The square of priorities
The Eisenhower Matrix
To help you manage your priorities, it is essential to distinguish between importance and urgency. Urgency - the deadline - often takes precedence over importance, the reason for your job. The Priority Square helps you to :
- Take a step back to manage your time better.
- Prioritise by focusing on importance rather than urgency.
- Get a sense of working on the right things in the short, medium and long term.
Dwight David Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States of America, is said to have once said "What is important is rarely urgent and what is urgent is rarely important".
The Priority Square, or Eisenhower Matrix, is a tool for methodically classifying priorities and assessing urgency. It can be a valuable aid in any field, to anyone who feels overwhelmed by a multitude of things to do, it helps to focus on importance and therefore to prioritise importance over urgency, to prioritise tasks.
PUTTING IT INTO PRACTICE
The matrix is represented by a double entry table. The principle of the matrix is to evaluate each of your tasks and position them on the matrix:
- On the horizontal axis: IMPORTANCE
The importance of each task is based on the impact it has on your objectives, on the added value that its’ completion brings.
Important : Activities related to the function's raison d'être. Where you have a high added value.
Not Important : Activities that are more secondary (low added value) but necessary for the achievement of your mission: e.g. tidying up your office, monitoring what is happening in the company, self-training to go further in the use of the tools at your disposal.
- On the vertical axis: URGENCY
The urgency of each task is based on both the time required to complete it and its due date.
Urgent: Very short time frame - to be associated with important to decide priority.
Not Urgent: Longer time frame - to be planned.
- I/U Important / Urgent: Tasks that you need to do yourself and as a priority.
- I/nu Important / Non-urgent: Tasks to be planned.
- ni/U Non-important / Urgent: It is possible to wait or delegate these tasks.
- ni/nu Not Important / Not Urgent: Tasks to be delegated or eliminated.
EXAMPLES OF EXERCISES
1. Regularly take stock of your missions to distinguish the essential from the accessory (the important from the unimportant).
- Missions with high added value (primary)
- Medium added value (secondary) assignments
- Missions with low added value (secondary)
Clarify your objectives (the crux of the matter), including personal and professional objectives, and prioritise them using the Priority Square.
2. Divide your tasks into the appropriate quadrant of the matrix.
Caution: An activity classified as unimportant remains unimportant even if it becomes very urgent. Example: if you need a document to finish the file you are exclusively responsible for, it becomes urgent to start tidying up to find it, even though it is a non-important activity because you have not been hired to tidy up.
- Use different colour schemes to immediately visualise the tasks related to high value-added missions from those related to medium or low value-added missions.
- Indicate your private life tasks as well so that you don't forget yourself and keep a balance.
3. Take actions for each quadrant of your matrix:
- Dial I/U: To be dealt with in priority during the day or week. If possible, get help from competent people.
- The ni/U quadrant: This is where you can save the most time. Assess and negotiate deadlines. Say no to certain requests, standardise what can be standardised, anticipate unforeseen circumstances and give up trying to deal with everything.
- Dial I/nu: Plan now by spreading them out over time. At least two or three slots per week, at times of the day when you are most effective.
- I/nu dial: Low-value tasks that can be done at times when your energy is low, and that will recharge you or save you time later (filing, updating).
4. Focus on I/nu tasks to anticipate your activities and possible problems. Each day, define 4 or 5 activities with high added value and block out time to carry them out. The ideal is to spend 1/3 of your time in the short term and 2/3 in the medium and long term.
This will give oxygen to your schedule by dealing with fewer and fewer tasks in "firefighter" mode.
5. Take 15 minutes each week to review the past week and the week ahead. Plan the highlights of the week: appointments, meetings, but also appointments with yourself.