Time Management Part 2: A Leader's Tool - Eisenhower Matrix
Leaders are often faced with making difficult or consequential decisions that affect the future of their organization and the people with whom they work with. They juggle between being a spearhead or face of the organization, a voice for those surrounding her, and managing and averting crisis. But how can one single person juggle all of these tasks without going bonkers?
One of the United State's most prominent spearheads in politics, the military, and leadership was Dwight D Eisenhower. Among his list of accomplishments were:
serving as the 34th President of the United States
a general in the US Army
the Allied Forces Supreme Commander during WWII and later NATO's first Supreme Commander
Leading a squadron into battle, a country into peace and prosperity, and a group of powerful nations into a world-wide struggle comes with great honor...and
This simple four-step decision making process has become a keystone in many leaders' prioritization thought process. It is so commonly used that it has been dubbed "The Eisenhower Matrix"
In Part 1 of the Time Management Series for Leaders and Doer's we examined the practical importance of creating a set schedule to reduce the amount of active thinking you spend on remembering your meetings, calls, and events. The next step is to transform this newly available critical thinking and time capacity into effective decision making.
How it works:
4 Quadrants: "Do", "Decide", "Delegate", and "Delete"
2 Levels of Time Sensitivity: Urgent vs Non-Urgent
2 Levels of Prioritization: Important vs Non-Important
Let's break these four quadrants down:
DO(urgent + important) - these are value-adding tasks that need to be accomplished today or in the nearest available time frame. They are goals that directly and tangibly affect your growth as an individual and as a leader.
When thinking about "personal do's", picture the classes you must/should take to enhance your skillsets and critical thinking capabilities. What activities or learning opportunities are essential to your growth as someone with intellectual curiosity, creative adaptability, confidence and conviction in your opinion, and will earn the respect of your peers?
"The price of greatness is responsibility." - Winston Churchill
When thinking about "leadership do's", these are activities or decisions you must make that directly impact the working and personal lives of your employees or clients. What are critical milestones that cannot be passed without your due diligence, approval, or inspection?
"Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things." - Peter F. Drucker
As an organization's leader, you should be spending 70% of your time in quadrant one: DO. After all, actions speak louder than words and as leaders, we must guide by example and service.
DECIDE (not urgent + important) - if you have read Part 1 of my Time Management Series, you should understand the benefits of effective scheduling and time boxing. Leaders do not have the luxury of a routine daily schedule. Instead, their days often begin with jumping right into the fire of resolving overdue concerns, strategic planning, crisis management, managing intra-company/organization dynamics...all while thinking about the organization's future 1 week, 1 month, 1-year, 10-years in advance.
The Decision category is your second tier of time prioritization. While these goals may also provide long-term benefits to you or your organization, there is the concept of opportunity cost. Opportunity cost is defined as the consequence of choosing one option or decision and forgoing the potential benefits or losses of a forgone option.
From a personal perspective, let's say there were two elective at your university offered at the same 10am slot time. One is a surfing course and the other is a "art of leadership" course. Both are value-additive in their own respects. The former focuses on building up your physical well-being while giving you the opportunity to adopt a new skillset and gain new friends outside a school curriculum setting. The later focuses on building soft-skills that might not be offered elsewhere in your more technical classes while providing opportunities to engage in case studies or panels with leaders today. By choosing one, you forgo the other. The difficult decision is choosing which you feel will be MORE value-additive in the long-run.
From a leadership perspective: consider if a decision to purse A project over B project could be beneficial to your organization in the long run, against competitors, and could enhance your employee engagement. When you look at successful companies like Google, Apple, Tesla, Facebook, and Shopify, one common feature that they share is a unique niche/product/service that similar companies can only emulate to a certain extent. How did they get there? By investing early on the time, assets, and decision-making process to get ahead of the competition.
Decisions create new doors and windows of growth. Learn to identify them early on and invest early. Try and spend 25% of your decision-making process here.
"In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity." - Albert Einstein
DELEGATE (urgent + not important) - one of the greatest things a leaders can invest in is talented individuals. A misperception about heads of organizations is that you must know everything and anything. That is simply not true nor possible. The greatest leaders do not try to make their organization about touting their own greatness or intellect. Great leaders invest in a team of highly skilled thinkers that offer a unique skillset to a high performance team. One of the unspoken tasks of a leader is supervising. Sometimes sitting back and ensuring your organization is sailing smoothly is better than speeding through the race on turbulent waters.
There are certain tasks or agenda items that you just simply don't know how, have the capacity to, or time to address. That is why building a team based on loyalty and a mutual desire for ethical success is the key to the longevity of an organization. "Delegated" tasks are those that are relatively urgent but not at the top of your priority list. It is not to say that these are irrelevant. Rather, you as a leader should recognize who may be better suited to tackle this issue.
From a personal perspective - is this something that you could table for now and come back to later? Is it a goal that you could spend more time thinking about in your free time?
From a leadership perspective - are there people in your organization with these technicals or skillsets that are better equipped to make the right decision? Who can teach or inform you with a comprehensive report? Can this project create a sense of buy in and demonstrate your trust in an individual or team to accomplish?
I must warn that delegating can very easily becoming dictating. Bad leaders push off unwanted tasks without realizing that the individuals on the receiving end can read a leader's reaction and be impacted by your attitude. Great leaders consider how to create a sense of organizational "buy-in" or sense of responsibility that challenges a team or group while also providing room for complements and to award performance. Spend 4% of you time here...you should know exactly who to call upon when you have a task that is urgent but perhaps not as important to you as it could be for them.
DELETE (not urgent + not important) - we reach the final 1% of your decision-making capacity as a leader in your own life or in an organization. As the title suggests, these are tasks or projects that simply do not have a time or place in your life. They do not add any value, create any opportunities for growth, and are just about churning water or creating busy-work.
From a personal perspective: think about mundane things you fill your free time with that don't offer any value. Are you constantly thinking about how you need to fold the laundry or vacuum the floor as you're trying to finish your midterm paper? Delete those distracting thoughts or tasks that don't contribute to your success and growth.
From a leadership perspective: this is where you hone in on the present and future-state of your organization. If an activity does not provide any enhancement to your current state or seek to drive forward positive and ethical change for the future, delete that off your to-do list. This even applies to your team. One of the greatest pieces of advice I have received is "be slow to hire, quick to fire". This does not mean being insensitive, but rather, being mindful about the people who you bring into the organization and cutting loose those that degrade your team dynamic or work culture.
Knowing what to delete is just as important if not more than knowing what to do. But the amount of time you should spend deleting should be minuscule in comparison to organization-shifting, life-altering DO decisions.
"Be willing to make decisions. That's the most important quality in a good leader. Don't fall victim to what I call the 'ready-aim-aim-aim-aim syndrome'. You must be willing to fire." - T. Boone Pickens
My parting advice to you is this: recognize that your time is limited and your goal is to maximize your accomplishments and ability to establish a strong foundation for growth. Spend 95% of your time in action (DO), and critical thinking (DECISION); and only 5% of your time filtering (DELEGATE) and cleaning up (DELETE). Great leaders are those that recognize and identify opportunity and create a vision surrounding it in an ethical way. Managers do the right thing according to instructions designed by their leaders.
So be a leader, do the right thing, and learn to be your best self.