Dwight D. Eisenhower. World War II General (and Supreme Leader of the European Theater… You know, D-Day?) and later, President of the United States. In fact, 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 skillz, brotha!
What is the “Eisenhower Box”?
Ready for some more of Cubert’s Rich People Skills? Let’s cut to the chase. Exhibit A:
Note that the box depicted here has some activities already plotted-out. You can get a clean copy where I got mine, over at JamesClear.com. I’ll be honest, I hadn’t heard of James until I started researching for this post. But this guy has a pretty impressive resume. Think of a no-BS version of Tim Ferriss, and you get Mr. Clear.
I like what James has selected for his activities. He prioritizes writing as important – because that’s his bread and butter. Makes sense. As bloggers, we sometimes fail or succeed depending on how prolific we are, and whether we put any effort into improving. So, putting “writing” into the Urgent/Important “Do” quadrant? I can dig that.
Similarly, but on the opposite quadrant, Not Urgent/Not Important “Delete” 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 non-sense in D.C.”
Master of Productivity
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 be 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.”
Take a look at what Mr. Clear has in his “Decide” box: Exercise (sound body), Family and Friends (sound relationships), Researching (sound mind), and Business Strategy (sound finances, I guess?) It’s like something Stephen Covey would come up with. Whereas the “Do” box can be more of the obvious “gotta 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, like what James Clear depicts. These are tasks that over time improve us, and help us avoid regrets. (You knew I would slip that link in here somewhere, didn’t cha?) But really, how many of us could do better by scheduling time to call family and friends? I know I could.
Master of Delegation
Imagine you’re Eisenhower. You love poker. You later become a master bridge enthusiast. Oh, and you love golf. In fact, you love golf so much that you paint your golf balls black, to allow you to chase down shots in 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 abdication of delegation. In other words, you mow your own lawn. DIY that oil change. Do your own taxes. Yada yada.
Some of us are pretty clever (or in my case, learning to be clever) when it comes to DIY, while also prioritizing those very important “Decide” box tasks:
- Mow your lawn, or shovel your snow, while strategizing your next blog post
- DIY rental property management, but invest in quality single family homes that attract responsible tenants
- Wear sweaters over your shirts, so you don’t have to iron them (Okay that’s a throw-away. You can’t delegate ironing to a sweater, can you?)
When it comes to Cubicle Land, Delegation can be a wonderful thing, but also a slippery slope. After all, the best leaders are not averse to jumping into the trenches with their front-line workers. They roll-up sleeves when they have to. They’ll not ask any of their direct reports to do something they themselves wouldn’t do first.
You’ve got to find balance though. Some managers (at least where I work) are masters of pure delegation. Everything gets passed on to a direct report. Teflon. Some managers are the opposite, and wind up doing more of the direct report’s work than the direct report actually does.
Wisenheimer Scale of Office Space Delegation (an info-graphic for the ages):
Worst: Lame-ass. Delegates everything to anyone. Never offers to take action items on calls.
Not-terrible, but Not Ideal: The Martyr. Doesn’t seem to trust the team to do it themselves. Typical workaholic. No one learns or improves, because Superman or Superwoman is doing all the work, all the time.
Ideal: Peter Drucker. Strikes the perfect balance. Delegates to the effective, but jumps in to help the new, needy, or recalcitrant.
That quote at the bottom of the Eisenhower Box says it all: “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”
Man. If everyone at the office took 5 seconds each morning to read this quote, I can’t imagine how much bullshit we’d all be spared. The Eisenhower Box is effective, because it’s such a simple tool. Four squares with obvious delineation between what you need to focus on, vs. what to ignore. Then you get the quote, which is the heart of it all.
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 in Facebook, believing that THAT is the most important thing to do, now. When in fact, building memories with those kids is the 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.