Eisenhower divided tasks into four categories:
- Important and urgent [I’ll call this IU].
- Important but not urgent [InU].
- Not important but urgent [nIU].
- Not important and not urgent [nInU].
The principle creates a framework with which to prioritise activities and also what to do with them. Simply put:
1. If something is IU: It’s a crisis or pressing problem. It needs to be done first and, preferably, by you unless you can delegate it. The idea is to manage these things quickly, and this category can also be known as the quadrant of necessity.
- Medical emergencies
- Deadline-driven projects
- Last minute precautions
2. InU: These tasks are ones that require planning so they don’t become urgent. They are activities on which to focus, because they pertain to strategy and values. They create opportunity and need critical thinking. They live in the realm of the macro and in the quadrant of quality and personal leadership.
- Innovation and preparation
- Exercise and relaxation
- Relationship building
3. nIU: Based in the quadrant of deception, these are things to avoid. They are illusory and not your responsibility. They are activities in which to minimise your investment.
- Some calls, meetings, (e)mail and reports
- Many so-called pressing matters
nInU: Activities to limit or eliminate, lest they become nIU. Though they are relegated to the quadrant of waste, some serve to minimise stress and provide entertainment.
- Trivia and busywork
- Some messages and email, particularly junk mail
- Internet and social media (surfing not strategic use)
I ended up using Eisenhower’s model to help me isolate what my value-add is as a consultant, which is obviously in the Important not Urgent (InU) area. Not only are these things the most valuable for my clients, they are crucial for my business, professional and personal well-being.
Not being on-site means I can’t respond to anything IU for my clients, though there are things in this area I need to attend to in my business. Similarly, my proximity and charge out rate makes nIU activities bad value for money for my client, and I avoid them in my own business. nInU things I can’t charge for, but I do indulge in them occasionally in my own time for their stress minimising and entertainment value.
By coincidence I’m also in the middle of reading “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown. The book is about “applying a more selective criteria for what is essential. [T]he pursuit of less allows us to regain control of our own choices so we can channel our time, energy and effort into making the highest possible contribution toward the goals and activities that matter.” It’s easy to see the essentialist benefit of focusing on what is important but not urgent.
In a world of hyper-connection and increasing pressure to do more and more, it’s easy to let the non-essential and seemingly urgent hijack the essential and important. “Is this urgent?” “Is this important?” and “Is this essential?” are three useful questions to keep in mind when choosing what to do next.