Dump Your To-Do List and Try This 1950’s Approach

One of my least favorite feelings is being exhausted at the end of a long day but not being able to point to any real significant accomplishments within the last 24 hours. Cue that massively overwhelmed feeling. As a young entrepreneur, you have a lot going on, and it’s very easy to confuse urgent tasks with the important ones. Managing the needs of your business, side projects, brand, personal relationships, and extracurricular activities can sometimes feel like spinning plates; but let me remind you:

“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” – President Eisenhower

This insight isn’t always easy to apply when things get hectic. You often wind up asking yourself if you’re really busy, or really productive. But the key is to not get paralyzed. Take action, and when in doubt, learn the ways of other successful people!

Dwight D. Eisenhower served as a general in the United States Army and as the Allied Forces Supreme Commander during World War II. He also later became NATO’s first supreme commander, and of course was the 34th President of the United States. Needless to say, his day-to-day was a constant plethora of tough decision making and task management.

With prioritization top of mind, he created the Eisenhower principle—and matrix—later made popular by Stephen Covey in his Self-Help book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The Eisenhower matrix helps prioritize tasks by urgency and importance resulting in four quadrants, each with their own work strategy.

Let’s Get to Work

Quadrant One: Important & Urgent

These tasks require immediate attention—should be done within the same day—and are a part of your path to achieving your long term goals.

Examples: Certain important emails—job offer, new business opportunity etc.—project deadlines, unexpected emergencies such as health, home, school, work. 

Quadrant Two: Important but Not Urgent

These activities don’t have a pressing deadline, but still help you achieve your personal or professional goals. Q2 is typically filled with tasks around planning and self-improvement.

Examples: Weekly planning, reading books that give you a boost, exercise, time with family and friends, volunteering, budgeting.

Quadrant Three: Not Important but Urgent

The tasks in Q3 require immediate attention but don’t help us achieve our goals. A lot of these tasks may be important to others, but not specifically important to you. This doesn’t mean they are bad, they just need to be balanced with Q2.

Examples: interruptions, some, but not all, phone calls, text messages, emails, unexpected chores or requests from co-workers.

Quadrant Four: Not Important & Not Urgent

Oh Q4, you’re so easy to get sucked into. While it is titled ‘Do later,’ it could even be renamed ‘Delete.’ These activities are not pressing and don’t help you achieve your goals. They are distractions and can quickly turn into significant time wasted if you’re not careful.

Examples: mindlessly Facebooking, playing video games for too long, entertaining drama, the list goes on. 

I am well aware that things have changed quite a bit from the 1950’s, but the principle still rings true. Our world is so connected by technology that we live in a continuous “on” state. It is so easy to lose sight of what is truly important and urgent, thus making it difficult to prioritize. Texts, emails, posts, deadlines—ah!

You might not be able to control what friends on your timeline think is important, but you can definitely cut down your to-do list and take back your productivity by giving Ike’s idea a shot.  Trust me, the news of the “Bromper” shouldn’t be recognized with the same level of importance as the firing of the United States FBI Director.

Take action today and choose to work at the intersection of important and urgent. 

I am more of a pen to paper kind of gal, but if you prefer the screen, there are several apps available to help you out! You could even make your matrix as a Trello board!

Tip: Try keeping each quadrant to eight items max, and also consider making one matrix for personal tasks and one matrix for professional tasks, if that makes sense for you.

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