21 Oct Breast Pumps and the Eisenhower Matrix – The Importance of Task Categorisation
One evening some weeks ago, after wrapping up an evening workshop, the four of us stood around the table in our office drinking whisky and trash talking.
It’s been a long day and we are unwinding. The conversation was random and totally irreverent.
We joked about people with no necks (don’t ask me why), we laughed at how dim sum is created, we chided Louis for his off-the-charts IQ. We were having a blast.
And somehow or another, the conversation drifted to breast pumps. Yes. You heard me right. Breast pumps. The little contraption used to extract milk from breast feeding mums.
It all began with Alex actually, when he remarked that his facebook feed is filled with friends discussing the merits of breast pumps and which ones to get. People spend hours comparing and debating the merits of each.
There were electrically operated ones and manual ones. Battery powered ones vs non-battery powered ones. Some are closed system, while others are not. Some have silicon cushions, backlit LED screens, different power settings. Others are quieter, more compact, and have stronger suction power. It was mind boggling.
Now don’t get me wrong. I have two little kids of my own and my wife swears by her trusty pump. I remember many a times waking up to the sound of electrical whirring. I also remembered a driving holiday some time ago where we had to stop in a freezing supermarket car park to milk. Without the pump, life would have been unbearable, impossible even.
But would life have been any different if we had gotten a different pump from this one? Would we even realise what we have missed? I highly doubt so.
The Eisenhower Matrix
Dwight D Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States. Prior to being elected, he served as a five-star General in the United States Army during World War II. He was famously attributed with the following quote.
I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent
In pictoral form, Eisenhower’s quote would looks like this.
All tasks are grouped according to how important/unimportant and how urgent/not urgent they are. They are then plotted against two axes. Every issue that require attention in our daily life can be classified into these four boxes.
Important and Urgent tasks are to be done immediately and personally. Examples given include crying babies or having the kitchen on fire. In real life, important and urgent tasks can include preparing the pitch for your company’s biggest client. They are to be done now and well.
Important and Non-Urgent tasks need not be attended to immediately, but they are often at risk of being pushed further and further down the line. As an individual these tasks could include exercise and taking time out to maintain a healthy lifestyle. As a business, it is also easy to be caught up in the daily grind and the constant firefighting that we lose sight of the big picture.
Despite being non urgent, exercise for individuals and strategic planning for business organisations are extremely important. Time should be set aside for them at all cost.
Urgent but Non-Important tasks include meetings and phone calls. That ringing phone is screaming for our attention, so are the hundreds of emails from work after we return from the weekend. Unfortunately most of the calls and emails are of little bearing and importance. Many meetings as well, they are urgent enough to demand our time and presence but are seldom, really important enough. If possible, these tasks are to be delegated.
Finally, we are left with the Non-Important and Non-Urgent tasks. They include time wasters and trivia. They add little value to our lives and whether we do or do not do them, the consequences are minute. Unfortunately, many of these tasks tend to be satisfying and pleasant. Constantly checking facebook for one, watching TV is another.
And if I may say so, the relentless pursuit of getting the ‘best breast pump ever’.
Important but Non-Urgent Tasks
Like a river, human nature follows the path of least resistance. We tend to do the easier things and the more urgent things first. The harder ones meet with more resistance. The non urgent ones we tend to delay and defer.
Eisenhower has pointed out that this can be very costly because many important things are actually not pleasant nor urgent.
Investing is one such task. In a capitalistic society, one cannot afford not to invest. Investing does not have to be active, one need not spend time watching the market everyday. Investing is about making our money work harder for us. It is as important a task as any.
Ensuing we have proper insurance coverage is another. Deep down we all know that it is as important as anything but how many of us actually do something about it? And how many of us actually make concerted efforts to review our plans periodically and to ensure our coverage remains relevant?
And finally, estate planning. To quote another US President Benjamin Franklin, death and taxes are the only certainty in life. I am sure many would agree with me that we want to see our affairs settled amicably after we pass on. We want to leave as much of our estate to our loved ones and we want them to receive the bequest in the shortest possible time and with minimal fuss. Urgent? Hardly. Important, definitely.
We are holding a two hour will-writing workshop on will writing this Saturday 24th Oct, 2 to 4pm. If Eisenhower’s words mean anything at all, make time for it here now.
(And if you stay on long enough after the event you might even find us drinking whisky…)
I keep a list of things that are important but not urgent. (the urgent ones I have done them already). They include of course exercise and catching up with family and friends. I am sure you would have a similar list.
Over time I realise that the list gets longer and longer, and the only way to shorten it is to actually schedule them one by one. Nothing will ever get done without making a plan and sticking to it.
May we all lead happier and more productive lives!
image: josh medeski