Either run the day or the day runs you
- Jim Rohn
The way we spend our time directly influences the outcome of our work. The challenge is that most entrepreneurs I come across are either unfamiliar with time management techniques or they utilise them ineffectively. For that reason, I am explaining one of my personal favourites, which is well established and practised all over the world. Even if you are well rehearsed in time management theory, I encourage you to revise your learning because we could all do better - especially me!
The Eisenhower Method
The technique we will discuss today is The Eisenhower Method. It is so named because of former U.S. President, Dwight D. Eisenhower's quote: I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.
Essentially, every task you complete in your personal and business lives can be categorised in one of four ways.
Important, Urgent: tasks like client crises, last minute assignments from high-priority clients or bosses, as well as looming deadlines. These tasks are vital to complete in your day, otherwise your business or career could be damaged. For this reason, they are often prioritised, even unconsciously.
Important, Not Urgent: tasks like writing this article, exercising, attending a networking event, revising your goals or starting a new program with a mentor or coach. Often, these tasks involve the growth of you, your business or both but they are not front of mind because they don't feel vital to your day. It is essential that you begin incorporating these tasks into your daily routine. Every single day.
Not Important, Urgent: tasks like fruitless emails, meetings without set outcomes, as well as many interruptions you get from others in an open-plan workspace. For many of us, these tasks take up much more time than the important, not urgent category.
Not Important, Not Urgent: tasks like workplace gossip, those Wikipedia or YouTube vortexes and irrelevant phone calls. The goal is to remove these completely from your productive time. For some, the goal might even be to remove them entirely.
We are increasingly controlled by tasks that are urgent, rather than ensuring we are achieving everything important. Balancing the four Eisenhower categories effectively takes a whole lot of daily practise and conscious prioritisation, but here are a few tips I've received over my years.
Get real about the value of your tasks: before anything else, you need to get realistic about which category your tasks fall into. Is that YouTube series on Greek Philosophy really an important, not urgent task for your financial planning business?
Avoiding your inbox: one of my closest mentors would encourage me to change my email habits. Instead of sitting at your device in the morning, scrolling for urgent work in your inbox, try accomplishing a few important tasks first. This might mean deliberately ignoring emails for the first hour of your day, scheduling your morning a day ahead or some other strategy.
The morning is a great time for important work because it is typically when we are least burdened by occurrences through the day. As an alternative, the author of The 4-Hour Work Week, Tim Ferriss encourages readers to schedule few times through the day when emails are actually released to your inbox.
Disappear for important, not urgent work: if you are around others, there is no doubt you will be distracted from your important, not urgent work. The way I coped with this, particularly when starting a new business, was to physically remove myself from the distraction of others. Since important, not urgent work typically involves concentration, creativity and flow, try working in a stimulating environment. Turn off your phone and leave your email server closed.
Try these out, and be sure to let me know how you go in the comments below!