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  • Jeremy Cooper

It's time to call in the President

Last week I wrote about the time matrix and how to understand the urgency and importance of the tasks you do. This was important as it provides context to your work and how it will make you feel. I used to do all the stuff that made me feel busy as that was the badge of honour. If it’s hard to get onto my calendar then I must be important, I’d hold some work close to ensure I got all the praise even if the work wasn’t that important. This led to me getting myself burnt out and run down, which in turn led to stress and anxiety, and that stuff isn’t easy to come back from


Looking at the Time Matrix it’s easy to dismiss it though as you’ll feel ‘great, I know I’m working in the wrong areas, but the work still needs to get done’. This feels especially the case in IT due to the workload and pressure


So, in comes a former President of the US and 5-star General, Dwight D. Eisenhower


“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important” – Dwight D. Eisenhower


He came up with the Eisenhower Decision Matrix, which is very similar to the Time Matrix but is more a focus on what you should do with the task once defined and it’s broken again into 4 categories


  • Do – Urgent and Important. Do these tasks immediately

  • Defer – Important but not Urgent. Schedule the tasks for later

  • Delegate – Urgent but not Important. Delegate these tasks if possible

  • Delete – Neither Urgent nor Important. Eliminate these tasks wherever possible



Do

These are important tasks for your career or your life and therefore must be done now - today or tomorrow type stuff. This will be things that will have a consequence if not completed and you need to do them as it’s importance for you. These can be restoring service to users where you own the technology or are the SME, budget numbers that have a short deadline etc. The importance to you is key here as you need to be able to judge the impact of something not getting done. Will there be an impact to your career, finances, personal happiness?

Some of the actions I find useful here are:

  • Give yourself a timer for the work. It’s important and timebound so you need to make sure you hit the deadline

  • Just because it’s a do, don’t feel you cannot include others for parts of tasks

  • As with the Time Matrix, limit the number of tasks you have here as its energy sapping

Defer

Sometimes known as Schedule, as defer is often seen as putting something off rather than deliberately booking time to do something. This is an important distinction as the task is important to you and therefore needs to be completed, just at the appropriate time. Things in this quadrant can be your strategy deck or personal development.

Some of the actions I find useful here are:

  • Spend some time planning these. Work out the due date, time required and importance, as this will allow you to plan accordingly

  • Block out time in your calendar to complete the tasks. This ensures the busy work doesn’t fill the gaps

  • If you keep moving a calendar item out to a later date, consider if it’s really a defer or actually a delegate/delete activity. Be strong with yourself

Delegate

These are the tasks that aren’t important to you but are still urgent, therefore you should delegate these out to ensure you can focus on your Dos and Defers. Tasks here can be urgent reports or meetings.

Some of the actions I find useful here are:

  • When delegating a task don’t just throw it over the fence to someone, provide some instruction or context as it likely important to someone, even though it’s not you, then also track that it’s acknowledge and then completed. This ensure good performance of tasks and you want to be known as the person that got stuff done, even though through delegation, rather than the person that ignored a task. Ensure you let the person who made the request know you delegated it

  • For meetings, you should empower your team, send someone on your behalf as it’s often a great development opportunity for them and you can ask the meeting organiser for the minutes. This means you can review with the person you delegated to as needed and meetings with agendas and minutes are more productive

  • You don’t always need to own the delegation of tasks and I sometimes feel like a corporate matchmaker. If someone comes with a task and there is a more suitable person to do the work, I’ll recommend them, make the introduction to them and then let them get on with it. This is efficient for you and also, you’re the person who helps get tasks done, even though you didn’t do the task


Delete

It’s not important and not urgent why do it? Exactly so delete it! These tasks are often escapism like scrolling social or it will be reports created because ‘we always did this report’ but no one reads it and there is no actionable insight

Some of the actions I find useful here are:

  • If it’s an email, read it, acknowledge the receipt of it to the sender e.g. “thank you for the information”, then delete it. With this you’ve read the email and made conscious decision to not act, you’ve let the person know you’ve received it but you’ve set no expectation of any follow up action. Also, as you deleted it then you won’t keep coming back to it in your inbox and procrastinating over whether to do something with it

  • For meetings, if there is no agenda or you don’t have any value to add. Decline the meeting, don’t just ignore it as that’s rude. Decline with a note why, especially if there is no agenda as it might drive the person to add one with context


There is always going to be plenty of work to go around. Don’t be afraid to delegate or delete work, especially if you have more important things to do as there are only a certain number of hours in the working week. You need to enjoy your life and also empowering your team and others will have huge benefits in the long run as they will develop and feel empowered, and then some work you used to delegate won’t even come to you as it goes direct to the person who you delegated to before, bliss



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