Eisenhower Was a Very Astute Man. And did you know that he came up with the Urgent/Important Matrix before Dr Stephen Covey? I didn’t, until I was reading the ILM (Institute of Leadership and Management) magazine Edge several years ago.
Eisenhower said ‘An intellectual is a man who takes more words than is necessary to tell more than he knows.’
The Urgent/Important Matrix is about using time effectively, not just efficiently, and in my experience the more effectively you use time the more efficient you become
In this day and age there just never seems to be enough time. Is this really true?
How often have you taken time out to ‘Stop and Stare’? And perhaps realise what you are doing is getting you nowhere. We’re anxious, we can’t concentrate, everything gets in the way, and then, we simply blow. We tell ourselves that we can do so much because we have so many ‘labour saving’ devices, smartphones, PCs, laptops, we can be contacted anywhere at any time.
In spite of all these gadgets and online calendars (that everyone can set us up appointments with (if we let them) – do we really mange our time efficiently?
Do we spend our time on things that are important and not just urgent? It’s important to distinguish between important and just urgent.
- Important activities have an outcome that leads to the achievement of your goals.
- Urgent activities demand immediate attention, and are often associated with the achievement of someone else’s goals (ah had you noticed that?).
We often concentrate on just urgent activities. The things that make the most noise, the things that demand attention because the consequences of not dealing with them are immediate.
The Urgent/Important Matrix is a useful tool for thinking about this.
Eisenhower said, ‘What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.’ This so-called “Eisenhower Principle” is purported to be how Eisenhower organized his tasks. Dr Stephen Covey made the idea more public in his business classic, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. Covey called it the “The Urgent/Important Matrix” It is something I use myself regularly and I encourage my clients to use it too, because it works in reminding us what is really important.
The Urgent/Important Matrix is a powerful way to use to think about priorities. Using it helps you prevent the natural tendency to focus on urgent activities, so that you learn to keep enough time to focus on what’s really important. This is the way you move from “fire fighting”, into a position where you can grow your business and your career.
This is how it works:
Divide an A 4 page into 4 as below
Deadline driven projects
Recognising new appointments
Interruptions, some phone calls
Some mail, some reports
Proximate, pressing matters
Trivia, busy work
Some phone calls
Assess the importance to all the activities on a scale of 1 to 5
Remember Eisenhower also said: ‘Leadership – the art of getting someone else to do something that you want done because he wants to do it.’ (Words that Change Minds – the LAB Profile – the language of influence is useful for facilitating this)
When people see you are clear about your objectives and boundaries, they will generally not ask you to do ‘not important’ activities in the future, and at best do it themselves or find someone else.
I read somewhere recently ‘do the hardest work first’, that most great achievers take onthe difficult work of practice in the mornings, before they do anything else. Ah so that’s why I prefer to exercise in the morning because we tend to move away from pain and toward pleasure, so for me in the evenings lounging around is preferable. Of course mornings are also when I have more energy and am less likely to be distracted. Not that the distraction is necessarily negative, but other people will have demands on my time, their need might be greater than me. The client in despair (I need to listen and advise), the supplier who wants me to pay them (we negotiate), the trainee who suddenly has sent me some work in, that they need me to give feedback on (either before they take the next step or they might have made a choice that is not necessarily the right one).
So I need to do the hardest work first, in terms of the Language and Behaviour Profile, I can be both towards and away from, I do weigh up the consequences (not all the time – I’m human after all) and evaluate is that a potentially good decision? I’m motivated both by what I can achieve and sometimes will achieve so I’m also motivated by possibilities and options. Too many options and we do nothing, here’s an idea, there’s an idea, how about this idea? If you are someone likes lots of ideas some of the time, or if certain circumstances it can be difficult for you to make a choice, or you never make a choice and if you work with other people, those other people can be left behind. Uncertain of what they are supposed to do with all the opportunities you have given them, especially when they were working on getting something else finished. A little follow through on your behalf would be good, otherwise the others are overwhelmed, or they just give up and walk off.
Too much time spent on the “what ifs” usually leads to inertia, stagnation, being stuck, especially if you like detail and get lost in the detail, it becomes difficult to find your way out of the maze. Add to that if you need other people to tell you if you’ve done a good job and there’s no one there in the maze with you then you could be stuck for ever in despair. On the other hand if you know yourself that something is wrong here and you spend a lot of time looking for things to confirm that then you’ll be even more stuck.
Just do the hardest work first, get it out of the way, get on with it, get your finger out! Stop saying I can’t, if only, I need this, I need someone else to, I have to.
Consider this there are some things you do really easily, quickly, with aplomb – do you see these things in some way? Do you hear sounds in your head about these? Do you have emotions or feelings in your body about them? Do you taste something in your mouth? Do you smell something? Do you talk to yourself about these things? And whichever one of those you do, how do you use your internal representations to make them appealing? Think about this.
Then consider those things you find hard to do, yet it would be useful for you to do them, how do you represent these things to yourself, well one of them anyway, let’s not overdo it here;) What happens when you change the way you represent (think/feel/see)this to make things more appealing?