroaig, and makes a mean chicken and andouille gumbo. Follow him @bull_garlington.

More Posts By This Author
MUST READ Articles for Law Firms Click to expand

Welcome to Attorney at Work!

Sign up for our free newsletter.


All fields are required. By signing up, you are opting in to Attorney at Work's free practice tips newsletter and occasional emails with news and offers. By using this service, you indicate that you agree to our Terms and Conditions and have read and understand our Privacy Policy.