General Eisenhower’s Matrix

Dwight D. Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States from 1953 until 1961. Before becoming President, he served as a General in the United States Army and as the Allied Forces Supreme Commander during World War II.

Eisenhower had to make tough decisions continuously about which of the many tasks he should focus on each day. This finally led him to invent the world-famous Eisenhower Matrix.

The Eisenhower Matrix, also referred to as Urgent-Important Matrix, helps you decide on and prioritize tasks by urgency and importance, sorting out less urgent and important tasks which you should either delegate or not do at all.

Dwight D. Eisenhower was born on October 14, 1890. To commemorate his contribution, the world community of think tanks decided to promote as well as revisit the Matrix. My Professor friend, who heads TTI (Think Tank India) thought of using a stakeholder approach and consult politicians, select leaders of business houses, academicians  and environmental NGOs to share their own Eisenhower Matrix. Once done and collated, he thought of briefing the outcome to the PM to understand the present situation, priorities and preferences of the “stakeholders” and then plan the strategy for the forthcoming election.  I thought that was very clever of the Professor.

Professor wanted to focus Eisenhower Matrix (EM) on the term sustainability. Sustainability means different to different people – for a politician its political sustainability; for a businessman its financial sustainability and for passionate environmentalist it means environmental sustainability or the sustainability of this planet. I liked the idea. Professor asked me to accompany him as usual whenever EM related meetings were to be held with the stakeholders.

Oh, but let me explain to you more on the Eisenhower Matrix.

The Eisenhower Matrix essentially helps to prioritize the tasks by urgency and importance resulting in four quadrants with different work strategies:

  • Urgent and Important (Quadrant 1)
  • Not Urgent but Important (Quadrant 2)
  • Urgent but Less Important (Quadrant 3)
  • Not Urgent and Less Important (Quadrant 4)

Quadrant 1 is often the “Stressed” quadrant. Here we work on looming deadlines, proposals which need to go out, projects that must be completed etc. This is the fire-fighting and crisis control quadrant where most people spend most of their time. We call the first quadrant as Do first.

Quadrant 2 is the “Strategic” quadrant. Its tasks are important but less urgent. This quadrant includes tasks with a future deadline, long term projects, planning, reviews that need to be done, marketing and client retention related activities. Sadly, little time in spent in this quadrant. Many people have tasks in this quadrant, but do not action them until they become so urgent that they need to be shifted to Quadrant 1 – or to the “Stressed” zone.

Quadrant 3 is the “Delegation” quadrant. Tasks which can be outsourced to someone else, fits into this area. These tasks are urgent, but it’s not important that YOU action it. Admin and filing of paperwork can be done by a Personal Secretary (PS), social media management can be delegated to an expert company etc.

Quadrant 4 is the “Distraction” quadrant. These activities should be avoided at all costs. It is not urgent and certainly not important – so why do it at all? This includes aimless web surfing, meetings without goals etc. The fourth and last quadrant is very important and is also called Don’t Do.

We began our EM capturing exercise. To start with we went to see one of the most powerful politicians of the ruling party. After a half hour conversation, his Eisenhower Matrix looked something like below

Urgent and Important (Do First) Not Urgent but Important (Be Strategic)
Find irregularities in opposition, expose the findings in the media and file legal cases

Create confusion and difference in the proposed Mahagathbandhan (conglomeration of the opposition parties). Use saam, dam, dand, Bhed  and  following Chanakya

 

Build a performance score card for the party by hiring experts who can show the achievements using appropriate statistics without actual achievements

Influence voters using social media, Apply Big Data Analytics for election strategy

 

 

Urgent and Less Important (Delegate) Not Urgent and Less Important (Don’t Do)
strikes, riots, scams, media article for diversion from real developmental issues that were promised Improving equity, reducing poverty and protecting the environment. All these objectives can be addressed after winning the election

I thought this Eisenhower Matrix was very clear and relevant given the coming up mess of the forthcoming elections. Indeed, this political honcho was focusing on the political sustainability by ensuring continuity. I was sure that a similar EM would have emerged if we had interviewed an Opposition party leader. Politicians at the core are no different. Isnt’ it?

Unfortunately, the politician’s Private Secretary (PS) called us immediately saying that the EM we had developed was completely incorrect and should not be used. We had simply misunderstood what he wanted to say. Going a step further, the PS even denied that we ever met with him and had a conversation! And this denial was put immediately on record. What a pity I said to myself. There is simply no freedom of speech even to India’s senior politicians!

The next step was to meet a leader of Indian business. I proposed luminaries like Mr. Ratan Tata, Anand Mahindra and Adi Godrej; but Professor suggested that we rather hold a meeting of 30 top businessmen and use the software mentimeter.  Some of you may already know that this software on some customization can be used to get a collective opinions. Professor tweaked this mentimeter platform to develop an overall Eisenhower Matrix of Indian businessmen focusing on sustainability. We met in one of the rooms of the Taj on the Mansingh road. We projected the matrix on mentimeter driven screen with 30 industry tycoons using the app from their smart phones. Here was the result

Urgent and Important (Do First) Not Urgent but Important (Be Strategic)
Make profits in any way possible but always say people, planet and then profits

 

Publish Sustainability/Integrated reports regularly and in attractive designs no matter what the content can be

 

Bag awards on doing something obvious but; make a big story

Influence politicians to pass bills favorable to the business and in return favor them too

 

Offer lucrative positions to those retired or willing to seek earlier retirement from Indian Administrative Services to help grow business with the Government

 

Finance research and surveys to support products and services that you offer – publish only favorable results.

Urgent and Less Important (Delegate) Not Urgent and Less Important (Don’t Do)
Instigate public interest litigation on competitors using environmental NGOs

Keep off the hazardous, not environmentally acceptable and unethical practices outside the factory in the informal supply chains, You stay clean.

 

Going beyond compliance

I disagreed with the above Eisenhower Matrix rather vehemently. I was confident that this was not the way Indian industry felt  about sustainability. I knew of so many genuine business leaders who followed sustainability in the letter (and the spirit). So, I strongly protested. I suspected that some crafty and nasty minds sitting in the audience led to such a distorted and untrue impression.  But the Professor was quiet and didn’t react to my angry outbursts.

I know when Professor keeps quiet, he means that there is no point further discussing! So I also kept shut.

We ended our last meeting with some of the well-known environmental NGOs, Think tanks and academicians. We used mentimeter again for a collective creation of the Eisenhower Matrix. We met in one of the rooms in the Habitat Center in New Delhi.

This audience was a bit different and critical as they spent quite some time discussing the logic of the Eisenhower Matrix itself  and the relevance of the mentimeter. The discussion led to heated arguments and a serious difference of opinions. Despite moderation by Professor, no agreement could be reached in finalizing the Matrix. The businessmen were perhaps more united and practical.

Finally, the discussion ended by saying we need to research more and meet once gain after some homework was done. Clearly for this audience, there was no clarity or agreement on what is very urgent or important. Professor told me this is so typical of academicians and the activists.

I thought the Professor was right. I spent nearly 17 years teaching at IIT Bombay (in two cycles) and I am sure we had professors who taught the Eisenhower Matrix and its variants like by late Stephen Covey called “time-management matrix” and the modern term the “priority matrix”.

I don’t think however we ever developed a collective Eisenhower matrix for our own departments in planning teaching, conducting research and exploring extensions. We functioned at will, more like a free radical with no thoughts or efforts towards prioritization to benefit everybody – including students.

I thought of sending a large frame of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s picture to my department as an inspiration or a reminder.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Professor heard me alright.

But like before he chose to remain quiet.

And I thought that I understood the reason behind his silence.

Did you too?


If you like this post then Follow me or circulate across your colleagues.

I would like to thank Paritosh Tyagiji for drawing my attention to the Eisenhower Matrix.

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One thought on “General Eisenhower’s Matrix

  1. Good one Prasad. Reminds me of my final interview with T R Krishna Rao when I was to join Dorr- Oliver. The vast big table in front of him was perfectly clean save for a small little Doo Dad. The label said “Executive Decision Maker”. Four points of the compass but marked YES-NO-YES-NO. And with a sweet smile he said to me ” As M.D of this Company I don’t get to make the decision – But I do have Veto powers” and he flicked the pointer on the compass with his forefinger like you do on a carrom board. The rest is History.

    Like

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