A Profoundly Simple Lesson from the 34th US President

Before you head off to Google who the 34th President of the United States is, I’ll just go ahead and tell you here. It’s Dwight D. Eisenhower. His predecessor to the highest office in all the land was Harry Truman and he was followed by John F. Kennedy in 1961. He served as a five-star general and his time as President was largely dominated by the Cold War, as well as the Korean War.

No, you haven’t accidentally stumbled across some blog about US history, but I thought it was worthwhile to provide just a bit of context into what we’ll be talking about today. And what we’re going to talk about is a strategy for handling all the things that you want to do with the limited time and resources that you have available to you.

Dwight D. Eisenhower is often quoted as saying, “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” This quote has since been further developed and extrapolated to create what is now known as the Eisenhower Box.

Depending on where you go and who you listen to, this strategy can take on a few other related names. It might be called the Eisenhower Matrix, the Eisenhower Method, the Eisenhower Decision Principle, or the Eisenhower Decision Matrix. More descriptive and more on point, it’s sometimes called the Urgent-Important Matrix or the Urgent-Important Principle.

Basically, what you do is create a basic 2 x 2 grid. On one axis, you have “urgent” and “not urgent.” On the other axis, you have “important” and “not important.” It doesn’t really matter what order you use, but the standard layout has “urgent” and “not urgent” representing the left and right columns, respectively, with “important” and “not important” aligning with the top and bottom rows, respectively. You end up with a matrix like this.

I’ve color-coded my version here for ease of reference, but the colors are completely arbitrary and not really necessary. They’re just helpful for the visualization. So as you can see, you end up with four distinct quadrants. Everything that you want to do, every task that is ever thrust before you personally or professionally, can fall into one of these four quadrants.

Let me give you a few examples from the context of professional blogging and making money online.

  • Urgent and Important (Red): These are tasks that you should do right now. Let’s say that you want to ramp up an affiliate marketing campaign for the Christmas shopping season and it’s already November. It’s urgent and important, so do it now.
  • Not Urgent and Important (Yellow): These are tasks that are important for you to do, but there is no immediate pressing need to do them. Basically what you need to do here is create a way to make them urgent. In other words, schedule them. Make time to do them. An example might be that you want to write and publish a new e-book. Set aside enough time each day or week so that this book actually gets written.
  • Urgent and Not Important (Blue): These tasks should be delegated or automated. You really should be paying off your credit card bill every month. If due dates are looming, these tasks are important. So, automate them. Another example is keeping your blog updated on a regular basis. It’s not the end of the world if you miss a day here or there, but you don’t really want to do that, resulting in an “urgent” daily deadline. The simplest solution is to outsource (delegate) at least part of that workload.
  • Not Urgent and Not Important (Green): If something isn’t important and it’s not urgent either, you can probably just forget about it. Trash it. Push it out of your consciousness because it’s a waste of your time and effort. A good example might be wasting your time mindlessly perusing through Reddit or Tumblr for no good reason whatsoever. It’s a time-waster, so drop it.

If you ever feel like you’re being pulled in 30 different directions (either by yourself or by circumstance) and you never have enough time, you’re not alone. It’s not perfect, because nothing ever is, but the Eisenhower Matrix can serve as a meaningful and effective time management strategy. It’ll help you get back on track and moving forward.