The Eisenhower Decision Matrix

Employer, Care-giver, brother, son. How are you balancing your time across these multiple roles? Are you getting to the important work every week? This decision model will help you better navigate your time.

While attending a conference in Chicago last year, I broke away from the usual technical talks to join a session hosted by Myles Shiroma on time management. Myles walked us through the Eisenhower Decision Matrix, also known as the Urgent-Important Time Management Tool. He then gave practical insights into its application.

The Eisenhower Decision Matrix

Prior to becoming president, Eisenhower, a US army general, developed a decision model to help manage his many daily tasks. If you appreciate Eisenhower’s famous quote then you will recognise the Eisenhower Decision Matrix.

“What is urgent is seldom important and what is important is seldom urgent”

Dwight D. Eisenhower

This simple model comprises of four quadrants, each with a different work approach to prioritising urgent vs. important tasks.

Urgent and Important

The first quadrant outlines urgent and important tasks that cannot be deferred, and needs to be done today. The work approach is to do the tasks.  Examples of these tasks include:

  • Delivering a report to a client
  • Dealing with an unplanned technical failure
  • Final day for renewing an insurance premium

Important but not Urgent

The second quadrant is for work that is important but not urgent. This time should be focussed time that needs to be scheduled and planned ahead. The work approach is to schedule tasks. Examples of these tasks include:

  • Strategic business planning
  • Personal development such as exercise, reading or learning new skills
  • Developing relationships such as networking or time with family and friends

Urgent but not Important

The third quadrant outlines time that is urgent but not important. This quadrant is for administrative tasks that need to be done but can be delegated. This work approach is called to delegate tasks. This is also an opportunity to develop your team. Examples of these include:

  • Getting your team to attend a meeting or take call on your behalf
  • Handing over email tasks
  • Delegating project reminders

Not Urgent and not Important

The fourth quadrant is should be allocated to activities that are neither urgent nor important. These activities are time wasters adding no real value to you. The work approach is to eliminate tasks. Examples of these tasks include:

  • Attending non-industry related mass networking events
  • Consuming social media and binging on TV shows (especially repeats!)
  • Manually completing repetitive tasks that could be automated.

The Eisenhower Decision Matrix needs no further explanation, however to really understand its impact and how you spend your time, set aside 30 minutes to apply Eisenhower’s model.

Exercise: Applying the model

Step 1 – Take a blank piece of paper and write down all the things you did last week. Try to recall big events or just go back to your calendar and list everything there.

Step 2 – Plot the activities on your list onto your Eisenhower Decision Matrix.

Step 3 – Calculate the estimated time spent in each matrix. I recommend blocks of 30 minutes.

Step 4 – Reflect on these questions:

  1. How many hours did you spend on tasks that should have been delegated? By doing these tasks yourself, did you miss an opportunity to develop others in your team.
  2. How much time did you spend fighting fires and how could these crisis have been avoided if properly planned?
  3. Did you allocate enough time to important work and was this time distraction or interruption free?
  4. What should you start eliminating?

Make the change

Many of our calendars revolve around our work, and possibly a few personal events like a school play or dental appointment. However work is only one part of who we are. We all have many roles. We could be a volunteer, a brother, a mother, a son, a care giver or a writer. How are we balancing our time across all these multiple roles?

We’ve had to shift our priorities during this global pandemic. Maybe we have spent more time home-schooling our children. Maybe we have spent less time in meetings. Perhaps we developed new skills. It’s a good time to reflect on our different roles and how our time is spent. It’s also a good time to work out what activities we should be eliminating as we ease back to a ‘new’ normality.

Read my article on habits if you want to implement disciplines to get to more important work done. For time management strategies to improve your team’s productivity, book a discovery call with Saltwater Consulting.

Note: if you are working at the same company as Myles Shiroma, then I recommended that you attend one of his training talks. Just make sure you are on time!

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