June 29, 2021 | 4-minute read (699 words)
As a business owner, it often feels as though you are putting out fires all day long and can barely get to your work due to last-minute requests. In a nutshell, everything feels as though it has been assigned “urgent” status.
This not only saps your energy, but it also gets in the way of your ability to do the things you need to do to keep your business’ growth on an upward trajectory.
Part of being a leader is learning the skill of prioritizing, and wise words on the subject were once uttered by President Dwight D. Eisenhower during a 1954 speech.
“I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important,” Eisenhower said. “The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”
Over time, his strategy for keeping his priorities aligned has come to be dubbed the Eisenhower principle, and entrepreneurs can follow suit.
The Eisenhower principle entails assigning a matrix to prioritize the four types of tasks on your list, as follows:
Urgent and Important:
Tasks that must be immediately completed. For example, determining the status of a missing customer shipment that was assumed to simply be delayed but has now gone AWOL would be urgent and important.
Important, Not Urgent:
Keep this bucket responsibilities that have to be completed, just not immediately. For instance, you may need to approve a freelancer’s budget for a coming project but it isn’t due today.
Urgent, Not Important:
These are duties that you can delegate to someone else. For example, assign a staff member to handle an unwanted solicitor who keeps calling.
Neither Important Nor Urgent:
Ideally you can cut these out altogether from your to-do list. Such tasks may comprise things such as checking your personal social media accounts.
Learn to differentiate the urgent from the important
You can’t delegate your tasks into the matrix without first knowing how to define which tasks are urgent and which are merely important.
Urgent tasks are those that must be dealt with immediately or there will serious consequences. Important tasks are those that help you attain your own goals. If you don’t achieve them, you may fail to hit a personal benchmark.
Using the urgent/important matrix
Review your to-do list and prioritized each task into one of the four categories. This will help you sketch out a plan for your day. Assign urgent and important tasks first, and then schedule or delegate the remainder of your duties.
As new tasks land on your plate during the day, make sure to continue classifying them into one of the categories. Doing so requires you to be honest with yourself. A task that initially you deem urgent might actually deserve to be relegated as important instead. Or maybe you can assign it to one of your team members.
Consider that some business owners also find scheduling a prearranged amount of time daily for concentrating on their most important tasks. This could comprise urgent tasks along with those not deemed urgent, so long as they are of definite importance. Perhaps you could set off mornings from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. for handling only tasks you have categorized as important, for example.
The importance of being able to delegate
Some entrepreneurs say they are unable to delegate tasks to their team or to external contractors. If this is the case for you, it’s worth investigating what is behind this. You may be exhausting too must of your time on non-essential duties or may have insufficient staffing in place. But if you have a solid team to support you, delegating should not be a challenge once you’ve established clear goals.
Additionally, you will need to develop a system for saying “no” to tasks that are neither urgent nor important. This can be an uncomfortable feeling but declining to take on duties that don’t help you meet your personal benchmarks brings about free time for you to dedicate to more meaningful tasks.
For further guidance on the matrix,
refer to this infographic
that outlines each step.