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The 34th President of the United States.
Supreme commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II.
The man who launched programs that led to the inception of NASA, the internet and the Interstate Highway System.
A busy man.
And judging by his actions – a man who made effective and productive use of time.
The most famous productivity strategy employed by Eisenhower is called the Eisenhower Box, or a modern variation – The Priority Matrix.
A simple decision-making tool, the priority matrix allows you to keep distractions at bay while keeping you focused on the most important tasks for the day.
The priority matrix allows you to:
- Identify at a glance what needs to be done.
- Move tasks around based on how important or urgent.
- Have an overview of where you need to focus your attention in the short-term and in the long-run.
- Stay on top of all your to-do lists.
The Priority Matrix has two dimensions – the first one is importance (important / not important) and the second one is urgency (urgent / not urgent).
Each task is classified according to these quadrants, and then dealt with according to the quadrant they belong to.
All tasks are divided into these 4 quadrants:
- Important and Urgent
- Not urgent and important
- Not important and urgent
- Not important and not urgent
Quadrant 1 – Important And Urgent
Learning to concentrate on the essentials is the key to success.
Learning to manage yourself and your time – that's what sets apart the successful from those playing catch-up with time. These are tasks that have a deadline and a high return on investment.
They just need to get done!
Obviously, we need to do the tasks in this quadrant because they’re important, and we should do them first because they are urgent. Usually, if we’re short on time we should do these tasks first.
Sometimes, we don’t have a choice, but letting things get to this point has a negative effect on our performance and quality of life.
- Important Deadlines – If your company is preparing for a product launch, any tasks associated with the launch are necessary to address straight away.
- Crises – Life is full of unexpected surprises. There are situations you couldn't have planned for even with foresight. What qualifies as a crisis? Any tasks that are time-crucial with significant consequences.
- Family – If you are a parent, any sort of performance or game that your child is participating in should be in this category. Especially if some preparation (overnight travel, for instance) is required.
- Last minute preparations – An examination that consumes your attention, a presentation that loomed up faster than expected or an unexpected business opportunity can all fall into this quadrant.
The danger here is that we think many things fall into this category when they don't they should actually fall into the urgent and not important category.
Ask yourself if the task at hand is both urgent and important. Any task that has financial implication for your company is going to take precedence over a customer-service inquiry.
Quadrant 2 – Important And Not Urgent
We address the tasks in this quadrant after dealing with the tasks in Quadrant 1.
The tasks in Quadrant 2 are not urgent but still require attention. If ignored, they will move to Quadrant 1. It’s better to address these tasks before they become urgent and important.
Because there are at 2 problems with Quadrant 1 tasks – they are time-bound, and that can cause stress and worry and affect the quality of our work.
- Mundane Tasks – Preparing weekly reports is a task that can be perceived as mundane. It is easy to put them off until later. If we do nothing, in a week this task will become important and urgent. Prepare a plan for such tasks to deal with them at the right time.
This plan might include steps like gather data, ask a colleague for their opinion, write a draft, edit the draft, send it to our boss, fix a time for the presentation, and present it.
- Health – Eating healthy and exercising are vital for your health. Don't wait for the doctor to diagnose you.
- Relationships – My friend Jordan Harbinger talks about digging the well before you're thirsty. Invest in any type of relationship before you need to call on that person for a favor.
- Self-development and rest are in the non urgent category but they are very important.
If we don’t take care of tasks in Quadrant 2, we will find ourselves in a situation where we are short on time. The result – we’re stressed, we work late at night, and produce lousy results.
So, Quadrant 2 (important and not urgent) deserves serious attention.
Quadrant 3 – Urgent And Not Important
This is the most deceptive quadrant. After all, why should we bother with tasks that are not important?
What makes these tasks urgent? Many times other people try to force us to deal with these tasks.
They are time robbers. The way to reduce this problem is simply to protect your time.
For example, if someone insists on talking with you in person immediately, and it means you need to travel out of your office – find out why that meeting is so urgent. Maybe you can have a phone call instead, and maybe that person is going to be in your area next week.
There are distractions which jump in front of us saying, “give me attention,” these are fires that you won’t really care if they burn down.
Social media is one of the biggest culprits distracting our focus. You need to have a representation on social media, but limit your time, schedule your posts and, if you can – get someone else to manage your business social accounts.
- Friends asking for favors – Situations disguised as an emergency can, in reality, wait for your attention. Be disciplined in saying no to what seems like a false alarm.
- Social activities – In moderation, social activities (ceremonies, parties, gatherings) add balance to our hectic modern lives. These are tasks that you should probably not be doing unless you've got nothing else to do.
Don't spend your energy on tasks that are not urgent and not important – they will waste your time.
In which case – it is in your best interest to pick up a hobby or habit that is going to benefit you in the long run. Meditate, exercise, learn a new language or instrument – anything that stimulates and holds your interest.
Quadrant 4 – Not Urgent And Not Important
The tasks in this quadrant can become serious time wasters. When you identify a task in that quadrant, try to cancel it. If you can’t eliminate it completely, try to minimize the time you spend on that task. Start maintaining a ‘not-to-do' list and avoid filling up your time with tasks that have no real purpose in your day.
- Netflix – Watching TV shows and movies online seems like a pleasant distraction. These are time wasters that are not planned. Keep track of how much time you are spending on tasks that are not urgent and not important.
- Messenger & texting services – If it can be said over a quick phone call, choose to save yourself time rather than sending multiple back and forth text messages.
If all your tasks are fit in this quadrant – congratulations, you are living a life of leisure!
Now, that's not a reality for the majority of us. However – the tasks that we categorize as not urgent and not important are the easiest to complete. Completing them gives us a feeling of accomplishment.
Monitor each quadrant carefully. If needed – divide each of the major tasks into subtasks.
Start the tasks on time, even if they don’t look urgent now. Otherwise, you will spend a lot of effort with questionable results…. staying on top of your tasks will result in good performance while maintaining a good quality of life.
A useful chart is a daily time management activities chart combined with a priority matrix . The beauty of the priority matrix is that a lot of these tasks can be interchanged depending on the seasons of your life.
Remember – what is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important. -Dwight Eisenhower
How to make your own priority matrix?
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