Be Productive Like Ike

by George Platt, President of Harty Integrated Solutions

Dwight D. Eisenhower, known affectionately as "Ike," accomplished a staggering amount of work over the course of his 78 years. In addition to being the 34th president of the United States, he was supreme commander of the allied forces in Europe during World War II. He also oversaw the creation of the interstate highway system and supported NASA during the space race. You don't achieve that much without being extremely productive. Eisenhower had a system for organizing all of his tasks that still works well today. 

Important and Urgent

The Eisenhower Decision Matrix, sometimes shortened to "The Eisenhower Matrix," is a method for assigning value to tasks based on importance and urgency. Tasks assigned a 1 are both important and urgent; 2 designates important tasks that are less urgent; 3 means urgent but less important; and 4 tasks are neither urgent nor important.

Start by creating a graph with four sections. Then put each task in its coordinating quadrant. You might be surprised how few of your daily activities end up in quadrant one. As Eisenhower himself said, "The things that are urgent are seldom important. and the things that are important are seldom urgent."

Once you assign everything on your to-do list to a quadrant, you can begin to tackle the tasks.

  • Items in quadrant one should be done promptly and personally.

  • Quadrant two will often include longer-term goals like going to the gym or enjoying a romantic evening with your spouse. You should schedule a date for these events before they become urgent.

  • Tasks that wind up with a 3 can often be delegated or taken care of less formally.

  • Anything left over in quadrant four should be considered a recreational or leisure activity, only to be done when you have a handle on the other sections of the matrix.

Plans vs. Planning

It's easy to know when something is urgent, but how do you know which tasks are truly important? Well, ask yourself whether a given assignment is crucial to your professional or personal goals. Activities that fail to meet this qualification can be relegated to a less important status. Another productive aspect of the matrix is that it will reveal how much time you are wasting every day on tasks that could be better served by being put off or delegated. The more consistently you use the matrix, the better you will become at organizing your daily duties.

Another famous Eisenhower quote says, "Plans are nothing; planning is everything." This means that a static plan doesn't always hold up, but that being prepared can make a difference. See if Ike's matrix can make a difference for your work and your life!

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