Burnout Prevention: Prioritized To Do List (Eisenhower Decision Matrix)

burnout prevention strategy for over-achievers

A tried and true skill to help with burnout prevention.

I see a lot of super smart people who have basically made over-achieving an art form. They treat themselves like they need to always have the strength of Luisa and always be as perfect as Isabella. (Yep, an Encanto reference, the movie is so therapy relatable in so many ways.)

They've worked themselves into a corner where they believe they always have to be everything, to everyone, all the time. So, their to do list grows, they put their nose down and work hard, they overload themselves, and they feel overwhelmed. That's usually when they come to therapy. "Enter me! ([S]he says in parentheses)". (Yep, a Hamilton reference for good measure, while we're at it.)

Approaching this mindset isn't easy. It usually requires some deeper work, like EMDR Therapy, that can uncover and resolve long-standing thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and behaviors. However, I like to offer some skills early on that can reduce some of the pain that they're in.

Here's one of my favorite often-recommended ones: The Eisenhower Decision Matrix.

The Eisenhower Decision Matrix

True story: I have been using and sharing this method since I learned it in college several decades ago (ouch, I feel old). I would typically draw a four cell matrix on a piece of paper to start explaining it. I did this recently and the person I was talking to said "Oh yeah, The Eisenhower Matrix" (I told you I work with smarties). I'd used it it but never known it's official name.

This method is a way to prioritize your to do list, dividing it into four parts. Divide your page into four parts by drawing a line straight down the middle and a line across the middle sideways. Above the top boxes, write "urgent" and "not urgent". Next to the side boxes, write "important" and "not important"

Now you'll go through your task list and decide where to put each task. Decide if each is important and urgent.

Pro tip: If everything is urgent, nothing is urgent. If everything is important, nothing is important.

Burnout Prevention Strategy

Now that you have your task list divided into categories, you'll approach your task list by quadrant:

  • Top Left: These are your important and urgent tasks, these are the ones you DO first.
  • Top Right: These are your important but not urgent tasks. These are the ones that you can DECIDE when to do them. Set time on your schedule to get them done.
  • Bottom Left: These are urgent, but not important. DELEGATE these to someone who could get them done.*
  • Bottom Right. These are not urgent and not important. Why are they even on your list? DELETE them.

* Hey, I hear you thinking, "but no one will do them as well as I will, so I know I'll end up doing those, too. For right now, I'll offer the basically unhelpful "quit it", but we'll have to tackle this perfectionistic tendency that's keeping you overloaded.

Advanced Burnout Prevention

It sounds simple, doesn't it? Just put your todo list in a different format and all things will be solved. It's not simple, but it's a start. Once you start thinking this way and incorporating it into your routine, you'll be rewarded with some free space.

Tackling the underlying reasons for why you are so hard on yourself is a great reason to do therapy. Uncovering the reasons behind your thinking and beliefs about yourself can be a wonderful, healing process.

If you're ready to get off the hamster wheel that all too often leads to burnout, we can help.

Elaine Moss, LCSW is an EMDR Certified Therapist who specializes in complicated anxiety, depression, and trauma. She works with highly intelligent over-achievers to help them trade their anxiety for confidence without feeling like a failure. Her relational approach combines her knowledge, experience, and her quick sense of humor. Her practice, Empower Counseling, has offices in Suwanee, Georgia and she practices online throughout Georgia and Virginia.


2 thoughts on “Burnout Prevention: Prioritized To Do List (Eisenhower Decision Matrix)”

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    1. Elaine Moss says:

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