One of the hardest life skills to master in adult life is time management. We are constantly bombarded with tasks that demand to be completed urgently, atop our already massive piles of responsibilities. We are expected to juggle our career, relationships, health and happiness, without ever dropping the ball.
Technology has not helped this situation. Although we have tools that allow us to work more efficiently, such as word processors and the internet, they create even more work and there is a greater sense of urgency due to messages and emails being received instantly.
Sometimes, adult life just feels as if we are forever stumbling forward – barely clearing our urgent tasks in time for the next lot of tasks, while never being able to stop and consider what is truly important to us. So how can we balance that which is urgent with what is important?
Dwight D. Eisenhower once said:
“I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent”.
This inspired the time management tool called the Eisenhower Matrix, also known as an Eisenhower Box or the Eisenhower Method.
To use the Eisenhower method, we take all of our problems that we can conceivably fix (as there is no point worrying about issues beyond our control) and put them into one of the following four boxes:
- If something is important and urgent, such as a fire in your kitchen or a loved one needs immediate help, then you should do it straight away.
- If something is not important but urgent, such as a work email that is not an emergency, or household chores or paying the bill, then you should delegate it. This does not necessarily mean to another person – you could delegate by making the process easier for future you by soaking the dishes, or automating your bill payments.
- If something is not important and not urgent, you should not even pay attention to it and just drop it. A good example would be checking social media for the tenth time or marathoning a TV show.
- If something is important but not urgent, such as catching up with your friends or following your hobbies and passions, then you need to set aside uninterruptible time for it. For example, you could set aside a “life admin” time once a week where you reach out to your friends to organise a catch up, or set a “deadline” for yourself, such as giving yourself a month to improve and achieve a certain goal in your hobby.
The Eisenhower Matrix visually highlights the issues in your life that you need to deal with right now, while also reminding you that you need to take action and make time for the important things in life. It allows you to be more efficient with your available time by prioritising tasks and showing you that the unimportant things can wait, or be eliminated.
It also shows us that even though urgency is a useful tool to drive us to complete tasks in time, it can easily control our lives and overwhelm us. Instead, we should be responsive by identifying the important tasks and process them in a calm and rational manner.
Lastly, remember that life is not about being the most efficient, productive being – that would make you a machine. The Eisenhower Matrix accounts for the things that are not considered “productive”, but still add to our life, such as the things we enjoy doing and the people we enjoy connecting with.
You deserve to be happy and the only person who can make that happen is you. So if something or someone makes you happy and gives your life meaning, while not hurting yourself or others, then by all means you should make time for it.
In the end, the pursuit of happiness is without a doubt a productive activity.