Using The Eisenhower Principle To Manage Priorities
In my last article, I wrote about setting priorities as one of the critical tasks that successful people do. Now, how do we organize tasks efficiently?Dr. Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, created a tool to help us organize our priorities. The tool itself was inspired by Dwight D. Eisenhower's quote, "what is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important," and is often referred to quite simply as the "Eisenhower Principle."
Using Eisenhower's analysis, Covey created a four-quadrant grid known as the "Urgent/Important Matrix," to help people determine their priorities along a cross-axis of urgency and importance.
The four quadrants are:
- Quadrant 1: Critical Activities
- Quadrant 2: Important Goals
- Quadrant 3: Distractions
- Quadrant 4: Interruptions
Critical Activities are tasks that share both high importance and high urgency. Distractions are found in the opposite quadrant, tasks which are neither important nor urgent. Important Goals are those that are high on importance, low on urgency, and Interruptions are high on urgency and low on importance.
The only reason a task should fall into the Critical Activities quadrant is because of >outside influence, not because of something that should have occurred at an earlier time. Tasks within the control of a CEO should never move from Important Goals to Critical Activities. Highly important, urgent activities are fire-fighting type emergencies that are acceptable when set by someone else, not internally. When they occur because of negligence or procrastination, this is the equivalent of setting your own house on fire. Do put out the fire, but don't be the arsonist.
Which Quadrant Is "Best?"
Leaders should take every opportunity to keep their priorities within the Important Goals quadrant. To do so, they need to:
- Delegate unimportant tasks as a first step.
- Choose which task is the most important of all.
- Be prepared to make a decision, and then stick to it
That means doing staying focused until the single most important task is complete. You may get interrupted but return, as soon as possible, to that task. DO NOT begin a new task. Remember... FOCUS!
As leader, it is your responsibility to focus on the top priorities of the day and to make sure that everyone else in your organizing is doing the same. Visualize and plot through Covey's "Urgent/Important Matrix" when you go about planning your day. You'll find it helpful, and motivating, to stay on track. As for me, the subject matter has given me pause to reflect on my days as a Priority Management franchisee, days, which were spent creating value, one important task at a time.