The importance of the 4th quadrant

(This is from Edition 8 of The Upleveler, our weekly smartletter)


It's probably the most famous 2x2 diagram

Attributed to former US general and president Dwight Eisenhower, the Eisenhower Matrix is an elegant task-prioritising tool. It says:

  • Stop doing the unnecessary

  • Delegate the urgent+unimportant

  • Among the important, do those that are urgent, and schedule the rest for the future

It was when we realised that our clients were hiring us to get the important-but-not-urgent stuff done in their worlds, did we start paying closer attention to that quadrant (let's call it Q4).

We all have our list of things that fall in Q4: things you know you should be doing or want to get to some day, but there's no reason to do it now. Handling anything with an urgent deadline not only makes sense, but also provides immediate and emotional rewards (that feeling of ticking off items on the TODO list). 

However, by scheduling Q4 tasks for the future, you actually 'postpone' to tomorrow, and tomorrow has an annoying habit of not showing up. 

So the big problem with the conventional advice of "scheduling Q4 tasks for the future" is that, come the future, many of these don't get done. You need to buy insurance, so you scheduled it for a specific day, but that day, friends came over or there was a good movie on TV, and well, you can postpone buying insurance by another day, can't you? Or you meant to progress towards a fitness goal and resolved to begin next Sunday, but alas, it rained that day and... You get the picture.

Three ways to take charge of your Q4 

1. Schedule, but with consequences: if you had an appointment such that if you missed it, you'd have to wait an entire year to get another chance, you would keep it. So find a way to increase the consequences of your inaction, that match the importance of the project. Works best for one-time actions.  

2. Simplify into daily actions: Works especially if it's a big project or an ambiguously defined one ("want to read more"). What is a regular 5-min action that you can take towards this destination?

3. Delegate to/hire someone for whom it's a priority: The matrix advises you to delegate unimportant but urgent tasks to someone else (presumably junior). For Q4, find someone capable of owning a Q4 task and making you do it. Good athletic coaches, financial advisors, and mentors do that to you. We realised that when our clients hire us to design innovation programs or to get their leaders learn new things, this is what was happening.

Q4 should be your meta-destination

According to us, one measure of your life's progress should be the degree to which you have moved from other quadrants to Q4. In Q4, you are setting the agenda, thinking about what matters most, and are not being rushed to do it unnecessarily. But when you are firmly there, don't squander the chance to make the important happen. So eliminate the unnecessary, delegate (these days, that includes automation), reduce the incessantly urgent, and reserve your best for Q4.

Agree? Disagree? Tell us in the comments.

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