Letter from the President - February 2018
We all forget things sometimes, even pieces of information we’ve heard over and over again. When someone reminds us of one of these pearls of wisdom, our response is often, “Oh, right! Now I remember.” Occasionally, however, the response is, “Ohhhhhh!” as if it’s completely new information. That can be a legitimate reaction (like I said, we all forget things), but it can also be frustrating if you’re listening to someone experiencing a “revelation” and you know you’ve told them the same thing 27 times before. The best you can hope for is that this time, just maybe, it will stick.
I had a bit of an “Ohhhh” moment myself today...although I think I kept it mostly to myself. I’m sharing the story with you not just because I think you’ll find it interesting, but in hopes this will help me remember it better, too!
Earlier today, I was at a meeting where someone made an offhand remark to the effect of, “Prioritizing effectively is the key to success.” I (mostly) was able to stop myself from reacting out loud, because that’s obviously not a new idea, but the reason I responded so strongly was because this comment triggered a nearly-forgotten memory of something I had read somewhere about “important” and “urgent” information.
When I got home, I looked it up—it turns out I was thinking of the Eisenhower Method. Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th president of the United States, had a philosophy around settingpriorities which he described this way: “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”
Ike’s two-prong classification scheme may have worked for him, but those who came after him expanded the concept to use all four potential combinations of problem types:
- Important and urgent
- Important but not urgent
- Urgent but not important
- Not urgent or important
Framed that way, you can start to see how to use this to prioritize your time, right?
If something is “important and urgent,” you’d better make sure it gets done right away! If it’s “important but not urgent,” you still should probably do it yourself, but you can decide when to schedule it. If a task is “urgent but not important,” i.e., time-sensitive but not particularly significant, can you find someone to do it for you? It might be a perfect item to delegate. Finally, the things that are “not urgent or important”... why are they even on the list? Cross them off immediately, and revel in your sense of accomplishment.
(If you’d like to read more about the Eisenhower Method, also known as the Eisenhower Matrix, here is the Medium.com article that rescued me from my “where have I heard that before?” quandry: https://medium.com/the-mission/the-eisenhower-method-for-taking-action-how-to-distinguish-between-urgent-and-important-tasks-895339a13dea)
When I get to the office tomorrow, I’m going to take another look at my to-do list and see if I can put every item into one of these four categories. (I have a feeling I might be surprised about how many things will fall into Priority 3 or 4...)
What does your to-do list look like? Maybe it would benefit from the same exercise. Or maybe you have your own classification scheme that helps you decide which issues to tackle first and which can wait. If you have your own method of “prioritizing for success,” I’d love to hear about it—you can reach me, as always, at firstname.lastname@example.org.