A new year means new opportunities. Or to put it another way: 365 days and so much to do. The year may have only just begun, but already our planners are bursting with jobs to do and deadlines to meet. Some people are really good at setting up systems for structuring their workload and making sure that everything runs like clockwork. If you are one of those people, I salute you. However, if you feel as though you are regularly drowning in a sea of “to-do” lists, I’d like to introduce you to the Eisenhower principle. Learning to follow it could be the key to a successful and stress-free 2013.
Introducing the Eisenhower principle
The abbreviation ASAP (as soon as possible) dominates our everyday working lives. So much so that most of us are simply battling to get through everything as fast as we can by whatever means possible. The trouble is that task priorities are often set by other people. However, if every task is going to be carried out on schedule and to a high standard, we really need to be setting priorities ourselves. Everyone is still their own boss deep down and it is fairly easy for anyone to apply the Eisenhower principle and start reaping the benefits of this ingenious system.
The Eisenhower principle is named after Dwight David Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States of America. He was both a practitioner and an advocate of this method, which involves categorising tasks according to a simple matrix that contains four quadrants. The aim is to establish clear priorities and provide individuals with a clearer picture of which tasks are truly important. Urgent and important tasks are distinguished from those that are not urgent or not important.
The Eisenhower principle in action
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As you can see from the chart, the two factors (“importance” and “urgency”) result in four possible combinations:
Tasks that are important and urgent
Tasks that are important but not urgent
Tasks that are not important, but are urgent
Tasks that are neither important nor urgent
Once tasks have been categorised, it is time to take the appropriate steps:
1st step: Tasks that are classed as neither important nor urgent should be deleted from the “to do” list and binned.
2nd step: If you are able to delegate, you should hand your urgent but unimportant tasks over to colleagues.
3rd step: The top part of the chart contains all the important tasks. Provided that your approach to time management is sound, you should be able to focus increasingly on those tasks that are important but not urgent. In this way, you will be able to achieve all your essential goals in the long term.
In an ideal world, you should never even get to the point where you are faced with tasks that are both important and urgent. This is of course integral to any time management system worth its salt, but one of the key challenges of applying the Eisenhower principle is that you must also be able to plan your tasks clearly and establish a clear workflow in advance. Of course, unexpected events can still occur, throwing all your plans out the window. Tasks that were not even on your radar suddenly become both important and urgent. At this point you are forced to decide what is important and has to be given priority, even if you hadn’t given it much thought before. What’s more, it takes a lot of discipline to work on those tasks that are important in the long term.
The successful person has the habit of doing things failures don’t like to do. They don’t like doing them either necessarily. But their disliking is subordinated to the strength of their purpose. Albert E. N. Gray