The Eisenhower Method

The Eisenhower Method helps you decide which action you should or shouldn't do. It aids you to divide actions into one of four categories. The quadrants are divided by importancy and urgency.

"What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important."
- Dwight D. Eisenhower


Who was Eisenhower?

He was the American general (he later became president of the US) who invaded France when occupied by the Germans in the second world war. He commanded 2 million soldiers and was forced to find a better way to control them. He then came up with the Eisenhower method.

How To Use The Eisenhower Method

Using the Eisenhower quadrant is very easy. You pick an item from your todo list and you ask yourself these two questions.

"Is it urgent?"

"Is it important?"

You can now put the action into the correct quadrant. Below is an explanation of each quadrant.


4. Not Urgent and Not Important

Examples:

  • Time wasters (Ex: Facebook, checking e-mails all the time...)
  • Busy work (Ex: Work that doesn't need to be done)
  • Procrastinating

You should not spend any time on activities in this quadrant. When is something not important? If it doesn't help you in any way to progress towards your goals. If it doesn't progress you toward your goals, then why should you spend time doing it?

When is something not urgent? If it doesn't matter when it is done, then it's not urgent. It can be done today, or it can be done next week or even next year, it doesn't matter.

The combination of not urgent and not important is the worst quadrant to spend your time in. Decrease your time in this quadrant and put it somewhere else. I prefer you put it in 'not urgent and important'.


3. Urgent and Not Important

Examples:

  • Answering e-mails
  • Incoming phonecalls
  • Interrupting colleagues

I recommend not spending time here either. Since the tasks are still not important and you're still not progressing towards your goals. However, these tasks are urgent, therefore you can't schedule them. They're also hard to ignore, since urgent action are often in your face and demand attention. Ex: A phone call or an interupting colleague.

You need to find a way to deal with these as quickly as possible. One way is to decrease the change of other people disturbing you. You can do this by putting up a busy sign on your door. Next, if they get past the busy sign, you need to handle their interruptions quickly. Say up front that you're very busy and ask them to state their business quickly. Their's no point in just sending them away, since they already succeeded in disturbing you. You might as well listen to their request and note it down. As soon as you know why they disturbed you, send them away to continue working on the important stuff.

You can find more info on dealing with interruptions and distractions in this article.


2. Urgent and Important

examples:

  • Emergencies (ex: Crying baby...)
  • Troubleshooting
  • Deadlines

You have to do these actions. They're important. They progress you toward your goals, however, since they're urgent, they're often unplanned and unwanted.

You will always spend some time here, since emergencies will always happen. When they do, you have to deal with them. No excuses. After you dealt with the situation, spend time to make sure it never happens again or minimize it's occurence or make preparations for when it happens again.

Ex: When cooking, make sure you have all the ingredients before starting, because you don't want to be running to the shop to buy some salt when you're in the process of cooking.


1. Not Urgent and Important

Examples:

  • Building quality relationships with other people
  • Doing actual work to progress toward a major goal
  • Physical excercise

This is the quadrant in which you should spent most of your time. Most people however, don't do this and spent most of their time in any of the other quadrants. Because these important tasks don't scream to you like a ringing phone, they're often neglected in favour of more urgent matters.

If you spend almost no time here, then your first important task is to save some time each day to work on the important things. One thing you can do, is to set up systems to avoid urgent tasks. For example, if you do a lot of troubleshooting on your project. Spend time to fix errors beforehand to decrease the time cleaning up after the errors.


Summary of the Eisenhower Method

Not urgent and not important: Don't do these, if you spend a lot of time here, stop doing it and start spending time in the 'not urgent and important' zone.

Urgent and not important: Avoid these as much as possible. When you're interrupted, handle it as fast as possible.

Urgent and important: Do these, when done, spend time to think about how to deal with the situation in the future.

Not Urgent and important: While not urgent, all your available time should go to this quadrant.

You can make a goal of spending at least 80% of your time in the 'Not urgent and important' quadrant. The other 20% will be devided between 'urgent and important' and 'urgent and not important'.

Always use the Eisenhower method when adding items to your todo list. Always ask yourself wheter it is important and wheter it is urgent.

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