“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”-Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight David Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States, holding the office from 1953 until 1961. If you are a GenXer or a Millennial, his name might get vague recognition. If you are are a Baby Boomer or beyond, then you have a greater appreciation for the role that he played in American history. You can bet that his name meant a lot to your Grandpa.
Eisenhower was a West Point graduate, college football star, five-star general, supreme Allied commander during World War II, president of Columbia University, and President of the United States. Despite his lofty achievements, he retained the Everyman quality of his Kansas upbringing. In 1952 he was drafted by the Republican Party to run for the presidency, his campaign pushed along by a simple, yet effective slogan: “I Like Ike.” Like everything else in Eisenhower’s career, simple was effective, and he won the election by a landslide.
If you are someone who struggles with time management, juggles multiple responsibilities, and feels like your life consists of one crisis to the next, then there are still many reasons for you to like Ike. There is a simple, yet highly effective, time management method known as the Eisenhower Method based upon a quote attributed to Eisenhower when he was president: “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are seldom important, and the important are seldom urgent.”
Using this principle, Eisenhower separated his task basket into categories based on the criteria of important/unimportant and urgent/not urgent, then placed them in quadrants on a piece of paper. By having the tasks systematically laid out in front of him, Eisenhower could clearly see the tasks that lay ahead of him that day in the same manner that he would have used as a general poring over maps during the Second World War. These task maps have become known as and “Eisenhower Box.” Tasks are assigned to one of the quadrants based on relative importance and urgency.
When organizing your daily tasks the two most important questions to ask yourself are:
“Is it urgent?”
“Is it important?”
You can now put the task in the correct quadrant using the image below as a model.
Quadrant 1 is for tasks that are both urgent and important, requiring our immediate attention. These tasks will typically consist of problems, crises, and things that have an impending deadline. Some examples are:
· tasks that have a deadline
· crises such as health, medical, and family demands
Quadrant 2 is for tasks that are not urgent but important. Some examples are:
· your exercise routine
· home and vehicle maintenance
· anything requiring long term planning
According to Stephen Covey, who popularized the Eisenhower Method in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, felt we should spend most of our time on Quadrant 2 activities. Quadrant 2 activities tend to be those that give us the most life satisfaction and prevent life events from crossing over into Quadrant 1 emergencies and crises. (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/seven-habits-success/ )
Quadrant 3 activities are those that are urgent, requiring our immediate attention, but are not important because they don’t contribute to our own long-term goals. Quadrant 3 tasks are frequently interruptions and involve helping other people attain their goals. Someone else makes their crisis your problem. Some examples are:
· phone calls, text messages, and emails
· a co-worker, family member, or friend asks you for help with something
· someone drops by to visit you unannounced
Many people spend the majority of their time dealing with Quadrant 3 tasks, believing that they are working on Quadrant 1 tasks. While these tasks seem to be important at the time, quite frequently they are not. Often Quadrant 3 tasks contribute to someone else’s goals more than our own. Some people have a personality style that is frequently referred to as people pleaser, spending a large amount of their time helping other people attain their goals. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but just be aware of how much Quadrant 3 activities can detract you from your own personal goals. Delegate these to someone else if at all possible.
Quadrant 4 activities are those that are not important and not urgent. These are the junk food activities of life, giving us no nutritional value, but filling us up. Some examples are:
· watching television
· mindlessly surfing the Internet
· video games, Facebook, and chronically checking your iPhone
There is certainly nothing wrong with Quadrant 4 activities in and of themselves. The problem arises when you find yourself spending too much time in Quadrant 4. Minimizing the amount of time you spend here can allow you to enjoy these Quadrant 4 activities without becoming addicted to them. Monitor how much time you spend doing these activities for a few days and see if the time spent is consistent with your long term goals. Remember, this is junk food, so consume sparingly.
If you are someone who procrastinates and struggles to decide which activities to tackle first, then this is something you should try. If you are a visual learner, having an Eisenhower Box to refer to will make your life a heck of a lot easier. Be like Ike, give this a try and see how much it improves your time management.
“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”- Dwight D. Eisenhower
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