Do you confuse the important with the urgent? Prioritizing the wrong decisions and tasks can often lead to incessant work pressure and stress. The Eisenhower Box can help you distinguish the urgent from the important.
Most of us often struggle with time management. We are always striving hard to solve one problem and then immediately running after the other. When we spend most of our time managing one crisis after the other, our productivity gets hampered. Wrong prioritization eventually leaves us feeling completely drained of all our energy without actually achieving anything meaningful. This specifically happens when we are unable to distinguish between important and urgent tasks.
The Eisenhower Box, also known as the Eisenhower Decision Matrix, can help you organize, prioritize and decide what needs to be done without overlapping any commitments.
Urgent and important activities
“I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” – Former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower
Time management requires that we are both efficient and effective. This means we need to invest our time equally in doing things that are urgent as well as important. However, to gain mastery over time management, we first need to understand the basic difference between urgent and important. Important activities lead to an outcome and a personal or professional accomplishment of goals. Urgent activities require our immediate attention as they can often have immediate consequences when not dealt with a sense of urgency. However, most of us often confuse the urgent with the important without realizing how it can affect our life and happiness.
Authors Brett & Kate McKay of Art Of Manliness write “Urgent means that a task requires immediate attention. These are the to-do’s that shout Now!” They explain that the urgent makes us reactive and is often characterized by a “defensive, negative, hurried, and narrowly-focused mindset.” On the other hand, important activities are those which “contribute to our long-term mission, values, and goals. Sometimes important tasks are also urgent, but typically they’re not,” write Brett & Kate. They add that important tasks make us responsive and enable us to “remain calm, rational, and open to new opportunities.”
By mistaking the urgent as important, we begin to suffer from mental and emotional exhaustion, burnout, and even stagnation. Dwight David Eisenhower, a five-star American army general and the 34th President of the United States realized the importance of distinguishing the urgent from the important and the significance of prioritizing our tough decisions. This encouraged him to develop the globally-renowned Eisenhower Box or the Eisenhower Decision Matrix. This method can enable us to plan, prioritize, delegate, and schedule activities based on their urgency and importance and be more productive to achieve your goals.
What is the Eisenhower Box?
Popularized by author Stephen Covey in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Eisenhower’s decision principle can help us identify what is important and unimportant, what is urgent and not urgent. The Eisenhower Box is an Urgent-Important Matrix which can be a powerful tool for effective decision making and time management. It allows you to prioritize urgent and important tasks and sort out less urgent and unimportant activities that you can either delegate or even delete from your schedule.
“It’s a useful time management tool for getting things done. It’s a prioritization framework. It focuses on radical or extreme prioritization,” explains entrepreneur Thomas Oppong. It helps us focus on long-term strategic decisions and look at the bigger picture instead of urgent tasks that are beneficial only for the short term.
The Eisenhower Decision Matrix comprises of 4 quadrants or boxes, namely:
- Quadrant One: Important and Urgent (Do First)
- Quadrant Two: Important but Not Urgent (Schedule)
- Quadrant Three: Not Important but Urgent (Delegate)
- Quadrant Four: Not Important and Not Urgent (Delete)