The Eisenhower Matrix, also known as the Urgent-Important Matrix, is a simple yet effective tool for prioritizing tasks and making better use of your time. It was popularized by former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who said, “I have two kinds of problems: urgent and important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” The matrix helps you distinguish between tasks that are urgent, important, both, or neither, and allocate your time and resources accordingly.
The matrix consists of four quadrants, each representing a different type of task:
- Quadrant 1: Urgent and Important
- Quadrant 2: Important but Not Urgent
- Quadrant 3: Urgent but Not Important
- Quadrant 4: Neither Urgent nor Important
Now let’s explore how a small business owner could use the Eisenhower Matrix to grow their business:
What to do first
Urgent and Important tasks are the top priority, as they require immediate attention and can have serious consequences if not dealt with promptly. As a business owner, these tasks may include putting out fires, dealing with customer complaints, handling urgent deadlines, or managing unexpected crises. It’s important to allocate the necessary resources to address these tasks quickly and to try to prevent them from happening again in the future.
Important but Not Urgent tasks are the next priority, as they have long-term benefits but can be overlooked in the face of urgent tasks. As a business owner, these tasks may include developing new products or services, creating a marketing plan, building relationships with customers, or investing in staff development. It’s important to allocate time and resources to these tasks regularly, as they can have a significant impact on the success of your business over time.
Urgent but Not Important tasks are the third priority, as they may seem urgent but don’t have a significant impact on the success of your business. As a business owner, these tasks may include responding to non-urgent emails, attending unnecessary meetings, or dealing with minor administrative tasks. It’s important to delegate or eliminate these tasks whenever possible, to free up time for more important tasks.
Neither Urgent nor Important tasks are the lowest priority, as they don’t have a significant impact on the success of your business and can be a distraction from more important tasks. As a business owner, these tasks may include browsing social media, watching videos online, or engaging in other non-business-related activities. It’s important to minimize or eliminate these tasks altogether, to focus on the tasks that matter most to your business.
Common decisions Micro-Business owners need to make.
Here are examples of common tasks done as part of an operational plan, and the skill required by people best suited to complete the tasks on the list:
Quadrant 1: Urgent and Important
- Dealing with a sudden decrease (or increase) in sales
- Fixing a production problem
- Handling a major customer complaint
- Meeting a critical deadline
The skill required to complete these tasks would likely come from the Thinking skills area, which includes critical thinking, creativity, adaptation, and innovation. As a business owner, if this is not your strength, so don’t be afraid to ask for help and get feedback from specialists in this area. But as it may be too late to get help when things come to this, lining up help before you need it is essential for the survival of micro-businesses.
You may have friends in business that will take your call. But without formal collaboration or advice agreements, you are taking a risk that you may lose more than the cost of employing someone with the skills in the following 2 quadrants if your friends don’t take your calls.
There is a saying, “you have no friends in business”. You also don’t support small businesses by asking them to do things for free. So if you can’t think ahead to what happens if you can’t get help when you really need it, then it’s likely you do not have the skills to run your business long term.
Quadrant 2: Important but Not Urgent
- Developing a new product or service
- Building a marketing plan
- Networking with potential partners or customers
- Investing in staff development
For this one, skills such as Initiative, Cultural Awareness, Ethics, and Empathy should be high on your list as they are used to decide what is important to your ideal customers.
These skills fall under the Personal Skills category, and you may hear business and leadership coaches like Gary Vaynerchuk and Simon Sinek say these skills are the most important to have for the long-term survival of your business, for a very good reason.
If you have someone working with you that does the important tasks before they become urgent, this is the reason some business owners can sit on a beach or go on a holiday, and others cannot.
While passive income is a buzz term that I don’t think exists, this is about as close as you will get. Particularly for people that want to keep earning income well into retirement. They have other things to think about and leave the action to the younger crowd.
People with Personal skills are also least likely to be replaced by AI anytime soon, unlike hard and soft skills. So ironically, the older workforce seems to have the future skills business needs. If you look at the jobs being taken by automation, they are likely to be the jobs done by Gen Z, who currently do jobs in the next section.
“Train them well enough so they can leave, but treat them well enough so they don’t want toRichard Branson
Quadrant 3: Urgent but Not Important
- Responding to non-urgent emails
- Attending unnecessary meetings
- Filling out paperwork
- Running errands
- Annoying complaints about things you “should” do.
As you may have guessed, this quadrant primarily requires Action skills. If they make mistakes, the consequences are minor to the business. Everything is urgent and important to your customers, but not everyone is an ideal customer.
The 20% of your customers that cause 80% of your problems just care about what you do about their problems. The 20% of your customers cause 80% of your profits by telling you what to do and the ones the business owner listens to.
This can be hard to do when money is tight, and you think you need the sales, but it increases the costs of doing business, so think about what it costs you to give them your attention. There are other people you can get sales from.
But if you are looking to attract and retain talent to your organization, you are looking for people with action skill, which includes, using Digital Technologies, Communication skills, Collaboration, Problem Solving, and Customer Focus.
They will stick around to learn how to do the important stuff from you if you let them. But if you are too busy doing the urgent and important stuff to develop them, Gen Z will find someone who will. Often a competitor, who usually pays them less money long-term. So it’s not about the money that you make to afford them. They will cost you more if they leave, or if they stay and you don’t keep them engaged.
The only thing worse than training people up and they leave, is not training people well and they stayHenry Ford
Quadrant 4: Neither Urgent nor Important
- Browsing social media
- Watching videos online
- Checking personal emails
- Playing games
This is for employees that are not interested in developing skills, likely because they don’t know what they love doing. If your heard the term “quiet quitting”, this is what those employees tend to do.
Micro-business owners can’t afford to pay people to do this, and they can’t hide it.
But there are jobs that pay them to do this, but you have to engage them in doing this activity in a work context.
Suggest if they would be interested in doing your business’ social media posts, or watching videos to learn how to use business technology. Playing games with customers is part of customer service too.
So if you can afford to put someone on to do the tasks in this quadrant, you can keep them by promoting from within to the roles above and see what they like.
His works especially well if you have family working in your business. They know you won’t sack them, but they are more productive if they do the things they do to overcome boredom to develop their skills.
That’s called a win-win if you use the Eisenhower matrix.