Focus on Priorities – Eisenhower Matrix
Without a priority, the Whirlwind wins! Each day you face a myriad of tasks involving your “day
job.” Everything you do day-to-day robs you from focusing on the really important things that are important
but not urgent.
The 34th President of the United States,
Dwight D. Eisenhower faced this same
the dilemma when he was elected to the
the highest office in the US. He realized the
need to focus on the right things if he
was going to do the proper job of
governing our country.
Eisenhower developed his own matrix to
ensure he was properly investing his
time to focus on the most important
actions for governing the most
influential power in the world.
Often credited to Stephen Covey and his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, the real credit for this
productivity matrix originated with Eisenhower.
When explaining the matrix to a customer this week during the Execution phase of our Two Day Scaling Up
The session, he reminded us of one of the most lasting and beneficial decisions Eisenhower made during his
administration: The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. Eisenhower shared his “Grand Plan for upgrading
America’s highways two years earlier, but his vision for this dramatic idea came in 1919. As a lieutenant
colonel in the Army, he engaged in a grueling cross-country military convoy. The poor conditions of
America’s roads made the trip exhausting and more burdensome than it should have been.
If you look at the matrix where would this decision be? It’s certainly not in the first quadrant as urgent. Yet
if Eisenhower had not made this a priority many of us would not be able to enjoy the freedom and efficiency
that cross country travel provides today.
Where do you spend your time each day? In many cases, most of us spend the bulk of our time in the first
column handling urgent activities, regardless of their importance. Someone interrupts you and suddenly
your entire focus is consumed with handling their issue. Regardless of its importance, we rescue that
person. Helping someone make a decision or solve a problem makes us feel important. Yet in many cases
are response enables them, and only guarantees that we will continue to be interrupted with these
repetitive issues since now they are dependent upon you for their decision-making. We’ve discussed this
issue earlier in The Problem with being the Chief Problem Solver. Giving your people answers is not your
role as a leader. As Michael Gerber offered in the E-Myth and the book Multipliers provides as the
difference between multipliers and diminishers, your job is to be the person who asks the right questions.
The four quadrants of the Eisenhower Matrix are divided into:
Quadrant I: Important & Urgent
These usually include crises, problems, and or
deadlines. You better deal with these and deal
with them now or they will damage your
business, personal relationships, or worse.
Quadrant II: Important not Urgent
This is the Federal-Aid Highway Act that
Eisenhower made a priority. These are often
the strategic aspects of your business neglected
by the whirlwind of day-to-day activities. You
can neglect them, but they will eventually bite
you in the future. By the way that vacation
you’ve been meaning to take is important and
rarely urgent (although if you’re not being
productive it may be because you’re
overworked and then a vacation could be
urgent!). If you haven’t taken a vacation in a
long time perhaps it’s because you never invest
time in this quadrant.
Quadrant III: Not Important and Urgent
This is often the interruption cycle that we routinely respond to out of habit and feeling important. It could
be a meeting you could avoid or quite possibly checking your email too frequently. (You wouldn’t want to
miss that important spam about losing weight would you?) This quadrant is a trap that often makes you feel
important, yet rarely contributes much to your productivity.
Quadrant IV: Not Important and Not Urgent
Here’s another trap. You’re researching something and when you get there an ad or a distraction causes
you to go down a rabbit hole and not come out for 15 minutes. A phone call interrupts you that you should
avoid even taking. You get up to get a cup of coffee and suddenly get into a longer than a necessary
conversation about the ball game last night or the weather.
Some keys to being more effective in following the Eisenhower Matrix have been discussed earlier
in Priorities Discipline Requires Precision and Specificity.
Quick highlights include selecting your top six priorities for the day just before you finish each day,
scheduling the first hour of the day to work on your #1 priority, specifying the exact time you will work on
each of your top priorities.
Precision and specificity are routines that inspire and ensure you are most productive.
Next time you find yourself wasting time or failing to achieve your top priority, remember the Eisenhower
Matrix. And yes there is an APP for that! Download the Eisenhower App here.
My good friend, Doug Wick – Gazelles Coach in Cedar Rapids Iowa is the author of this insightful article.