Leaders in any organisation are always at risk of work overload. They not only need to complete their own tasks, but also need to direct their teams and provide support to others. Leaders may need to be more productive than others to do their jobs well.
If you are one of those managers who has “a million things to do”, you can benefit from being more productive at work. To be more productive doesn’t just mean getting more work done in less time, it also means doing less work.
Let’s look at how to be more productive using a simple tool called the Urgent-Important Matrix, or Eisenhower Box.
What is the Urgent-Important Matrix?
The Urgent-Important Matrix, also sometimes called the Eisenhower Box, is a productivity tool that originates from the 34th President of the United States, President Eisenhower. Eisenhower famously said:
“I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”
This led to the development of this simple decision-making tool, which can help leaders ensure they are focusing on what is important.
As you can see, the Urgent-Important Matrix is a simple tool divided into four zones. Each zone is based on the two criteria of “Urgent” and “Important”.
Urgent tasks are those that need to be done now, or else there will be some sort of consequence. These tasks are often associated with achieving someone else’s goals – not your own.
Important tasks are those that add real value to your team, workplace or organisation. Tasks that are “Not Urgent” can wait, and those that are “Not Important” add little value.
I like to call the four areas the Risk, Superstar, Low Value and Time Wasting zones. Let’s find out what they mean.
The Risk Zone
The Risk Zone contains tasks that are both important and urgent. As a result, these tasks are usually high profile and visible. If you don’t complete these tasks successfully you’re in trouble. But if you do, then you will look awesome. In other words, tasks in here are risky.
Some examples of important and urgent tasks include submitting business proposals before a deadline (where the deadline is now!) and fixing issues that everyone is screaming at you about.
Generally, you want to stay out of the Risk Zone to be more productive. People have a tendency to rush tasks that are urgent and important, increasing the risk of overlooking something. You’ll never be able to avoid the Risk Zone altogether – things sometimes crop up when you least expect it!
The Superstar Zone
The Superstar Zone is where the value lies. This is where you want to be spending most of your time.
Why? Because the tasks in here are important, but not urgent. In other words, you can spend time getting them right, because you aren’t rushing.
You will do your best work in this zone and if you can spend most of your time here, you will look like a superstar!
Some examples of tasks in the Superstar Zone include planning, preparation, mentoring, coaching or analysis. This is where you can start to really improve your team and get high value work done, and done well.
In this zone, you can schedule time to complete your non-urgent work.
The Low Value Zone
Some leaders are caught out in the Low Value Zone. This is where the tasks are not important, but urgent. Some examples of these tasks include organising meetings, answering trivial emails or other administrative tasks.
You can see that many of these tasks require a relatively low level of skill to complete. There is a good reason why executives don’t organise their own meetings. Because somebody else can do it for them!
You might not be in a situation where somebody organises meetings for you, but if you do have a team, you should look to delegate at least some of the tasks in this zone to somebody else. This allows you to free up your time to focus on more important tasks.
The Time Wasting Zone
This is where productivity goes to die. It’s where the tasks are Not Important and Not Urgent.
Some examples of these tasks include attending meetings when you’re not required, writing reports nobody cares about, cleaning out your email inbox, non-constructive gossip sessions and checking your social media every five minutes.
You should be trying to get out of the Time Wasting Zone, by eliminating these tasks as much as possible. This might mean pushing back on some stakeholders to free your time.
It’s important to note that for every leader, what goes in these zones will be very different. Some people may consider water-cooler conversations to be time wasters. However, other people will consider this type of networking very important for building relationships that help them do their job. Decide what is right for you.
Be More Productive By Managing Your Zones
Using the zones as a decision making tool is very useful, but there are a few more aspects to note about how tasks move between the zones. Here are some things to keep in mind when you are trying to be more productive.
1. Non-Urgent Tasks Can Turn Into Risks
If you don’t complete your Superstar (non-urgent, important) tasks when you schedule them, they can turn into urgent tasks. All of a sudden, you’re in the Risk Zone and you might make a mistake.
Avoid this problem by booking in time to complete your Superstar tasks and making sure you complete them.
2. When Non-Important Tasks Turn Important
You can’t just ignore the so called “Not Important” tasks completely. Often, you still need to complete them. For example, organising a meeting isn’t important in the scheme of things. However, if you never do it, somebody is going to notice and all of a sudden it may become a high priority.
Make sure you manage the Low Value Zone (Urgent, Not Important), before these tasks slip into the Risk Zone.
3. Remember That Work is Not All About Actual Work
It’s easy to slip into an extreme productivity mindset, where you eliminate all your Not Important or Urgent tasks. This is great, unless something you deem to be not important actually is.
A good example is networking and relationship building. This isn’t actual work, but it can help your career and help you perform your role more effectively.
Attending that morning tea for Beryl in the Accounts team may not feel very important, but when you skip it and the CEO turns up, are you going to look bad?
The Urgent-Important Matrix is a great tool to help you simplify your decision making to help you be more productive. Hopefully it helps you manage your time more effectively!
Want to have more time management tools? Get the Time Management Toolkit.
Do you find the Urgent-Important Matrix useful? How have you used it to help you be more productive? Let me know in the comments below!