Before we dive into the many virtues of the Eisenhower Box, let’s give credit to its namesake.
Dwight D. Eisenhower was a World War II U.S. General and Supreme Leader of the European Theater… You know, D-Day? Later, he became President of the United States.
He was the first president to play golf more than he worked. Well, that’s not entirely true or fair, but the guy started the whole “golf as the president’s favorite pastime” thing.
This isn’t a history lesson, so don’t panic. Although “Ike” was a fine president, particularly by current standards, he’s also known for some very sound tactics on productivity.
He played poker (and later bridge) the way modern kids immerse themselves hours-long into video games. If you want to play cards all the time, AND be Supreme Leader or President, you better have some sound delegation skills!
A Simple and Elegant Time Management Matrix
Ready for some more of Cubert’s Rich People Skills? Let’s cut to the chase. Exhibit A:
The Not Urgent/Not Important “Delete” quadrant is no-brainer territory. Watching Television, Checking Social Media, and Sorting through Junk Mail are obvious time wasters. You could add things like “Waiting in the drive-thru for my 20-piece chicken nuggets”, or, “Checking CNN.com for the latest nonsense in D.C.”
It’s easy to find yourself spinning on things that are royal time-wasters. The Eisenhower Box isn’t a cure-all, but it can help remind you of what’s most important, so you can prioritize your life, and get more productive. We covered what I think are the two easiest quadrants: “Do” and “Delete.” Want to become a master? Focus on “Decide” and “Delegate.”
You could put in your “Decide” quadrant activities like Exercise, Relationships, Learning, and so on. Whereas the “Do” quadrant can be more of the obvious “got to get it done” stuff, the “Decide” box is discretionary.
I’d argue that the ideal Eisenhower Box has a “Decide” box that’s filled with a handful of habit-forming, whole-life tasks. These are tasks that over time improve us, and help us avoid regrets. But honestly, how many of us could do better by scheduling time to call family and friends? I know I could.
Unleash the Power of Delegation
Imagine you’re Eisenhower. You love poker. You later become a master bridge enthusiast. Oh, and you love golf. You love golf so much that you paint your golf balls black, to allow you to chase down shots in the winter snow. Jesus. Safe to say you could use some help with Delegation. And not just to find a good caddy…
While I believe that the “Decide” box is the most crucial of the bunch, “Delegate” is perhaps the trickiest. The first thing that comes to mind with personal finance and frugality is an abdication of delegation. In other words, you mow your lawn. DIY that oil change. Do your taxes.
Some of us are quite handy and can muster a few DIY skills. But time is finite. Unless you’re unemployed. Prioritizing the important “Decide” quadrant tasks could look like this:
- Mow your lawn or shovel the drive while strategizing your next blog post
- DIY rental property tasks but invest in quality single-family homes that attract self-reliant tenants
- When getting ready for work, put a sweater over your collared shirts so you don’t have to iron them
When it comes to cubicle survival, delegation is a wonderful thing. But it’s also a slippery slope. After all, the best leaders are not averse to jumping into the trenches with their front-line workers. Real leaders roll-up sleeves when they have to. They won’t ask their direct reports to do something they wouldn’t do first.
You’ve got to find a balance. Some managers are masters of pure delegation. Everything gets passed on. Some managers are the opposite and wind up doing more of the direct report’s work than the direct report does. It’s enough to make you want to retire early.
Wisenheimer Scale of Office Space Delegation:
Better: Strikes the perfect balance. Delegates to his or her peeps, but jumps in to help the new, needy, or recalcitrant.
Not bad: The Martyr. He or she doesn’t seem to trust anyone on the team to perform a task. This is your typical workaholic. No one learns or improves because Superman or Superwoman is doing all the work, all the time.
The worst: Delegates everything to anyone. Never offers to take action items in meetings.
“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important” (D. Eisenhower)
If everyone at the office took 5 seconds each morning to read this quote, I can’t imagine how much bullsh*t we’d all be spared. The “Box” is effective because it’s such a simple tool. Four squares with the obvious delineation between what you need to focus on and what to ignore. This quote above truly is at the heart of the “E-Box”.
Think about it in terms of your personal life: You have kids running around the house looking for fun activities. Maybe they want to read a book with Mom or build some crazy Lego creations with Dad.
And yet, Daddy is immersed in his Twitter account, or Mommy on Facebook, believing that THAT is the most important thing to do, now. When in fact, building memories with those kids is a truly urgent thing to do.
Take heart. No one is perfect. And very few of us will master productivity all the time. But heck – if you need a little help sorting through all the noise, give this handy little tool a try, and see if it helps you focus on the truly important things. It might help you reach a promotion at work, or make progress towards a big goal, like early retirement. Never know, till you TRY.
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Ms ZiYou says
I love the box, it’s a good reminder to make sure you are spending time and working on what is really important. And a reminder to delegate more, although I’m not very good at that – I tend towards the martyr…
Isn’t it great? Now you can give yourself a daily “martyr check” to make sure you’re delegating effectively!
Ms ZiYou says
This could be fun! I’ll get the cross ready. But I did delegate a few things today…..
Good advice. I think most productive people go through some sort of prioritization like this frequently. Then there are others where you wonder, “why the heck are they working on that”. Tom
LOL. So true, Tom. I tend to agree though, many of the more productive types are students of productivity.
“Safe to say you could use some help with Delegation? ”
I could use bucket loads of help with delegation! not just some 🙂
I know! Being president of the United States is no small task. But at least he had good training wheels in the military to hone his delegation skills.
Actuary On FIRE says
I had forgotten about this box thing. But that’s a good reminder.
I really think there is a good business opportunity to be a business manager for a blogger. Someone you can delegate all the blocking and tackling to. But I guess you have to have an income producing blog first (not mine!)
I’m here for you, buddy! 🙂
That’s actually a pretty solid idea you have there. I bet if you took say, Joe at Retire by 40, he might be willing to give 10% of his $65K 2017 earnings to a blog manager. But I’d expect that manager is doing “enough” to at least make back that 10%, and even find ways to make more. Sort of like Real Estate Property Management for pro bloggers?
I think I will be printing and putting this box up in my office as well. I work on premise of A, B, and C items for levels of priority, but the “delete” box is one I need to work on 🙂
Go for it! I glance at it about once a week on average. If nothing else, it reminds me to triage my sh*t better. And boy, do I love that “delete” box!!! 😉
Miguel (The Rich Miser) says
Good strategy! I find that one of the biggest problems with trying to be productive is that, if you’re tired or burned out, just dedicating time to a task won’t result in productivity. It can result in very slow work instead (like reading the same sentence over and over because you’re too tired to absorb its meaning).
To avoid it, I’m constantly switching between tasks throughout the day. Somehow, it helps break mental staleness for me.
Thanks for the box, it’ll help me refine what needs my attention and what can wait (or can be delegated or just not done).
Hey Miguel! You’d make a great project manager. I find myself switching between tasks CONSTANTLY throughout my day. I wouldn’t call that multi-tasking either, since that’s a term used to describe doing more than one thing at once. No. I’m a serial multi-tasker! 🙂
Olivia Lee says
This is an awesome tool, I’ll definitely try it out! Also, is the airbnb ROI supposed to be negative? Or is that a typo?
Hi Olivia! You’re going to bust me, like one of my old bosses did a number of years ago? She educated me about negative ROIs being among the unicorns of the world too. This isn’t a typo, it’s just the output of my cash on cash calculator. I’m going to look into fixing that so you don’t think I’m too far gone of a financial hack! 😉
I’ve used this at work but I don’t think I’ve formally done so outside work. Great reminder and framework for decision making.
Thanks, FTF! Funny how so many of the work tools we’re given apply better in our home life. 🙂
I def need to implement this at home! I’m so good at staying on topic at work, but when I get home, I fall victim to the couch and television. Great article!
Hey Steph! That’s what refrigerator doors are for! Magnet this baby up there and get crackin’ on those projects! 🙂
Thanks for stopping by.
Thanks for putting a name on it! I was aware of the method just did not know the origins. Now I only have to put it into work I guess 🙂
You bet! Let me know if it does anything for you – as I have a suspicion you’re already quite a productive person, HCF!
I had not heard of this and I’m a history buff, cool. I like it’s simplicity. Now if I could just find someone to delegate writing blogs posts to….
Ha! Now you’re talkin! I guess you could delegate by using more guest posts, but unless you’re bringing in some stellar friends, you won’t be doing your blog any favors!
freddy smidlap says
oh, and i think just getting a task done is great. if you wait for perfection you might not get far.
“Perfect is the enemy of Good”, I’ve heard someone say before…
“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”
Thank you, Cubert. I invested a few minutes of my time in your blog today and I instantly became a little wiser. Pretty good ROI, my friend.
You’re most certainly welcome, Mr. Groovy! Funny. A common struggle for bloggers is whether to write what we “feel” vs. something “useful”. I’m glad this one hit the mark on the latter. 🙂
Late to the party but Felt like I should point something out:
Stephen Covey uses this exact same box and his seven habits book. I do think that Stephen Covey emphasizes (and I totally agree) that the most important box is actually the Decyde box of things that are important but not yet urgent. He argues that if you focus on those tasks, you can decrease what becomes urgent and do a better job with it. Think of doing your homework all semester as important but not urgent rather than cramming for the test as urgent and important. If you study all semester you don’t have to cram.
Anyhow, thanks so much for the post-really great points.
Hi Army Doc! I’m glad you found your way here! Interesting about Covey having a version of this too. There’s definitely some affinity between his approach to time management and Ike’s I’d reckon.