Dwight Eisenhower is noted as saying, “What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.” He is credited with the quote because of his emphasis on planning and strategy. From this quote, the Eisenhower matrix was born, which Stephen Covey later popularized. Here is my sketch of it:
The matrix has four quadrants:
- Urgent, Important: These are things that must be handled now and include ongoing execution, important conversations and necessary interruptions. We will spend much of our lives in this quadrant, as these are things we must do, things we are honored to do.
- Important, Not Urgent: This is where leaders do their strategic planning and most thoughtful and creative work. Wise leaders carve out time and energy to invest in this type of work. They plan for this time so they may plan for the future, prepare and work closely with teams.
- Not Important, Not Urgent: These are unnecessary distractions that provide little or no value. Wise leaders constantly look to stop doing these things.
- Urgent, Not Important: These are urgent tasks that come up but can be handled by someone else or should be handled by someone else because another is more qualified or ultimately responsible for the urgent matter. In other words, it should not be of deep importance to you. These items should be delegated or outsourced.
As I have led and watched others lead, here are three thoughts for leaders:
Take time to plan work, not just do work.
Instead of thinking strategically, many leaders run chaotically in a plethora of directions. The result of not investing ample time in Quadrant I is chaos, wasted energy and mindless execution. If you never spend time in Quadrant I, you are unable to process and learn from all the activity, and you lack the ability to plan for the future.