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Dwight D. Eisenhower was considered to be a superb task master and time manager during his illustrious career. This included tenures as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, the first Supreme Commander of NATO, and finally President of the United States.
His success in this field was often attributed to the practice of what is now known as the Eisenhower Matrix, a very simple mental model designed to sharpen your ability to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done.
To quote Eisenhower,
“The most urgent decisions are rarely the most important ones”.
Supreme decision making and task management strategy is therefore predicated on learning to distinguish between importance and urgency balanced between short and long term goals.
The Eisenhower Matrix is expressed as the following diagram.
As a short term starting point, if you list out your tasks for the day you can fairly quickly map these out according to the matrix.
- Urgent & Important items should be actioned immediately.
- Important items (important but not urgent) require a plan on when they should be completed.
- Urgent items (urgent but not important) should be delegated to someone else to action if possible.
- Backburner items (not important and not urgent) should be recorded for potential action later.
As you begin to use the system, you can start to be more predictive with your thinking around tasks to take a longer term view. Examples:
- When and how will you start to deal with the items that are important, but not necessarily urgent right now?
- How will you try and manage important tasks before they become urgent and important over time (and therefore potentially contain risk)?
- When can you set aside time to focus on backburner items and move them into reality?
Another great method is to filter your matrix through your own personal purpose or the roles you play at work (it’s best to write down a representation of each as a side bar). As more and more information flows in, problems pop up, meetings get requested, or people ask for help, take a first step of applying your purpose filter. Your time is precious, so only add it to a list if it syncs up with where your focus needs to be, otherwise it’s time to politely decline and move on.
Also, with the influx of cloud based digital task management tools, you can easily ditch the pen and paper in favor of a solution available on all your devices. Some good examples include Asana, Slack, AtTask or Trello - experiment and use what works best for you.
This post continues my series on Mental Models.