The Eisenhower Method For Taking Action (How to Distinguish Between Urgent and Important Tasks)
“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower
Most people spend a lot of their time managing “situations” and “crisis”. They react to other’s priorities. And feel completely drained of energy every day wthout accomplishing anything of real significance to them. Time is distributed equally to everyone. But our choices separate the most productive people from everyone else.
Dwight D. Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States from 1953 until 1961. Before becoming President, he served as a general in the United States Army and as the Allied Forces Supreme Commander during World War II. He also later became NATO’s first supreme commander.
Dwight made tough decisions continuously about which of the many tasks he should focus on each day. This finally led him to invent the world-famous Eisenhower Method, which today helps us prioritize by urgency and importance.
The “Eisenhower Method” stems from a quote attributed to Dwight D. Eisenhower:
“I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”
It’s a useful time management tool for getting things done. It’s a prioritization framework. It focuses on radical or extreme prioritization. This simple model helps shift your thinking to long-term strategic planning and productivity.
A lot of things that take up mental energy, waste time, and rarely move you toward your goals can easily be eliminated if you apply the Eisenhower Principle. It’s a simple decision-making tool you can use right now. It’s meant to help you question whether an action is really necessary.
Excessive inability to manage your time effectively can result in trouble getting started, difficulty getting organised, and ultimately under achievement.
How to use the Eisenhower Method
You can only benefit from the Eisenhower Method if you can commit yourself to making radical categorization of your daily tasks. This Method requires that you group your tasks and activities into four priorities.
- Priority 1 tasks are both urgent and important.
- Priority 2 tasks are important but not urgent.
- Priority 3 tasks are urgent but not important.
- Priority 4 tasks are neither urgent nor important
Here is how you can handle your tasks based on the Principle above:
- Important/Urgent quadrant are done immediately and personally e.g. crises, deadlines, problems.
- Important/Not Urgent quadrant get an end date and are done personally e.g. relationships, planning, recreation.
- Unimportant/Urgent quadrant are delegated e.g. interruptions, meetings, activities.
- Unimportant/Not Urgent quadrant are dropped e.g. time wasters, pleasant activities, trivia.
The end goal of the Eisenhower Method is to help you filter the noise from your decisions and concentrate on what really matters to you.
The Art of Manliness described this as being “reactive” or “responsive:”
“Urgent means that a task requires immediate attention. These are the to-do’s that shout “Now!” Urgent tasks put us in a reactive mode, one marked by a defensive, negative, hurried, and narrowly-focused mindset.
Important tasks are things that contribute to our long-term mission, values, and goals. Sometimes important tasks are also urgent, but typically they’re not. When we focus on important activities we operate in a responsive mode, which helps us remain calm, rational, and open to new opportunities.”
If you are serious about improving your time management and productivity, take care of the most important and urgent tasks everyday first. Do them in the first 90 minutes of your work day if you can, using the first 90 minutes rule.
Spend greater percentage of your time on tasks in the top two quadrants. But make sure you are not just reacting to tasks that need your attention but getting actual work done. Plan your work and actions ahead of time, before the next productive day. That way, when you are focusing on Priority I, you can get real work sorted.
You should always have start date and a completion date on tasks in Priority 2. This will help you build your activity plan/calendar ahead of time. Ideally, most of your tasks should be priority 2 tasks.
You will be tempted to spend a lot of your time sorting Priority 3 because sometimes the tasks will require your immediate attention, but you don’t necessarily have to do them yourself. Delegate more if you can. Otherwise don’t spend too much time on tasks that do not directly advance your goals. Do not let others define your priority. Move tasks to Priority 4 if you can’t delegate them.
Most tasks in Priority 4 provide no real value. They are mostly a waste of time. Don’t hesitate to drop certain tasks in Priority 4 if they don’t move you closer to your vision or dream. Instead of aiming to completely rid yourself of Not Urgent and Not Important tasks, try to only spend a very limited amount of time on them. 5% or less of your waking hours is a good goal.
I find that using this rather simple technique makes it easy to seperate my tasks and spend over 80% of my time doing actual work. It makes me question what is worth doing first every morning.
Remember: It is not about collecting but finishing tasks.
If you enjoyed this post, you will love Postanly Weekly. It’s my FREE weekly digest of the best science-based productivity, and self improvement posts from around the web. And my best posts of the week. Join 8000+ readers.