Follow this strategy, eliminate repeated tasks and decide between what is important and what is urgent so you can make the most of your day.
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Dwight Eisenhower had a fairly productive life.
He was the 34th President of the United States, offering his services for two terms, from 1953 to 1961. During his time as President, he launched programs that led to the development of the Interstate Highway System, the launch of the Internet ( Advanced Defense Research), space exploration (NASA) and the peaceful use of alternative energy sources (Atomic Energy Act).
Before becoming president, Eisenhower was a five-star general in the United States Army. He served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II and was responsible for planning and executing the invasions of North Africa, France, and Germany.
He had a great ability to sustain his productivity not just for weeks or months, but for years. And for that reason, it's no surprise that his methods for time management, homework, and productivity have been studied by so many people.
His most famous productivity strategy is known as the Eisenhower Box and it is a simple decision-making tool that you can use right now. It works like this:
Eisenhower's Box: Urgent vs. Important thing
His strategy for taking action and organizing tasks is simple. Separate actions based on four possibilities:
- Urgent and important (tasks that you will do immediately)
- Important, but not urgent (tasks you can do later)
- Urgent, but not important (tasks you can delegate to someone else)
- Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you can eliminate)
The best thing about it is that it can be used for highly productive plans (how will I spend my time the rest of the week?) Or for smaller plans (what could I do today?).
The difference between urgent and important
“What is important is almost never urgent and what is urgent is almost never important.” Dwight Eisenhower.
Urgent tasks are things you feel the need to react to: emails, phone calls, texts, news. Meanwhile, in the words of Brett McKay, “Important tasks are things that contribute to our long-term mission, values, and goals.”
It is easy to separate these differences once, but doing it continuously can be hard. The reason I like the Eisenhower Method is because it provides a clear framework for making decisions over and over again. Like everything in life, consistency is the hard part. Here are some observations I have made of this method:
Elimination before optimization
A few years ago, I was reading about computer programming when an interesting phrase came to me:
“No code is faster than any code.”
In other words, the fastest way to do something, whether it's a computer reading a line of code or crossing a task off your to-do list, is to remove that task entirely.
There is no faster way to do something than not to do it. That is not a reason to be lazy, but a suggestion to force yourself to make important decisions and erase any task that does not lead you to your mission, values and goals.
Frequently, we use productivity, time management, and optimization as excuses to avoid the difficult question, “Do I really need to be doing this?”
It is much easier to keep yourself busy and tell yourself that you need to be a little more efficient or “work a little later at night” than to bear the pain of eliminating a task that you are more comfortable with , but that is not the best way to use your time.
As Tim Ferris says, “If you are busy, it is a form of laziness, lazy thinking, and indiscriminate action.”
I find the Eisenhower Method quite useful, as it makes me wonder if an action is necessary, which means that I am more likely to delete tasks rather than repeat them.
Does this help me meet my goal?
One final note: It can be difficult to eliminate time consuming activities if you are not sure what you are working for. In my experience, there are two questions that can help clarify the entire process behind the Eisenhower Method.
- What am I working towards?
- What are the core values that drive my life?
These are questions that I have asked myself in my annual report and in my integrity report. Answering this has helped me clarify the categories for certain tasks in my life. Deciding which activities to do and which ones to delete becomes easier when you are clear about what is most important to you.
Obviously the Eisenhower Method is not a perfect strategy, but I have found it to be quite a useful tool for making decisions and for increasing my productivity by eliminating behaviors that take up my mental energy and never lead me towards my goals. I hope you find it useful too.