How to Instantly Make Every Decision Easier

Before being elected the 34th President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower was a five-star U.S. Army general, as well as the Allied Forces Supreme Commander during the Second World War.

Naturally, Eisenhower was tasked with making arduous decisions, and his focus was often splintered in several directions.

To enhance his time decision-making process in these positions of tremendous power and responsibility, Eisenhower developed a systematic process (displayed below) to easily determine which tasks to complete first and, really, which tasks to complete at all.

Disclaimer: If you elect to not delegate urgent and non-important tasks, complete them after you complete urgent and important tasks.

At first glance, the Eisenhower Matrix looks fairly simple: Do urgent and important tasks first, followed by urgent and unimportant tasks, then important and non-urgent tasks, and if you must, non-urgent and non-important tasks.

But, grouping tasks into one of these four constructs is merely an appetizer for the main course. In other words, the key to optimizing your time management and productivity via the Eisenhower Matrix is to:

  1. Determine which tasks you should do at all, and then
  2. Maximize the amount of time you spend working on tasks that are truly urgent and important.

After all, tasks which fall between the intersection of urgency and importance almost always produce the most meaningful type of work, and yield the greatest progress and/or results.

‘Being busy is a form of laziness’

Tim Ferriss, the author of The 4-Hour Workweek (one of my favorite books), says:

“Being busy is a form of laziness — lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.”

Meaningful work and activities are not about being busy; they’re about being productive. To be productive, we must think critically about the tasks we should eliminate (because they’re both non-urgent and non-important), so we can focus on tasks and activities that manufacture the most meaning and impact (because they combine urgency and importance).

Easier said than done, of course, because many of us automatically perceive any given task to be urgent and important, when in reality, as Eisenhower himself pointed out:

“What is important is seldom urgent, what is urgent is seldom important.”

How to make important tasks urgent

Making important tasks urgent requires strategic planning. Eventually, all important tasks will become urgent if you wait long enough, which is to say: There’s no reason to conquer important tasks until they’re legitimately urgent (aside from planning for their impending urgency).

Start by identifying a deadline for any given important task. For the sake of example, let’s call it November 20th. Then, estimate the specific amount of hours you will need to complete this task at the high-level (productivity), and without distraction and multitasking (Deep Work).

Once you know this number, multiply it by 30 percent to give yourself a buffer zone for unexpected issues, feedback, and any other unforeseen steps or barriers. Finally, determine how many hours each day you plan to dedicate to this task.

For example, if I estimate a task to take me three hours — four hours with the 30-percent buffer — and I plan to dedicate one hour each day to dedicate to this task, I should start this task four days before the deadline, on November 17th.

As with all estimations and planning — in this case, the number of hours you estimate to complete a task, as well as the amount of hours each day you plan to dedicate to it — be sure to make S.M.A.R.T. decisions, as in:

  • Specific — macro tasks (projects) should be broken down into micro tasks
  • Measurable — use a task manager (e.g. Monday.com) to track each task’s progress and/or results
  • Actionable — collect all of the resources you need in order to take action on a task
  • Realistic — the estimates and plans you make should be practical
  • Time-centric — determine a precise start date and deadline for each task

How to make urgent tasks important

The most common and best examples of urgent but not-so-important tasks are (1) meetings and phone calls, and (2) email and other forms of communication.

For urgent but non-important tasks, the Eisenhower Matrix suggests you should delegate them to others who can help you facilitate their completion. However, many people don’t always have the means or resources to delegate such tasks. And, sometimes, such tasks are better off not being delegated, so let’s presume you need to complete urgent and non-important tasks yourself.

With this in mind, the question to always ask yourself before starting an urgent and non-important task is:

How can I make this task a S.M.A.R.T. task?

For meetings and phone calls:

  • Specific — create or insist someone creates an item-by-item agenda
  • Measurable — determine how the meeting or call will create desired progress and/or results
  • Actionable — determine the projected action items for each person before the meeting or call, and then confirm them upon completion (including deadlines for each action item)
  • Realistic — ensure each action item and deadline is practical
  • Time-centric — create a hard-stop for the meeting or call (at the beginning of the meeting or phone call, tell everyone the time this hard-stop occurs)

For email and other forms of communication:

  • Specific — be precise about the goal/objective of the communication, and spell it out explicitly
  • Measurable — determine how the communication will create desired progress and/or results
  • Actionable — assign and/or confirm any action items (including deadlines for each one)
  • Realistic — ensure each action item and deadline is practical
  • Time-centric — in line with Vertical Planning, only check and reply to communications during pre-planned intervals of time that have a hard-stop

Since using the Eisenhower Matrix, my task management and productivity skills have skyrocketed and, more importantly, my to-do list has become shorter and more meaningful.

I’ve used it so much, in fact, that I no longer need to look at the matrix because, like any habit and skill, it’s become second-nature. With the combination of consistency and discipline, I’m sure the same will happen to you.

There’s more where that came from at Hack My Time.

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Josh Hoffman

Josh Hoffman

Founder of IZZY – Stream Israel, basketball lover, mental health advocate