Be Like Ike to Get More Done With Less Stress

December 7, 2016|

Work issues: woman overloaded with stuff at work

By Gary Kauffman

Have you ever had one of those days where you’re exhausted from working all day yet feel like you didn’t get anything important done? Do you have a lot of those days?

If so, you’re probably fighting the “tyranny of the urgent.”

If you own or manage a business – especially a small business where your responsibility encompasses several different areas – you can often find yourself spending all day putting out fires. In fact, you probably feel like a fireman at a pyromaniac convention – you can’t even get one put out before two or three more spring up.

President Dwight Eisenhower once said, “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important and the important are never urgent.”

You can see the dilemma: The important things always take a back seat to the urgent, and may be delayed or, even worse, never get done.

One way to combat this dilemma is to use the Eisenhower Box. Eisenhower is said to have divided his daily tasks into four boxes with the following labels:

Important and urgent

Important but not urgent

Urgent but not important

Not important and not urgent

Important and urgent

Items in this box can crop up suddenly. You get a call from an upset customer – an order had been filled wrong, for example – and they want some answers. This is obviously important, because keeping customers satisfied is a key to a successful business. It is also urgent, because the customer wants answers right away.

While items in this box are often unplanned, sometimes focusing on the important can create less of an urgency. If, in the above example, this has happened several times to the same customer, it becomes important for you to take time to discover the root of the problem. Is the customer not understanding something about the ordering process? Is an employee not understanding the customer’s specific needs?

Taking the time to sort out the important can reduce the amount of “urgent” calls from a customer.

Important but not urgent

These items absolutely have to get done, but there’s either no deadline or it’s in the future, making it not urgent. These can be items like planning for the business’ future, creating systems to make things more efficient or taking some personal time to run that errand you promised your spouse you’d do.

The problem is that since they’re not urgent, it’s easy to push them to the side until they become urgent.

For example, there are some items I have to post to our website each week. But I have those items a month in advance. They are important, and I usually schedule a few hours to schedule them to be automatically posted on future dates. However, if I don’t take that time and go to the week-to-week mode of posting, I find that I am then often in urgent mode.

Urgent but not important

There is no better example than the ringing (or buzzing) of a cell phone, either with a call or a text or even a tweet. It immediately draws our attention. Of course, sometimes these are important, but most of the time they’re not. Especially tweets, and even most texts – if the person really needed your immediate attention they would have called.

Neither urgent or important

We would all probably be amazed at how much of our time is spent each day in these activities. Reading tweets, playing Words with Friends, figuring out why your desk drawer sticks a little bit, writing to-do lists that you never look at again…the list can go on and on. These are anchors to your productivity and success in business. Sure, they can’t always be avoided. You can’t be rude to the business colleague who dropped by to chit-chat for a few minutes. And you may have a few minutes of down time (it really does happen!) where you can examine that desk drawer. But as much as possible, keep the important boxes as the top priority.

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