Dwight Eisenhower lived one of the most productive lives you can imagine.
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.
His most famous productivity strategy is known as the Eisenhower Box and it’s a simple decision-making tool that you can use right now.
Here’s how it works.
The Eisenhower Box: Urgent vs. Important
Eisenhower’s strategy for taking action and organising your tasks is simple. Using the decision matrix below, you will separate your actions based on four possibilities.
- Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
- Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
- Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
- Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).
The great thing about this matrix is that it can be used for broad productivity plans (“How should I spend my time each week?”) and for smaller, daily plans (“What should I do today?”).
Here is an example of what my Eisenhower Box looks like for today.
The Difference Between Urgent and Important
What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.
– Dwight Eisenhower
Urgent tasks are things that you feel like you need to react to: emails, phone calls, texts, news stories. Meanwhile, in the words of Brett McKay: “Important tasks are things that contribute to our long-term mission, values, and goals.”
Separating these differences is simple enough to do once, but doing so continually can be tough. The reason I like the Eisenhower Method is that it provides a clear framework for making the decisions over and over again. And like anything in life, consistency is the hard part.
Here are some other observations I’ve made from using this method:
Elimination Before Optimisation
A few years ago, I was reading about computer programming when I came across an interesting quote:
“No code is faster than no code.”
In other words, the fastest way to get something done — whether it is having a computer read a line of code or crossing a task off your to-do list — is to eliminate that task entirely. There is no faster way to do something than not doing it at all. That’s not a reason to be lazy, but rather a suggestion to force yourself to make hard decisions and delete any task that does not lead you toward your mission, your values, and your goals.
Too often, we use productivity, time management, and optimisation as an excuse to avoid the really difficult question: “Do I actually need to be doing this?” It is much easier to remain busy and tell yourself that you just need to be a little more efficient or to “work a little later tonight” than to endure the pain of eliminating a task that you are comfortable with doing, but that isn’t the highest and best use of your time.
As Tim Ferriss says, “Being busy is a form of laziness — lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.”
I find that the Eisenhower Method is particularly useful because it pushes me to question whether an action is really necessary, which means I’m more likely to move tasks to the “Delete” quadrant rather than mindlessly repeating them. And to be honest, if you simply eliminated all of the things you waste time on each day then you probably wouldn’t need any strategies and tips to become more productive at the things that matter.
Does This Help Me Accomplish My Goal?
One final note: It can be hard to eliminate time wasting activities if you aren’t sure what you are working toward. In my experience, there are two questions that can help clarify the entire process behind the Eisenhower Method.
Those two questions are…
- What am I working toward?
- What are the core values that drive my life?
These are questions that I have asked myself in my Annual Review and my Integrity Report. Answering these questions has helped me clarify the categories for certain tasks in my life. Deciding which tasks to do and which tasks to delete becomes much easier when you are clear about what is important to you.
Obviously, the Eisenhower Method isn’t a perfect strategy, but I have found it to be a useful decision-making tool for increasing my productivity and eliminating the behaviors that take up mental energy, waste time, and rarely move me toward my goals. I hope you’ll find it useful too.
Finding Your WHY This Year (Why Do YOU Get Up In The Mornings?)
If you wake up every day for something you believe in, you will live your purpose.
I had a long conversation with a colleague and I asked her if she knew why she did what she did. What was her reason for getting up in the morning?
I contemplated the question I had just asked and realised it was not such an easy question to answer. I had spent years figuring out what’s important to me in my life and my career but had not yet figured out exactly why I do what I do. Why do I get out of bed every day and do this advertising thing? What do I believe in and why do I believe in it? What is my why?
This led me down an interesting road of self-discovery, and it soon led me to Simon Sinek. I immersed myself in his podcasts, TED talks and books and began to understand why some companies are successful and why some aren’t. I learnt about the Golden Circle and how all companies know what they do and how they do it, but very few know why. I learnt that people don’t buy into what you do, they buy into why you do it.
Simon says, (sorry, I had to!) “There are only two ways to influence human behaviour: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.”
We are inspired by leaders and organisations that communicate what they believe in. They have the ability to make us feel special, safe, like we belong, and like we’re not alone.
Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King and the Wright Brothers are great examples of people that started from the inside out, they all started with their why.
Sinek points out that “Leaders have a rank but those who lead, inspire. It’s leadership’s responsibility to point North, say where we’re going and allow everybody else to figure out how to get there.”
I could see the value in these great leaders finding their why but I hadn’t quite answered my own question – What is my why?
Using the Golden Circle I worked my way from the clarity of my ‘what’ to the fuzziness of my ‘why’.
The more I unpacked this, the more I realised how it influences so much more than just my career choices. It influences my life choices as well. It impacts my relationships with my colleagues, my goals and it helps me prioritise what is important and what isn’t.
I’ve learnt that to truly understand your why, you need to understand what it is that you believe in and value. You need to allow these beliefs and values to guide you – to become your North Star. Your compass. When you know where you’re going, (and why) you’re flexible along your journey. But if your destination is unclear, the route you’re taking and the obstacles that come with it become your focus.
Knowing what you do is easy.
Knowing why you do it, that’s the part that takes work.
But once you’ve figured it out, you’ll find yourself being drawn to people and organisations that have a similar why to you. You’ll find your work has more meaning, and doing that work, becomes more meaningful.
If you wake up every day for something you believe in, you will live your purpose.
Start with why by Simon Sinek.
6 Steps To Go From Procrastinating To Productive
As an entrepreneur, practice saying to yourself, “I will not do the work of my smart, very talented and motivated team.”
As entrepreneurs and business owners, we have tasks on our list that we’d rather not do. So, we keep moving the goal post farther down the field and do almost anything we can to avoid those distasteful jobs.
Personally, I don’t like to get involved in extra paperwork or monthly expense reports. Other founders have their own least favorite activities.
But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing because there’s an obvious solution: delegation. As a matter of fact, I created a motto along these lines: I will not do the work of my smart, very talented and motivated team.
My job, after all, is to concentrate on the bigger parts of the business, like generating revenue. And while there are other such tasks that are necessary to operating a business, I might be avoiding them too because they slow me down. So, I again delegate them to the team.
I guess in a way, we’re all capable of being procrastinators.
According to a 2013 survey by salary.com, 69 percent of survey respondents said they wasted time at work on a daily basis – a 5 percent increase from the previous year. Thirty-four percent of respondents estimated they routinely wasted 30 minutes or less each day; 24 percent said they wasted between 30 and 60 minutes; and 11 percent said they wasted hours every day.
As a business owner, I could see how those numbers might send my fellow owners’ blood pressure through the roof, but my own response would be more practical: I’d pursue tools, tricks and techniques to minimise procrastination and maximize productivity.
Here are a few of those techniques:
Don’t overwhelm yourself
It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work on your plate, meetings and deadlines. Lately, I’ve been focusing on launching new avenues for C-Suite TV, and it can be overwhelming sometimes.
When tasks seem insurmountable, here’s one way to lessen that burden: Get out your “to-do” list. Then, instead of writing down that big task as one huge thing, break it down. Breaking a big task into multiple line items makes it more manageable. You have your end goal, but by reducing it to its smaller components, you get a clearer picture of what you need to do.
Crossing off the smaller parts of the larger task gives you a sense of accomplishment you wouldn’t have if you tackled the massive task all at once.
Flip the script
I don’t care who you are: Whether you’re a worker, a manager or a CEO, you’re just like everyone – and we all hate doing certain tasks. So why not flip the script?
Bite the bullet, kiss the frog – whatever you want to call it: Put that task at the top of your to-do list that day. You’ll eliminate the task quickly and move on to the rest of your day. Not to mention, you’ll have a bigger sense of accomplishment knowing that you’ve steam-rolled the largest obstacle you had awaiting you.
Everyone wants to make a good impression and put his or her best foot forward at work. Procrastination comes not from the inability to get the job done, but from fear and insecurity. Being unsure how to perform a specific task makes us fear failure and being seen in a negative light by the boss.
I always tell my team that, “No one’s going to die.” What’s the worst thing that can happen if a specific task isn’t perfect? I might get mad if the task is not completed within the given deadline, but not if it merely needs to be tweaked. Many times, the worst conversations happen inside our own heads and we let that imaginary conversation rule our other decisions. That’s when we make mistakes.
If you’re worried about your work quality, allocate a set amount of time each day to complete (or revise) parts of the project. It’s possible to perfect a task without obsessing over it and losing focus. That’s when you know it’s time to let go of the project and focus on other things. Say it with me: No one will die.
Kill the squirrels (or distractions)
It’s easy to procrastinate with the million distractions we have every day. According to a survey by Stop Procrastinating, 68 percent of Americans surveyed said they’d been distracted from their work duties by checking their emails, browsing the web or engaging in social media. And that was a 9 percent increase from a year before. Of that 68 percent, 39 percent said distractions cost them a whole hour a day.
Sure, it’s tempting to constantly check your Facebook or Twitter feeds, but here’s a radical concept: Log out of your social media accounts for a few hours every day.
Instead, focus on your tasks and nothing else. Do whatever it takes to get into the “zone,” to accomplish your goal. Some people at my office use headphones to muffle outside noise. I block out time on my calendar, which my employees have access to, and dedicate that time to a specific task I need to accomplish. I may even specify “no phone calls” to ensure I stay in my zone.
Be a good time manager
To transition from procrastinator to proactive leader requires organization on your part, from your mindset to your schedule. It’s hard to be organized when you feel you’re juggling multiple things, but to succeed, you must learn to juggle. Deciding how much time to dedicate to each task makes you more efficient.
For some of us busy executives, even our down time needs to be scheduled.
Recently, I attended the Rocky Mountain Economic Summit, where I mingled with top economists, business leaders and policymakers. I had a busy schedule, interviewing a top CEO. But I also managed to schedule down time. Being from South Dakota, I enjoy the outdoors so I scheduled some fly fishing time – away from technology, emails and phone calls.
If you’re a good time manager, you’ll have time for everything, including play time. It takes some dedication and discipline, but it’s not impossible.
Remember that the early bird gets the worm
I operate on little sleep. As any workaholic will tell you, when you go to bed at night, you can’t wait to start your day the next morning. Indeed, dawn is the most productive part of the day, according to this Wall Street Journal article. That hour of the morning brings minimal distractions, no email and hardly anyone on social media.
Apple CEO Tim Cook, starts his day at 3:45 a.m.. Richard Branson likes to “sleep in” until 5 a.m., and even my friend and fellow entrepreneur Peter Shankman gets up before it’s light out. As a business owner, entrepreneur and keynote speaker, I’ve done my fair share of early mornings; You’d be surprised how much you can get done by the time everyone else walks in the office.
The one takeaway here is that in order to make a successful transition from procrastinating to productive, you have to be disciplined, motivated and focused: disciplined enough to curb distractions, motivated enough to want to reach your end goal and focused enough to execute a plan that works for you.
We’re all different, so there’s no magic bullet solution for procrastination. But if you can build a plan that works for you, work the plan.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
(Infographic) The Organisational Tactics, Work Habits And Routines Of The Most Successful People
Take a look at how some of the most successful people set up their workspace.
How your workspace is set up can help or hinder your productivity. So what makes for a great workspace?
For inspiration, see how people such as Elon Musk and Oprah Winfrey organise their desks and surroundings. Of course, different tactics work for different people. So to maximise productivity, find what best suits you.
While many people believe a clean desk will provide clarity and decrease stress, that’s not what Albert Einstein thought. In fact, Einstein was a supporter of the messy desk, having once said:
“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, then what are we to think of an empty desk?”
Mark Zuckerberg prefers to have the same desk as every other Facebook employee. Studies have shown that open floor plans can encourage creativity and productivity – especially if you’re rubbing elbows with the CEO.
Another option is the standing desk. According to research, productivity can get a 10 percent boost when using a standing desk. An avid user of the standing desk was author Ernest Hemingway, who put his typewriter on top of a bookshelf in his bedroom.
Check out National Pen’s infographic below to see the desk styles of some of the most famous people history to today.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
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