As we begin 2016, we find ourselves looking forward with a determination to get to get to grips with the tasks that will help us fulfil our long-term goals and missions in life. But, more often than not, demands of daily life can swamp us and all those dream jobs start to slowly slip down the to-do-list.
If you’re left feeling unfulfilled and question what you have truly accomplished each day, then there is a simple 60 year old principle that can help – The Eisenhower Decision Principle.
Whilst modern technologies have their place in improving productivity the 24/7 nature of today’s world can bombard us with information, which is both important and useless! With the ping of your phone alerting you to a new message or social media update, we become overstimulated and distracted; confused about what is urgent and what is important.
‘What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important’
Dwight Eisenhower certainly knew a thing or two about using time effectively not just efficiently.
So it’s this very man who inspired The Eisenhower Matrix. But before you switch off crying ‘not another time management tool!’ there really isn’t anything fancy involved just a new way of looking at things.
The matrix itself – a simple square with four quadrants – will help you set down your priorities and determine which of your activities are important and which just a distraction. See our easy-to-use template here
Quadrant 1: Tasks that are both urgent and important.
These are the things that simply cannot wait until tomorrow. For example, a deadline for an advert in the paper, a crisis such as an electricity cut, or a job opportunity that must be responded to. It’s important to note that whilst you can’t always predict or avoid some urgent and important issues, some can be foreseen. By planning your tasks and spending more time in Quadrant 2, things like urgent deadlines would never have made it into Quadrant 1, a place which often leaves you feeling hurried and stressed.
Quadrant 2: the happy place. Not urgent but important tasks
These activities don’t have a pressing deadline but are what’s truly important to you. These are the tasks that provide us with “lasting happiness, fulfilment and success” according to Stephen Covey who popularised Eisenhower’s Decision Principle in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Sometimes it can be hard to know what these activities actually are, but we often find them languishing as ‘the big ideas’ or ‘the nice to haves’ at the bottom of the to-do-list. As they don’t have a deadline pressuring us to act, their attention is more easily stolen by the ‘urgent’ and the ‘here and now’. But it is this quadrant that deserves most of the time and so requires a conscious decision to make them happen.
Quadrant 3: Urgent and Not Important Tasks
These are the time-sapping tasks that require our immediate attention but which have no role in helping us achieve our goals. A common source of such activities is other people, whose tasks you take on to help them fulfil their priorities. If you’re a people pleaser you’ll find yourself spending a lot of time in this quadrant, helping others out and getting satisfaction from a job well done. Whilst these tasks have a role to play, consider whether you can reschedule or delegate them. In some cases it’s appropriate to simply say a polite ‘no’.
Quadrant 4: Not urgent and Not Important Tasks
These are distractions (sometimes nice ones like watching TV, catching up on Facebook or checking chats on WhatsApp) but the idea is you spend a limited amount of time on them. Some Quadrant 4 tasks can be eliminated altogether, for example by turning off app notifications or closing down email so you’re not distracted. Some are more difficult, such as when a business colleague asks you to do a task that does not contribute to any of your outcomes. But, if you are clear about your objectives and boundaries, people will eventually get the hint. And, once you have completed the matrix, clarity will be staring you right in the face.
Like most things in life, it’s a balance, but understanding these four groups will help you when you’re next faced with a decision. Ask yourself where this task would go in your matrix and prioritise it accordingly. Remember that Queen Bee PA are here to help if outsourcing some of your distracting tasks will help you focus more of your energy in Quadrant 2. You’ll find 2016 to be a much calmer place, where you’re making real progress and have the capacity to tackle what life throws at you.