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Effectively Structuring Your Life - Part III: "The Eisenhower Matrix"

Updated: Oct 3, 2023

If these questions sound like they are screaming at you, this post will explain why differentiating between the Urgent and the Important is so important.

How do humans decide which task to give our attention to at any given moment in time?

Apparently, we have our reptilian brains to thank for why many of us struggle with this. However, for most individuals, when they focus on using simple logic, they tend to mold their logic with the ideals of their center.

For example, a person who is people-centered, will likely start deciding what is important or unimportant based on the opinions of those in their lives. Individuals who are career centered, will likely put every task at their job with higher importance over their other daily tasks.

I could go on and on about all the things people tend to allow to dictate their lives, but I’m hoping you get the point. If you read our last post, you may have already done the pre-work for creating your own personal mission statement.

Time Management Evolution

Throughout the years, time management has evolved to develop into what the workforce would strive to have in efficiency and productivity. In a money hungry world, it is so easy for individuals to see what is urgent as important and forget about what really contributes to what matters.

Our first level of time management individuals include those who keeps notes and checklists. I often think of post-its and notepads when this type of time management comes to mind. Then you have the next level of time management individuals who love their appointment books. I idolized this approach growing up. Sticking to the schedule meant I got stuff done!

At our third level of time management individuals, you will tend to see overbooked individuals. Their calendars are filled with urgent matters and upcoming appointments. To maintain their long-term efficiency, their minds start to simply focus on scheduling. My career growing days were definitely succeeding through this process.

Eventually, with time, there is no attention on basic human needs. This can be difficult for most individuals, especially individuals with ADHD, Bipolar disorder, or array of other mental health issues. Due to underlying factors and dealing with depression, these individuals tend to struggle even more than everyone else with making basic decisions. Ever seen someone so depressed they won't even eat? Ever seen someone so upset, they can’t sleep? Even when everything people suggest is clearly a better choice and likely important to their basic human needs, it eventually just goes unattended to.

The Eisenhower Matrix

“Who can define for us with accuracy the difference between the long and short term! Especially whenever our affairs seem to be in crisis, we are almost compelled to give our first attention to the urgent present rather than to the important future.”

— Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961 address to the Century Association

Dwight Eisenhower was a 5-star general and President of the United States. How did Eisenhower manage to do so many things that would have such a lasting influence on his country and the world? He recognized the key distinction between Urgent and Important.

Eisenhower referenced an unknown university president who remarked in a 1954 speech:

“I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”

About 30 years later, one of my favorite authors, Stephen Covey, took the thoughts of Eisenhower and molded into a model now referred to as the Eisenhower Matrix.

This prioritizing structure can assist you in combat the confusion between what can be perceived as urgent. It also assists in allowing you to get rid of time wasters in your life and make more mental space to work on your objectives.

Urgent VS Important

Urgent matters often required immediate action! For example, a ringing cell phone. Most people are not okay with letting a phone go to voicemail in not necessary.

Let’s say you have an important appointment with a scheduled client or customer. If the phone would happen to ring right before the appointment, you are more likely to now answer. As a result, the scheduled meeting now will be late. However, if the call came in during the meeting, it would be considered more reasonable to allow it to go to voicemail.

Things that are considered urgent are often very visible. They press on us and add stress, or basically light a fire under you.

In addition, they can be popular with others. They can also be unusually easy compared to other tasks. In the end, they are often unimportant. They feel important because of the way we are wired!

Let’s think about importance. Something that is important is often able to contribute to your life goals, or your main roles in life, such as a being a parent, child, partner, employee, or friend. They are more tied to our values and roles than time frames and deadlines.

Individuals who have a personal mission statement, or core principals and values that they keep in mind each time they decide what is important will have a better clarity in the moment when they need to think quickly.

So why would any person ever avoid doing what is important? Well, as human beings we react to what is Urgent. In order to do what is important, you cannot simply react. Instead, you must be proactive. You must plan ahead and have the right vision for what you will do when having to make the choice.

Most individuals that find themselves competing in the corporate race, tend to spend the majority of their time in Quadrant I. They are amazing at putting out fires. In fact, they are the usually the first person people think of when I comes to get things done. Quadrant I is not only important, but also urgent. Because of these two factors, individuals tend to become crisis managers. They are deadline and goal driven. However, they can eventually become problem minded and try to fix anything and everything; or they end up becoming burnt-out and possibly even depressed.

This retreat to Quadrant IV tends to be because of the lack of urgency and lack of importance. It becomes a stress relief. While being in this quadrant is often a short-term release for individuals, for some, the long-term effects on staying in there eventually impact us to have even more negative effects in our daily lives.

There are times we like to believe we are being productive and not just busy. Ever get the urge to all of a sudden clean things around the house instead of doing something else your dreading, such as writing a research paper, or attending an event you really don’t want to?

Productive procrastination is a form of self care. Our brains are hard wired to find the easier and less stressful of options. If we believe we are busy, we can trick ourselves into believing we are being productive. This is often not the case.

To be truly effective and ensure of return of investment in efforts and time, we need to avoid as much time as possible in Quadrant III and IV.

To get start on trying to figure out where you spend the majority of your time.

Try the template and start today.

Eisenhower Matrix
Download • 20KB

If you’re interested in applying the Eisenhower Matrix to your weekly planning, message us and set up a session for assistance! 😊

I’ll show you how to go from your Mission Statement and Goals to planning your weekly schedule with enough focus on the stuff that is most important for you to reach your individual goals and dreams.

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