Priority Quadrants

January 20, 2021

It’s Inauguration Day. No matter what your political leaning, this is a day to think about the long line of presidents who have taken that oath.

Each has brought a unique set of skills and talents to the job and every one of them has had an ambitious set of goals to be achieved.

So how did they do it?

The same way all of us do…by setting priorities, using time wisely and managing their tasks.

Politics aside, at least one past president’s system has been followed and adopted long since he left office:  Dwight D. Eisenhower!

His system of prioritizing time and tasks has become known as the Eisenhower Matrix and it’s used by countless numbers of highly successful people in all walks of life.

The system was popularized by Stephen Covey in his book, 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, that has practically become required reading for anyone wanting to succeed in business.

Here’s how the matrix works.

Tasks are divided into four quadrants based on their urgency (how quickly they must be done) and their importance (how critical they are to the success of the effort). The amount of time spent on specific task quadrants and the order in which the quadrants are addressed ensures that the greatest effort is spent where the result will be highest.

Getting clear on which task goes into which quadrant helps to avoid time-wasters and distractions that can delay or derail meeting your goals.

It’s pretty obvious that top left quadrant is what needs to get done first and the bottom right is what falls off the list entirely…at least for now.

Learning to sort out what goes into the “schedule” box versus the “delegate” box is a key quality for good leadership…and a place where “perfectionist paralysis” can keep you stuck.

Some leaders use the matrix to set their daily task allocation, some do it weekly. Still others use it first for their annual goals and then break it down into quarterly, monthly, weekly or daily lists.

Think of it this way. The biggest, broadest categories are placed into the matrix as your annual goals. Quarterly objectives or success measures are the next level of detail. Monthly and weekly milestones come next and daily tasks are the fine details that guide your time each day.

Used effectively, the matrix can be a tremendous tool, but it’s important not to let the tool become a tyrant. Spending too much time completing the matrix, rather than actually doing the work can be a waste of time.

Once you become accustomed to thinking in terms of the matrix, it will feel more natural and things will fall into place more easily.  The broad outlines don’t need to be revisited too often and the daily ones can be kept small.

On this day of presidents, think back to one whose term likely began before you were born, but whose wisdom can guide you to great success.  Eisenhower got it right…and you can, too.

Go forth and do great things,

Martha & Chris