Have you ever felt robotic when you hear the ping of your inbox and, without even thinking, you stop what you are doing to check it out? It’s a modern version of Pavlov’s dogs. Or, do you ever respond to emails because it gives you a feeling of accomplishment even though you have more pressing or impactful projects to work on?
It can be enticing to work on tasks that are urgent rather than important. Putting fires out feels like you are getting things done. What would happen if, instead, you worked on streamlining systems, creating new processes and procedures, or wrote up those instructions that would prevent the fires in the first place? These tasks often require time to think, which can be scarce.
The Eisenhower Matrix is a tool that helps you think about the level of urgency and importance of your tasks and projects. As I wrote about in a post on my favorite productivity tools, the matrix is named after Eisenhower mainly due to a speech he gave at Northwestern University in 1954 where he quoted a college president who said, “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” And, of course, as an army general and President of the United States he had a lot of important and urgent things to do.
Eisenhower’s idea was that you identify which tasks are the most important and urgent and need to be done the same day. Then, you identify the important tasks that aren’t urgent and schedule time in your calendar to work on them. These are often the strategic tasks that are easy to put off because they are not urgent, but actually add the most value.
What task or project would avoid those fires you keep putting out? Or add so much value it would free up some of your time and make life easier for yourself and others? When could you block time in your calendar to work on this project to ensure it gets the attention it needs?
May you enjoy a productive and joyful day.