Former United States President Dwight Eisenhower was responsible for putting together one of the most important yet fundamentally simple to understand concepts in time management. Eisenhower's Urgent/Important Principle is a tool to help decipher what tasks need to be addressed more immediately than others. Anyone who uses the principle will be better able to organize and orchestrate their daily tasks. This skill is especially imperative for busy people who find themselves working too hard and still not getting everything done.
Eisenhower's Urgent/Important Principle places tasks into four categories:
- Important and Urgent
- Important but Not Urgent
- Not Important but Urgent
- Not Important and Not Urgent
These four categories are used to label and organize which tasks need to be addressed first and which ones can be approached last. By asserting something's importance and its urgency, we are better able to identify what comes first:
What these quadrants reveal is that identifying which tasks are either important or urgent boils down to time management and what makes us most efficient. For example, President Obama' former campaign manager said in an article by WebMD that Obama valued his time to exercise and that it helped fuel him for the rest of his day. According to Obama, "The rest of my time will be more productive if you give me my workout time." The article goes on in detail about his routine and how he values its importance.
James Clear, a behavioral psychology writer, noted in a blog post that "too often, we use productivity, time management, and optimization as an excuse to avoid the really difficult question: 'Do I actually need to be doing this?' It is much easier to remain busy and tell yourself that you just need to be a little more efficient or to 'work a little later tonight' than to endure the pain of eliminating a task that you are comfortable with doing, but that isn' the highest and best use of your time."
Let' take a deeper look at each quadrant, what it means, and how we should approach all of our tasks with either urgency or importance (or both).
Urgent And Important
For Urgent/Important tasks, they can arise unexpectedly or may have been left for the last minute. These tasks need to be managed ahead of time. Make plans to address these tasks so that they do not become stressful activities when it comes close to deadlines. It's also a good idea to leave some wiggle room in your daily schedule just in case unexpected tasks come about.
Assess your deadlines. Are you moving at an appropriate pace to meet that deadline?
Emergencies happen. Whether they are unexpected meetings or sickness or injuries, they can't be put off until later.
This will force you to reconsider your task list and how much time you have to apply to each quadrant.
Important But Not Urgent
Not Urgent/Important tasks are integral to personal growth, building relationships, and accomplishing long-term professional goals. If these tasks are given the proper amount of time, they will not become urgent. This will prevent unexpected and last-minute tasks from unexpectedly cluttering up your time later on, keeping stress and frustration at bay. You'll be able to complete work efficiently and effectively.
Exercise is an example of this. Personal growth through exercise is not an overnight progress. Training for a run or any other sort of competition doesn't begin just days before. Plan your goals ahead of time, but leave room for urgent, unexpected tasks.
Maintaining your relationships is also important. Keep up with friends and family and partners, but be mindful of how much time you're alotting here. There is such a thing as putting too much time into relationships. Your goals are important, too. If you keep putting them off, they'll soon become urgent and you'll become stressed. This may affect your relationships in the long run.
Urgent But Not Important
Urgent/Not Important tasks are cumbersome and get in the way of your goals. Responding to phone calls or emails that are not pertinent to your goals or attending meetings with people who don't bring any value to completing your activities can be wasted time. Avoid these if possible and delegate the activities if you can. Something to keep in mind: you're saying yes to the person, but no to the task.
If someone or something requires that you do things for them frequently, then it might be best to arrange time for them in one larger block of time. This will allow you to focus your energy and time on multiple things.
Respond to time-sensitive correspondence as needed. Don't wait until after a deadline to inform someone when that deadline is:
You: "Hey, the class will be starting at noon today."
Colleague: "Really? Because it' already 2 P.M.!"
Not Urgent And Not Important
Not Urgent/Not Important tasks should also be avoided. Spending time on Facebook or Twitter, watching TV, and shopping (when it's not important to completing your tasks to have the things you're shopping for) can significantly drain your time. Limit these tasks as much as possible. It's not always going to be easy saying no to these mostly leisure activities, but it is important to remain mindful of how much of that time you're using here.
Yes, everyone is talking about the new show on Netflix. They watched it this past weekend and are already posting memes and gifs on Facebook. This doesn't mean you have to do the same.
Complete tasks first and then assess if you have time to participate in leisure. Otherwise, you're procrastinating, and that affects all the other quadrants.
Eisenhower's Principles can be vital in developing skills to effectively and consistently complete tasks, delegate properly, and work efficiently. Take time to look over your tasks to determine which quadrant they belong.
- Is there a deadline? If yes, then it is important.
- Is the deadline soon? If yes, then it is urgent.
- Is the task necessary to completing the other tasks? If yes, then it is important.
- Can I delegate the task to someone else? If yes, then it is not important.
- What does it have to do with your personal growth?
- What does it have to do with your professional growth?
Ask yourself these questions when you need to determine a task's importance and urgency. Make a quadrant table of your own somewhere to help you visualize all your tasks. This is an excellent exercise for time management, and it could be the foundation of healthy work habits that stick around for a long time.