Important vs Urgent – do you know the difference?

 Dwight D. Eisenhower made his mark on the world as the 34th President of the United States (1953-1961) but he also had a strong military background; United States Army General, Allied Forces Supreme Commander during World War II and NATO’s first Supreme Commander.

 While Eisenhower’s list of political and military accomplishments is mind-boggling, it is his development of a strategic matrix to help him continuously make tough decisions that is still held up as a powerful model of managing priorities today.

 Many business leaders and entrepreneurs across the globe successfully use the Eisenhower Matrix to prioritise tasks by urgency and importance (Figure 1). But to truly master this matrix and get lasting results, there is some work to do.

Changing habits takes time and effort.

The reason this matrix is such a helpful tool is that many leaders, entrepreneurs and decision makers become addicted to taking everything on. While this habit may be well-intended, the only result is a perpetual cycle of work overload and stress. There is a direct negative impact on the frontal lobe, the essential area of the brain for critical judgments and task prioritisation. The leader’s stress spreads to the team, and a repetitive cycle of reactive, less-than-optimal experiences is soon embedded in the organisation. 

 Those leaders who are using the matrix most successfully are those who are able to create action in all four quadrants. Only an accomplished few have the required focus to dedicate time to action the important and urgent as well as administering delegation and prioritisation in other areas.

 Instead of shouldering the entire load, leaders need to ‘let go’ and embrace the exciting opportunities and empowerment offered by delegation to others.

 The Eisenhower Matrix may be successfully applied in both Leadership and Sales Strategy scenarios. Here are both angles for discussion.

In Quadrant 1 we do it Now.

This is when actions are both Important and Urgent.

 Leadership Strategy: Do it first. An action identified as both Important and Urgent needs to be addressed by a leader as soon as possible. If needed, seek knowledge from trusted subject experts to help make decisions.

 Customer Sales Strategy: When a customer has both an Important and Urgent need, their concerns about price, location and alternative solutions become a lower consideration when investing their funds. Successful sales outcomes occur when a business has recognised this and positioned their offering to trigger and satisfy an Important and Urgent need. How often do we really take the time to listen, hear and thus identify the Important and Urgent needs of customers to trigger sales?

 In Quadrant 2 we Plan.

 This is when actions are Important but NOT Urgent.

 Leadership Strategy: When a topic is identified as Important but NOT Urgent it should receive a leader’s attention, but can be scheduled for review and action at the appropriate time. By committing to review at a scheduled time,

In Quadrant 3 we Delegate.

This is when actions are Urgent but NOT Important.

 Leadership Strategy: Successful leaders develop a role and task delegation structure with an inbuilt filtering mechanism that identifies tasks that are Urgent, but not Important enough to involve the business leader. Delegating tasks empowers staff to take the lead and if they require support, reach out as needed.

 Customer Sales Strategy: A customer with a Urgent but NOT Important need is often in a hurry and may be an impulse buyer who later regrets their buying decision. If the expenditure is for a low-cost item, often the purchase is forgotten and the relationship remains that of a low-cost convenience related customer. However, if the investment is significant then a range of issues can evolve, such as returns, service cancellation or resentment that surrounds a bad decision.

While difficult to achieve, it is often worth discovering if an expensive outlay is the best option for the customer at that moment in time. These discussions build a client relationship based on trust.

In Quadrant 4 we Let it go! Or Delegate.

This is when actions are Not Important AND Not Urgent.

Leadership Strategy: Unfortunately, some leaders become trapped in investing their valuable time on actions that have little, if any impact on their business. This quadrant is the place of operation (and often comfort) for leaders who procrastinate, or wish to control every aspect of the business. It’s also a place where leaders with ‘shiny object syndrome’ operate – wanting to be involved in everything that catches their eye. Operating in this quadrant results in a stressed leader and frustrated and disempowered teams.

By avoiding Quadrant 4 tasks, staying focused and eliminating actions that are not relevant to core business objectives, leaders create time to undertake tasks in Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2.

Customer Sales Strategy: If something is not Important OR Urgent to the customer, a high-value transaction has a very low probability. Don’t chase low probability sales; move on and look for those who see your offering as both Important and Urgent. In time, these customers may see your service as Important and Urgent if you have positioned your offering as providing solutions to Important and Urgent issues.

An Important and Urgent need is a sales opportunity.

As discussed earlier, when something is Important and Urgent, price, location and alternative solutions become a lower consideration when investing funds. Getting it actioned moves to the top of the list. Focus on those customers you can help with an Important and Urgent need.

Think about how you make your buying decisions, and how this behaviour varies when both important and urgent needs are present. Successful sales staff make sure they focus on customers who seek them out and view their offering as a solution to an important and urgent need.

Within your business, consider these questions:

  • How do you make sure your offering is positioned so that those with important and urgent needs consider you as the preferred supplier?
  • Does your team understand this concept? How can your team recognise and/or unlock this requirement within the customers you support?

Leadership self-audit

Reviewing your own approach to business decision-making and actions, can you confidently say:

  • I delegate urgent but not important actions
  • I schedule time and commit myself to actions that are important but not urgent
  • I apply self-discipline and don’t invest precious time and energy in actions that are not urgent and not important
  • I have the courage and self-mastery to dedicate myself to actions that are important and urgent.

Now, review your leadership team against the principles of the Eisenhower Matrix. Does your team understand this concept?

The positive impact of clear prioritisation, delegation and planning will create enormous benefits for your business, your team and your customers.

Customer Sales self-audit

When you review your approach to customer sales, can you confidently say:

  • We ensure our customers see our offering and expertise as important and urgent
  • We identify key customers and their specific important and urgent needs and/or triggers
  • We set time aside to focus and nurture customers who see our offering as important but not yet urgent
  • We do not invest precious time and energy in customers who consider our products or services as neither urgent nor important
  • We have the courage and self-mastery to articulate and action core values, so they are transparent and reflected in words and actions each day.

In my experience, Eisenhower’s Matrix not only assists with leadership decision making, but also reduces stress, increases productivity and boosts sales.

If you’d like more information on how to incorporate the Eisenhower Matrix into your business, please feel free to get in touch.

I don’t just promise measurable solutions. I deliver them.

Craig O’Brien – Better business solutions. Better business outcomes. A better life.

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