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!
What Is the Eisenhower Box?
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 non-sense in D.C.”
The Eisenhower Box Does Improve Your 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 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 “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. 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.
Eisenhower Box 101: 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 the 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: Lame-ass. Delegates everything to anyone. Never offers to take action items in meetings.
Eisenhower Productivity Quote for the Ages
“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”
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 Eisenhower Box is effective because it’s such a simple tool. Four squares with 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.