What is Important is Seldom Urgent


By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

Before jumping into this post, here is some background on former President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower who developed the methods discussed below. I found an excellent synopsis for those unfamiliar with his legacy and prominence:

Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States, serving two terms from 1953 to 1961. During his time in office, he launched programs that directly led to the development of the Interstate Highway System in the United States, the launch of the internet (DARPA), the exploration of space (NASA), and the peaceful use of alternative energy sources (Atomic Energy Act).

Before becoming president, Eisenhower was a five-star general in the United States Army, served as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II, and was responsible for planning and executing invasions of North Africa, France, and Germany.

At other points along the way, he served as President of Columbia University, became the first Supreme Commander of NATO, and somehow found time to pursue hobbies like golfing and oil painting.

Eisenhower had an incredible ability to sustain his productivity not just for weeks or months, but for decades. And for that reason, it is no surprise that his methods for time management, task management, and productivity have been studied by many people.

How to be More Productive and Eliminate Time Wasting Activities by Using the “Eisenhower Box” ,By James Clear | Decision Making, Productivity, Simplicity

Step Into the Matrix

There are many methods used for time and project management. President Eisenhower group things into simple categories so that he could efficiently and quickly prioritise his work life. Because of his great success, a model was developed from his methods and applied to the business world. The model is known as The Eisenhower Matrix.

matrixThe original model is reflected in the four quadrants above, and it is self explanatory.

The bottom right category would require those items to be removed completely. Although I am no Eisenhower, I did take it upon myself to alter the bottom right corner. Instead of using it to DELETE tasks or to categorize tasks as “useless”, I use to to track personal projects or 20% Time Projects. After all, if something is useless, it stays outside the box.

My box looks like this:

matrix22Reading the Matrix

The most important thing to remember is that everything cannot be urgent and important. If the majority of your day-to-day work-life is in the upper left quadrant, then something is wrong and out-of-balance.

Most tasks that fall into a person’s normal set of responsibilities should be in the upper right quadrant. Tasks or jobs in the lower left quadrant are often things assigned by a superior, that fall outside of the normal set of responsibilities or favours you might be doing for others.

Examples From My Personal Matrix

Important Not Urgent:

  • Develop a new class schedule before March 20th
  • Create a new html template for Power School effort reports by March 18th
  • Review email branding process before April 15th

Notice all of the above have due dates that fall within the next 7-30 days of this post’s publication. I have had them in the list for awhile. The deadline is approaching but these were all planned.

Important and Urgent:

  • Buy music software for upcoming performance
  • Develop new Sharepoint email workflow for Human Resources

These items are IT support items which have been assigned to me from other departments.
These need to be completed immediately. I am required to do these tasks, but they were not planned, and the notice was short. If I could not complete these items, or if I thought they would negatively impact items in the upper right quadrant, I might have to delegate them or exclude them.

Not Important but Urgent (Delegate):

  • Telescope delivery
  • Hand out ID cards
  • Documents archive packaged for accreditation team

These are all jobs anyone in my department can do. All are very time consuming. I need to make certain they are finished, but I should not be doing these myself. Occasionally this quadrant contains a task I am required to do, but that task literally has nothing to do with my job.

Not Important / Not Urgent /Ideas / 20% Time

  • Redesign interface for Moodle
  • Improve code for iTunes based video streaming

These are projects I enjoy doing. If they never get finished, no one will be the wiser. The systems impacted are already fully functional. The skills learned from working on projects like these often transfer to other areas. 20% time projects are excellent for professional development and often lead to exciting random discoveries.

Tools for Getting Started

A simple way to apply the Eisenhower Matrix is to use Evernote or OneNote. Office software also works. However, keeping a record of all the data and reflecting on it after the school year can be tricky. I recommended using software like Priority Matrix. The interface is simple, and the software links to Evernote.

priority matrix Appfluence Priority Matrix

Last year I produced a list of all the scheduled items I had completed from January to June. I was amazed not only at the variety of projects and jobs I had been involved with, but also how many should have been placed in that lower left quadrant (Delegation). I have used that data to consciously delegate more tasks.

Before beginning, I recommend organising your team together to discuss what types of projects, jobs, etc. would fall into each quadrant. Have each member bring a list of everything they have been working on for the last thirty days. Use that data to fill in the box by reaching group consensus.

If nothing else, the Eisenhower Matrix makes the mind slow down and focus. The matrix forces reflection and constantly reminds users that most things are not urgent, nor important. Stress and circumstance can often cloud judgements and shift focus away from where it should be- Students & Learning.

Tony DePrato


Just in Time

Many moons ago, when I was a young college lad, I studied many things. Among them was economics. I spent many days and nights reading about various models, and eventually found great interest in the Japanese concept of just in time management.

The concept is simple. You stock just enough stuff to make products barely above your quota. When the needed parts are at a certain level, a signal or communication is sent to a supplier who then makes and ships more parts. The supplier also uses the same concept, asking for raw materials only when current materials are at a certain level.

There is no overstocking. There is minimal space for storage. There is virtually no waste.

In Japan, you can even see this at popular eateries. I use to frequent a place close to my office in Japan that would run out of food every night. I asked the owned about this once and he said, “I buy my food fresh everyday. I predict how much I need. I run out and then wait until the next day. I never serve old food, and I never waste any food.”

His space was small, but optimized for people and not storage. Cheaper rent, no waste, and a higher quality of food. Basically the opposite of Sams Club, Cosco, and those crazy people on EXTREME COUPONERS.

In my current position, I often have to provide training or support. Normally I develop videos and materials for topics that I am certain people will struggle with. However, I do not put these online for people until I know they are ready.

I wait for signals. I wait for a few people to ask me the same question in a short time-frame. Sometimes I watch for trends in tech-support tickets. Then when I feel like enough people are ready, the content becomes live. I do this because I have found:

  • Sending too much information is a waste. People tend to only want to learn in small doses when not enrolled in a program of some sort.
  • The needs that were predicted could shift, and the online content could become redundant.
  • Necessity is the mother of invention and motivation. The desire needs to be there before they will actually go through the full learning experience.

I would not say this is radical or controversial, but people do disagree with the approach. I have been told it seems unprofessional, and that I am not prepared (even though the materials are done weeks and sometimes months in advance). I think it is practical, and addresses the true nature of how busy people learn.

Additionally, I want people to be hungry for more and not overwhelmed by a lengthy list of pre-programmed topics.

Recently, I was part of a huge professional development day at my school. I was only doing tech support, the event was managed by someone else. He has ten very deep topics to explore. I mean really deep, things you need to ponder for a few days.

He had all the materials for all ten topics completed months ago. He has a website setup with all the topics organized. However, the week before the session, the only thing that was live was one topic only. That topic stayed live for a week, and then was used for the professional development.

The feedback collected from the participants was overwhelming positive. They stated clearly that they felt prepared and focused.

I did not influence this person at all. I did not give them a speech about doing things just in time. However, I when I realized that they had the option to be overwhelming and chose to be focused, and to use a week to build-up interest- I decided to write this post.

Maybe this will be my new soapbox.

Tony DePrato