Developers: Optimize your tasks with a simple excel file


The basics of Eisenhower's decision box

The principle of this method is based on the Eisenhower's decision box.
If you never heard about it, it is simple as you could imagine and was used by Dwight D. Eisenhower (34th President of the US, from 1953 to 1961 ) for his daily tasks.

The Eisenhower box. Source: James Clear

Basically the grid is divided into 4 quadrants and uses two notions: Important and urgent.
In other terms, Urgent is this red flag pinned next to your email saying "Do it ASAP!".
Important is the email you printed because it will contribute to mid and long term decisions. It needs to be carefully taken care of, and by yourself.

In the original Eisenhower decision box, the 4 quadrants are:
1. Do it first
2. Plan it
3. Delegate it
4. Forget about it


Here comes the developer alternative

The X-Axis (urgence) is now replaced by "Impact". The actual changes to the whole project your task will do once completed.
The Y-Axis (importance) is now replaced by "Time". The time your task will take to be done, because it's easier to start with short tasks.

If you're not in a situation where you can delegate to other people, especially if you are doing freelance, your 4 quadrants could now become:
1. High priority (this morning)
2. Medium priority (this afternoon / tomorrow)
3. Low priority (later this week)
4. Procrastinate (bah... let's focus on the three others )

But, a meaningless task can sometimes be required to be done first before doing other tasks.
That should be taken into consideration, so this excel file you will find below is taking care of dependencies, and recursively.

Simple example

Your date is coming home in an hour and have to find the best "clean overview / time spent" ratio.

Let's take an example with a very simple situation. Your date is coming home tonight, you have to clean your apartment in an hour. You won't be able to clean everything, but you have to optimize and find the best "clean overview / time spent" ratio. Game on.

You wrote down 8 action to complete:
Do the dishes, Sweep the floor, Mop the floor, Do my bed, Start washing machine, Dry clothes, Take the trash out, Go buy some booze.
They will take you from 5 to 30 minutes and have an impact, the "clean impression", arbitrarily set between 1 (less) and 4 (more).

We'll first get this solution:

The cleaning tasks displayed in 4 quadrants, without dependencies

Now, while setting the dependencies between Sweep and Mop the floor, and also between the washing machine and the dryer, the output grid will be updated, taking into consideration, the future impact sweeping the floor will have:

The cleaning tasks with dependencies. Quadrants automatically adapted to the new values.

Sweeping the floor gained 4 points of impact, and the washing machine, 3. It's the value of their sub task. In the mean time, Mopping the floor and drying gained also respectively 10 and 5 minutes of required time, the duration of their parent tasks.
As the matrix median limits (both horizontal and vertical) are calculated from an average, doing your bed just became less urgent to do and is now a priority 2.
The same as once these three top priority tasks will be done, mopping and drying will see their remaining time reduced and might arrive in your High priority quadrant... if you still have some time left... but wait... isn't it the doorbell? Oh snap, your date is here and you did nothing but spreadsheets...

More tasks and dependencies make the chart even better
More tasks and dependencies make the chart even better

About the spreadsheet

The spreadsheet has been made with love, and Excel 2016.
It might have some compatibility issues such as the label display on the chart (Excel 2007), but you might overcome this with a macro (sorry). More information here:

All you have to do is to fill in the tasks in the list by setting:
- an new unique ID
- a name
- another task ID if dependency
- the time required for this task
- the impact provided by the task
- and its % done, if > 0

You can also set up the 4 quadrants names in the Settings sheet.

 Download Eisenhower box - Task list for Excel (v 1.0, 28kB, feb 2016)

Aurelien Jacquot

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