How a former president can help us do the right thing first.
There are lots of different tools on the market for decision-making and productivity. The Pomodoro Technique promises short bursts of intense focus and the Inbox Zero method is used by some leaders to clear the decks of daily emails.
But what really works? What methods are sustainable over the long term? What can we use, day in, and day out, without fail?
A reliable method for sorting out tasks that need our focus
If you aren’t familiar with it already, there’s a simple grid that will help you prioritize your tasks in a matter of minutes, from the most pressing things all the way down to unimportant tasks. It’s called The Eisenhower Matrix.
Dwight Eisenhower served as the 34th President of the United States and is remembered for his ability to master anything. During World War II, the five-star general had the ability to formulate a plan and the insight to know what absolutely must come first. One of his most popular quotes reveals the calculated approach he took to most things: “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.”
Both NASA and the Interstate Highway System came into place under his leadership. Eisenhower was a very busy man, but the reason he was so successful is this: he made time only for tasks that were urgent and important.
A dead-simple productivity matrix
The Eisenhower Matrix is pretty simple. It’s a box with four quadrants, with a vertical axis indicating degree of importance and a horizontal axis indicating degree of urgency. Reading the quadrant along each axis determines how to prioritize tasks.
There are four possible outcomes for any given task (from top right):
- Urgent and important: These are task that require your immediate attention.
- Not urgent but important: Schedule this task for later.
- Urgent but not important: Delegate this task to someone you trust.
- Not important, not urgent: You can do this later or not at all.
We all know what an urgent task is. It ranges anywhere from a bill we forgot to pay to an email pinging our inbox, or simply an unopened text from our
spouse—something that catches our immediate attention. Urgent describes the nature in which a task finds us. Importance is a designation of value.
It defines what is worthy of our attention, whether it demands it or not.
Leaders are working too hard trying to get the wrong thing done. Luckily, it’s an easy fix. If we use tools like The Eisenhower Matrix consistently, we’ll start getting the results our teams and companies deserve. And the trick is the elimination of things we shouldn’t be doing at all.
In his book “At Ease: Stories I Tell My Friends” the former president advises:
“Always try to associate yourself with and learn as much as you can from those who know more than you do, who do better than you, who see more clearly than you.’
That’s solid advice, because when it comes time to delegate a task, you can trust those you’ve selected. Delegation shouldn’t be a nerve-wracking choice. If you’ve selected the right people, you can let go of tasks that are not urgent and important with ease. It doesn’t mean you’re incompetent as a leader, it means you’re saving only those tasks in which you are most proficient. The best leaders delegate all the time.
Good decisions vs. goal-driven decisions
If we use tools like The Eisenhower Matrix, the decisions we make will have exponentially more power behind them.
As leaders, our attention is more valuable than ever before. There are a huge amount of things on our plate, so what wins our attention must be worthy of it. Approvals, new hire plans, project sign-offs rush past our desks in a blur of activity. What other way do we know what takes precedence if we have no framework to measure tasks against our goals?
The assumption behind your use of The Eisenhower Matrix is that you have established goals for this quarter or year. A decision framework only helps us sort out what we already know about our goals. But if you have yet to set those, it’s not too late!
Consider scheduling a complimentary call with one of our executive coaches to set your intentions for this year. It’s only February, which means you still have 10.5 months to see your goals into reality!
To your excellence in getting the right things done,