Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Eisenhower Box

We all try to make the best use of our short time here on Earth.  It is important to manage our time wisely to maximize its value, so I thought I'd spend a post talking about how to become more productive and how best to plan ways to budget your time to reach your goals.  I thought I'd focus on a really interesting method to prioritize your to-do lists called the Eisenhower Box.  I will also talk about Pareto analysis and the POSEC method in a future post.

There has been a lot of structures to try to identify how we use our time and how to make it more efficient.  I think the Eisenhower box is a pretty interesting way of categorizing our activities.  On the y-axis is importance while on the x-axis there is urgency.  You separate the box into four quadrants of important and urgent, important and non-urgent, not important and urgent, and not important and not urgent.  Studies have shown that people seem to be very focused on urgency rather than importance, which makes sense if you assume people have trouble deciding what is important and what isn't.  Given that the urgent issue needs to be addressed immediately, if you aren't sure whether the issue is important or not you may logically decide to address it because letting it pass by may be an irrevocable mistake if it is important.  However, sometimes people know things are not important yet prioritize them because of its urgency.

People seem to have no trouble with box 1 and box 4.  Urgent important things do seem to get our attention fairly easily and it isn't difficult to ignore things that are both not important and not urgent such as time wasters.  However, the main issue most of us have is that we spend too much time in box 3 with urgent, not important tasks rather than box 2 with not urgent but important issues.  Box 2 activities include exercise, planning, preparation, and organization.  It may not be necessary to do these things immediately, but they definitely are necessary if you want to increase your productivity and the value of the things you do.  Most of us fall into the habit of procrastinating and putting off these essential issues until "later" which ultimately never get done.

Are there some things you can do to help yourself do more important activities?  Often, the hardest part for doing the important, not urgent activities is getting over the initial hump of establishing a habit.  Something like exercise might be extremely difficult if you haven't been to the gym in a year and want to get in shape ASAP.  In order to establish this habit, you have to start small like going once a week, and slowly increase your frequency until you hit your desired level of activity.  Try to find ways to pre-commit yourself by going with your friends, signing up for a class, or something else that locks you into thinking you can't skip out on it.  After a few weeks, you should have established the habit well enough to make it feel unnatural to miss those weekly or daily trips to the gym.

Even outside of exercise, setting aside time for planning your week ahead or preparing a to-do list can be extremely helpful to manage your time.  You can even use that time to make an Eisenhower box of your to-do list to see what needs prioritizing, avoid the distractions and focus more important activities.  Our time is very valuable and we should focus on doing the things that matter the most to us.

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