Stop panic working now and do something important

What do we mean by panic-working? You may well have seen this chart before. It’s called the The Eisenhower Decision Matrix and it’s designed to stop people working in panic-mode and to start working strategically on tasks which are beneficial to your future. It’s also often called the Urgent-Important Matrix.

It goes like this:


Quadrant 1 is what I call the “tail wags the dog” quadrant. You end up being dictated to by circumstance and other people. You’re chasing your tail, trying to keep up, solving problems (and everything’s a problem) and items trickle through from quadrant two when you least expect it because you take your eyes off quadrant two, when this is your most important area – I will get onto quadrant two later but now onto box 3.

Quadrant 3 is the stuff you have to get out of the way. It’s not adding value to you and it might not be adding value to anyone! Items in this quadrant include: interruptions (and life is plagued with these), meetings but also your own ability to minimise distractions and really focus on what has to be done now. I mean NOW.

Tips for managing other people’s requests in this quadrant:

  • Learn how to say no (nicely)
    • “Happy to help but I’m in the middle of… let me come back to you, drop me an email to remind me”
    • “That’s something I’d like to look at in more detail, I’m in the middle of… I’ll come back to you in …. hours/days/weeks”
    • “That’s a great question, I’m in the middle of something now, why don’t you make a start on the email/copy/research and I’ll check in with you in….hours/days/weeks”

Manage yourself in this quadrant:

  • I highly recommend having an ideas stash on paper or digitally where you can store ideas that will take you away from where you are now but that you really want to look into later. In his book, “Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision and Reality”, Scott Belsky calls this a backburner list.

Quadrant 4 well why would you do work which was neither important nor urgent? Seriously. If it’s genuinely neither of those things, then put it in the “someday it might happen” pile and get on with your life.

“Thank you for your email. I am currently out of office on vacation. Your message will be deleted in the order in which it was received upon my return” The best out of office message I ever received, I can’t remember from whom…

“What about Quadrant 2?!”, I hear you ask.

Work in this space. Like, really werk! Do it, do it often and try to spend as much time in this quadrant as you can. This is where you set yourself up for future success so, for example, it might be things like:

  • Understanding what’s on your calendar for the year and starting to plan now, even though you haven’t started working on your next project
  • Making a list of early actions you can take on a future project
  • Spending some time last thing on a Friday looking at the following week and booking in time to get the important things done first
  • Blocking off some time to make healthy packed lunches or exercise which will hopefully keep you healthier, more energised and more able to work effectively
  • Understanding your how senior peers got there and what you could do differently
  • Sending your contacts a note with interesting news you know is relevant to their work
  • Joining a networking community so that you can build a network of your own

You get the picture.

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