Are you a firm owner that’s always putting out fires and going from one client/staff demand to the next? Do you seem to never get done the core work that’s important to your firm’s growth? If these growth actions always end up on the backburner, while you get caught up reacting to every email and phone call, then this strategy will be a welcome change for you.
The decision-making strategy known as the Eisenhower Box was created by the highly productive Dwight Eisenhower. He was the 34th President of the United States, serving two terms from 1953 to 1961. Before that he was a five-star general in the US Army, served as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II, was President of Columbia University and the first Supreme Commander of NATO. While holding all of these positions he still found time to pursue hobbies like golfing and oil painting.
How did he do so much?
Eisenhower lived by the philosophy, “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”
This quote is the basis for the decision-making tool known as the Eisenhower Box. The Eisenhower box consists of the matrix below, which can used for big decisions, like setting your goals for the next year, or smaller tasks, like what to do this afternoon.
How the Eisenhower Box works?
Essentially you assign every task or action into 1 of 4 categories:
- Urgent and important (something you must do now that contributes to your long-term goals and vision for your firm, hint: answering an email doesn’t usually count).
- Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later. Here’s where email comes in usually. Schedule a time to work on email when it’s convenient for you).
- Urgent, but not important (tasks that can be delegated to someone else. Don’t be too quick to put limits on this. It might take a few weeks to iron out the kinks but personal assistants, virtual assistants and admin can probably do more of your busy work than you’re giving them).
- Not urgent or important (tasks that will be removed from your to-do list).
The Eisenhower Box is useful because it provides a clear framework for making decisions quicker and more easily. It also helps clarify actions that should be delegated or eliminated from your job so that you can focus on tasks that are really important to your long-term goals for your firm.
Where we often get confused
It’s easy to believe that many of our daily activities fall into the Urgent and Important category, like every new email or employee request that we get. However, when we’re really honest with ourselves, they almost always don’t belong there. There likely won’t be serious consequences to not replying to that email right this very second. Be brutally honest with yourself when deciding to put anything into this quadrant.
To get clear on what truly belongs in the Urgent and Important category, think about which actions generate the biggest results in your job. Use the 80/20 rule here, where 20% of your activities account for 80% of results. Those 20% activities are the real important and urgent tasks.
Start thinking about what’s really necessary
Another important section of the quadrant is the elimination section, (not important or urgent). Too often we get caught up adding new tasks or optimizing ones that could just be eliminated. As James Clear says, “the fastest way to get something done is to eliminate the task entirely.”
If you feel like you’re running on a treadmill at your firm... always working frantically but never really get too far ahead, it’s time to think critically about the tasks that could be eliminated.
- “I am always busy but never really get ahead?”
- “Do I really need to be doing this?”
- “Is this the best use of my time”
As Tim Ferriss says, “Being busy is a form of laziness- lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.”
As the firm owner, all of your actions should contribute to your long-term goals or core values for the firm. If you’re not sure what those are, ask yourself what your vision is for the future of the firm (how big, who are your clients, etc,). By getting clear on what you’re working towards, you’ll know whether certain tasks ultimately contribute to that.
A good example is posting to social media or blogging. A lot of firms think it’s important because someone told them it is or other firms are doing it. The reality is that it’s not a good fit for everyone. If your ideal clients don’t read the posts than writing them is not helping you reach your goals.
Side note: it’s a good idea to review all your marketing strategies to ensure they align with your firm and the customers you want to reach. Don’t just throw everything at the wall to see what sticks. Check out Salim Omar’s “The Ultimate CPA Practice” to explore this more.
Share your successes with elimination and delegation. Are there any tasks that you’ve delegated or eliminated to make better use of your time? Let us know in the comments below so other accountants can benefit.
Laura Berthiaume is the cofounder of Email Stopwatch, (http://emailstopwatch.com), an email management tool allowing managers and users to passively track all the time spent in Outlook. You can reach her with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org