April 6, 2016

What Eisenhower Knew About Productivity

In 1954 President Eisenhower made a speech at the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches during which he said many insightful things, but the most important thing he said, the only remembered thing, was a one-off comment about productivity.

What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.

This is now known as the Eisenhower Decision Principle.

It is not new information, but it’s good information. It’s helpful for us at least. Eisenhower managed to prioritize himself into becoming the President of the United States. So, it’s worth a shot.

Eisenhower Decision Principle Productivity

Important and Urgent:

Do these things now. This category can be eliminated with proper planning, but when you have items here, you need to get them done.

This is when you have a huge deadline. You’ve approached the due date and you’re not done. This is all-nighters, coming in on weekends. You have to do it, but you have to ask yourself: could this stress have been avoided?

Sometimes this is unplanned. A flaming pile of work gets dropped in your lap and there’s not much you can do but put it out. The reality is, in that situation, there’s not much you could have done to prevent it, and you just have to trudge through.

Important and Not Urgent:

This is our most focused area. These are the long term goals and projects. This is the behemoth project looming in the distance, the research and learning we can do to aid ourselves in the future, or the relationship building that will benefit us someday.

None of these tasks need to be completed now, or even soon, but the longer you leave it alone, the more urgent it gets. Challenge yourself to designate time out of every day to work on these projects. For example, put off reading your email an hour every morning and work on this task for your first hour. Put your most caffeinated energy and focus onto this category every morning, and by the time it starts to cross into that urgent category, it’s either already done, or it’s close.

Eisenhower Decision Principle Productivity Matrix

Urgent and Not Important:

This is the area that gives you that false productivity feeling. You did a whole bunch of things, but didn’t actually get anything done. This is when you spend all day responding to emails, sitting in on meetings, doing favors for coworkers, and your own work gets nowhere.

Some of this is necessary. You can’t stop checking your email forever. But it’s good to be aware of when something is just killing your time.

Not Important and not Urgent:

This is Facebook, Snapchat, mindlessly surfing the web, playing Neko Atsume obsessively. We all need a break sometimes, but these are the things that can consume more of your time than you might realize.

When we’re feeling easily distracted, we use the Pomodoro app. It divides your work time into 25 minute sections, with short breaks in between. And after your 25 minutes of focused work, you get a cute tomato on your screen! You get to check Snapchat for a few minutes, or whatever your current not important/not urgent obsession is, and then you’re back to focused work.

Try it out. Start your morning with a list of all your tasks, everything from needs to get done today to someday I’d like to do this. Break them up into categories of importance and urgency, then get started.