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I often get overwhelmed with my To-Do list. If you are like me, the Eisenhower Matrix may be helpful

Four ways to think about your activities

I’ve got too much stuff to do.  Not only my stuff, but my team’s stuff.  And the 100+ emails I get every day.  And the unexpected activities that pop onto my schedule at the last minute. etc. etc. etc.

I suspect your days are a lot like mine. Time management for a leader is critical to our impact.

President Eisenhower’s 4-box Time Management Matrix

President Eisenhower had a simple four-box time-management matrix that he used for personal decision making, based on how important and how urgent activities were.  Over the years, Stephen Covey and other time-management experts have adopted this approach and brought it to a main-stream business audience

Four ways to think about your ToDo list

Quadrant One

If you are like me, every morning I open my computer, iPad or phone, there are scores of emails waiting for me.  Most of them are not important, but they clog my email.  This are definitely lower-left things: neither urgent nor important.  Other things like email spam that go in this quadrant for me: making decisions on non-essential items, “visiting” with potential vendors who want to do business with us, ordering inventory, etc. – anything that I can delegate without putting our core values, business viability or future growth at risk, goes in this quadrant.  The key to this quadrant: delegate it!  Give it to someone else to do, put it off to some other time to do, or send it to some other universe (i.e. throw it away!).

Quadrant Two

In the best-seller The Four Disciplines of Execution, Chris McChesney and Sean Covey remind us that we all spend far too much time living “in the whirlwind.”  Living in the whirlwind is their way of describing the urgent-but-not-always-important world managers get pulled into.  I saw something on the internet recently that shared this reality: front-line managers and customer-facing professionals spend as much as 60% of their day doing things they didn’t plan on doing when they started their work that morning.  What a classic example of quadrant two realities! This upper-left quadrant of our time management matrix is one you and I as leaders don’t need to decide to spend time in.  Like a Hoover Vacuum, this quadrant sucks at us continually.  Here’s the challenge for leaders: while it is good to spend time on urgent things, unless we fight the fight to move out of quadrant two, we end up spending our time “in the whirlwind” instead of above it.  What things suck at your time?  How can you protect your time from them?

Quadrant Three

For most leaders, quadrant three – not urgent but certainly important, is the most neglected quadrant.  And, unfortunately, leaders neglect this quadrant at their risk and the risk of their organizations.  Here’s the challenge: important-but-not-urgent activities are strategic, long-term and culture-enriching, but they oftentimes have no immediate payoff, so we sacrifice them at the alter of urgency.  Leader – hear me very clearly on this: it is your job to dwell in this quadrant.  No one will do it for you; indeed, those under you are typically pulling you up or left.  Only you can fight the fight for quadrant three.  Your leadership effectiveness depends on it.

Quadrant Four

Hopefully you spend a good portion of your time focusing on big-ticket items that have near-term payoff.  These are classic quadrant four activities.  The thing I observe in the good leaders I work with is this: they instinctively know this is their high-payoff quadrant, and dedicate consistent time and focus to these things.  Here’s the challenge: quadrant two activites (urgent/not important) can masquerade as quadrant four if you aren’t discerning.  The best leaders among us aren’t afraid to sacrifice quadrant two for the sake of quadrant four.

Leader – how do you do at employing your own version of the Eisenhower Matrix?  As you and I improve at focusing our time management abilities on Q3 and Q4, our organizations benefit.