The Eisenhower Matrix: A Motivation Booster for Polyphasic Sleep

The Eisenhower Matrix is designed to be a time-management system of decision making and prioritization that helps learners make the most accurate decisions to determine the importance of various tasks that need to be completed1,2,3,4. By actively planning to complete each task based on their relevance, urgency and importance, one can learn to formulate thought processes that smoothen personal objectives. This can be effectively done through the use of certain markers such as deadlines, short-term vs long-term goals to comprehensively develop corresponding strategies. Each assessment of targeted tasks or duties can also be used to fight off procrastination by boosting personal motivation in achieving different goals, no matter how simple they may be.

In tandem with polyphasic sleeping, the Eisenhower Matrix is a potentially useful tool to combat sleep deprivation during adaptation by focusing on the current tasks and keeping the mind busy and not distracted by sleep deprivation symptoms themselves. Despite all the extra hours gained with successful polyphasic adaptations, it would be pointless if one has poor time management skills. Hence, this tool can also be used as a long term guide to better time-management skills during waking hours. Being able to effectively manage time often results in less human errors during execution, better organization of tasks, fluent execution of workflow and planning, more satisfaction, better results and faster accomplishment of personal goals4. This blog post will present the premises behind the Eisenhower Matrix as well as how polyphasic sleepers can improve their productivity by manipulating time in their hands.

How the matrix works

The US President Eisenhower’s powerful work ethics has helped him accomplish various groundbreaking projects in his life. He claimed, “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent”3. The message of Eisenhower is to prioritize tasks that are important and deal with urgent tasks timely so that ideally no workload or projects can pile up – preparation and prioritization are keys to balancing the workload and by the time a task is both important and urgent, it is handled briefly. Based on his proposed decision-making method, the Eisenhower Matrix is best described via the table below, through the classification and highlight of different types of tasks1,2,3.

PriorityNot UrgentUrgent
ImportantB Tasks – Important tasks that can be delayed but require constant attention.A Tasks – Highly important issues that should be dealt with immediately due to certain consequences.
Not ImportantD Tasks – Tasks that can be avoided completely.C Tasks – Urgent but not the most important. Can be done by someone else or right away or moved to another date.

Table 1. The Eisenhower Matrix

Analysis:

The 4 types of tasks mentioned in Figure 1 can be broken down into 4 categories:

  1. Important & Urgent Tasks: These tasks are to be dealt with first and foremost, because they can leave dire consequences if not handled in time1,2. Examples: putting out a house fire2, treating a snake bite, completing an online homework assignment in the next 15 minutes, etc. For this reason, A tasks have 2 subtypes: Those that are last-minute and those that pop up unexpectedly.
  2. Important & Not Urgent Tasks: These tasks are important but no need to be completed right away1,2. Rather, they can span through weeks or months to be completed. Examples: Undergraduate thesis (due in 3 months), economics essays (due in 1 month), changing a new health insurance plan (in 2 weeks). If delayed excessively, these tasks will be moved to the first category (Important & Urgent).
  3. Not Important & Urgent Tasks: These tasks appear to be urgent, but not important in nature. It can be potentially tricky to classify tasks into these categories due to personal assessment of importance. The solution is to protect the time1, which can be done in the following example: if someone insists on talking in person, it is a wise choice to call them first to figure out how important it is to require such attention. The tasks in these categories are usually interruptions and disruptions in the current workflow, annoying or worthy enough of attention, but are insignificant in essence1,2.
  4. Not Important & Not Urgent Tasks: These tasks can be severely delayed or not done at all if required. They are usually classified as time wasters1,2,3. Examples include: Personal entertainment, reading random blog posts or news, watching TV, etc.

What to Prioritize:

Strategically speaking, tasks A and B deserve a lot of attention and energy to finishing them. It is worth noting that even though Category 2 does not require immediate attention, their long-term nature often demands certain planning of smaller tasks that lead up to finishing them. Thus, they are often perpetual tasks that need a lot of monitoring on a regular basis to ensure the maximum efficacy. With enough practice, learners can fully use the Eisenhower Matrix to their best ability without sacrificing too much time to determine the level of importance of each task.

 Practical applications in polyphasic sleep

Upon the explanations as to how the Eisenhower Matrix works, it is necessary to consider polyphasic sleeping scheduling as part of the matrix. Up to date, only a couple polyphasic sleepers in the community have used the Eisenhower Matrix and reported decent results. This section will detail a couple ways to demonstrate how polyphasic sleepers can fully utilize the matrix’s features. The following factors should be considered:

  1. Sleep deprivation
  2. Chronotype
  3. Patterns of tiredness dips
  4. Scheduling of polyphasic sleep blocks

Sleep Deprivation:

During polyphasic adaptation, sleep deprivation is present on different levels. Some individuals are more resistant to the effects of sleep deprivation (e.g, strong immune system, high motivation for extra waking hours gained each day for more activities and interests), while some can only tolerate a certain amount of sleep reduction (e.g, genetics, sleep requirement, not so much motivation to gain many waking hours). However, stage 3 of adaptation, which is the most potent threat that is known to cause oversleeps and mess-ups in polyphasic adaptation, is something to be very wary of. Thus, it is very important to prepare for stage 3 right from the beginning of adaptation by planning a lot of different activities that are engaging enough to keep the mind occupied and fixed on them as a means to “distract” sleep deprivation effects.

Figure 1. Handling Sleep Deprivation on DC2

STRATEGY: In the napchart above as an example, the most ideal way to combat sleep deprivation during the adaptation phase is to set up multiple intriguing activities to direct the brain’s attention to those, temporarily forgetting about sleep deprivation’s effects. Below are some ways to approach this:

  • If sleep inertia and sleep deprivation show sufficient effects that would hinder the productivity of waking hours, the priority upon awakening should be to warm up after a core sleep/nap (e.g, spending the first half an hour doing jumping jacks, chores and other moderate physical activities) to shake those symptoms off as fast as possible. Despite looking simple, these activities can be considered Important & Urgent Tasks (should not be delayed) to ensure that the body can muster energy to tank through sleep deprivation until the next sleep block.
  • If more intense sleep deprivation periods persist during waking hours, these physical activities can be deployed again and more often for brief moments before one resumes the other necessary tasks that need to be completed. This decision of using warm-up tasks also paves the way for the Pomodoro Technique to be more efficient. It is also possible to combine both the Eisenhower Matrix and the Pomodoro Technique to achieve a more rhythmic workflow, alternating between taking small breaks and focus.
  • If sleep deprivation levels are assessed to be mild, other Important & Not Urgent Tasks (e.g, school assignments, programming projects’ due date, essay prep) can be initiated upon awakening right away.

Chronotype:

It has been noted that polyphasic sleepers can use chronotype to their advantage by locating important tasks to their personal favorite hours (as mentioned in the Pomodoro blog post) so that they can use their active mindset to reliably handle these tasks. However, it is necessary to also assess the situation to be fully prepared to handle important/urgent tasks at non-preferred hours. As a result, chronotype can be considered low on the list of deciding factors.

Patterns of tiredness dips:

Tiredness dips refer to moments of drowsiness or sleepiness as cues for potential time slots that can be used to schedule a sleep block. Mild tiredness dips can usually be ignored (e.g, slight yawns, minor daydreaming-like moments) and in general do not affect overall performance and productivity. Major tiredness dips (e.g, big yawns, some impairment of focus/attention span, more difficulty carrying out desired tasks) often indicate that sleep time is around the corner. During polyphasic adaptations, a lot of tiredness dips will occur during the day as part of adaptation. They may occur at random hours or at specific hours. Below is an example on prioritization against tiredness dips.

Figure 2. Tiredness dips & Priority on Everyman 2

 

The above example is represented by an E2 sleeper with a consistent energy dips around noon and before nap 1. This is an ongoing adaptation in Stage 4 (tiredness patterns have become consistent). The studying/programming task(s) are reserved for alert hours after the core, and are scheduled to end when a sufficient amount of workload is completed before the major tiredness dip sets in. Thus, ideally any important tasks that require a lot of mental processing and cognitive performance should be avoided. It is also recommended that these tasks should not be scheduled around these hours to ensure maximum efficiency. It is also worth noting that these energy dips are bound to expand during the harsher part of adaptation (Stage 3), so it is more necessary than usual to deploy different methods to stay awake before engaging in important tasks.

Polyphasic Sleep Scheduling: (A comprehensive example)

When it comes to scheduling, it is important to sleep by the minute during adaptation for all sleep blocks designed on a personal schedule. Thus, all core(s) and nap(s) should be treated as Important and urgent tasks. How urgent they are depends on how much wake time remaining a polyphasic sleeper has before they have to sleep.

Figure 4. Planning on Siesta

The above template is simulated by a Siesta sleeper. During normal waking hours as shown in the afternoon, regular tasks are scheduled to be completed depending on their urgency. The online quiz is due by midnight on that day (Important & Urgent) and takes up to 60 minutes to complete, while not being as important as the incoming 2 exams on Programming and Physical Chemistry in the next 4 days (Important & Not Urgent). The sleeper assesses the importance via the difficulty required to complete these 2 different tasks (revision and taking the quiz). As a result, more time is needed to spend on reviewing the materials for the more challenging Programming and Physical Chemistry courses.

The most important task in polyphasic sleeping (especially during the adaptation period), however, is sleep. Getting a proper amount of rest offered on the schedule and properly maintaining a polyphasic schedule is necessary to obtain quality sleep to then sustain performance on various tasks, especially during adaptation. Up to date, a handful of sleep logs have revealed that a couple of polyphasic sleepers sometimes forgot to take their scheduled naps during the adaptation period because of different reasons that could have been prevented or avoided (e.g, absent-mindedness, being occupied with other priorities). To show that it is imperative to follow the sleep schedule as doggedly as possible during adaptation, both sleep blocks of the Siesta schedule illustrated above are marked Important. As it gets closer to each sleep block, these scheduled sleep blocks become more Urgent. Thus, it is also necessary to consider cooling down a bit before each sleep block to reduce sleep onset latency as the brain gets more time to slow down and enter a slow-wave state. Therefore, cooling down can also be considered an Important activity, and becomes more Urgent as there is less time for each sleep block, at least in the case of inexperienced polyphasic sleepers.

After the adaptation phase, the majority of polyphasic schedules tend to become more flexible, so napping in general may have less priority than other commitments depending on what tasks are more important at hand. This helps accommodate daily timetables more easily in case naps or cores have to be moved to a certain time later. With all tasks considered, it is important to stop the current workload where necessary to clear the path for sleep to set in.

Conclusion

In sum, polyphasic sleepers who seek more motivation to make use of more waking hours can rely on the Eisenhower Matrix to learn to make better decisions on different types of tasks. Time management is a key factor in sustaining motivation to fully take advantage of the extra hours gained. The Eisenhower Matrix is designed to provide insights into what tasks can be defined as important and urgent, and these may vary from person to person. By incorporating the matrix into a polyphasic lifestyle, polyphasic sleepers can learn more about the utmost importance of maintaining a proper adaptation period and to potentially overcome tough adaptation symptoms during Stage 3.

Main author: GeneralNguyen
Page last updated: 26 May 2020

  1. Jyothi, N. S., & Parkavi, A. (2016). A study on task management system. 2016 International Conference on Research Advances in Integrated Navigation Systems (RAINS). doi:10.1109/rains.2016.7764421
  2. Bast, F. (2016). Crux of time management for students. Resonance, 21(1), 71–88. doi:10.1007/s12045-016-0296-6
  3. MFONDOUM, Alfred Homère NGANDAM, et al. “Eisenhower matrix* Saaty AHP= Strong actions prioritization? Theoretical literature and lessons drawn from empirical evidences.” IAETSD-Journal for Advanced Research in Applied Sciences 6: 13-27.
  4. Gajewska, Paulina, and Katarzyna Piskrzyńska. “Leisure time management.” Forum Scientiae Oeconomia. Vol. 5. No. 1. 2017.

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