Are you spending all of your time in crisis-mode? Are you a proverbial fire fighter? If you’re checking your email so often that it’s preventing you from getting any actual work done, then you’re confusing the urgent with the important. Doing so will ultimately drain your energy and leave you with little to show for it at the end.

“What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.” – Dwight Eisenhower

Enter the Eisenhower Box, a simple decision-making tool: 

(Illustration via “The Decision Book: 50 Models for Strategic Thinking“)

Here are a few examples of how the categories combine, according to Drake Baer, co-author of Everything Connects: How to Transform and Lead in the Age of Creativity, Innovation, and Sustainability:

Important and urgent: Attending to a crying baby, tackling a crisis at work, and mailing your rent check
Important but not urgent: Saving for the future, getting enough exercise, sleeping your seven to nine hours a night
Not important but urgent: Booking a flight, sharing an article, answering a phone call
Not important and not urgent: Watching “Game of Thrones,” checking your Facebook, eating cookies

Urgent means a task requires immediate attention, putting you in a reactive mode, You become defensive, negative, hurried, and narrowly-focused.

Important tasks contribute to your long-term mission. Sometimes important tasks are also urgent, but typically they’re not. Focusing on important tasks puts you in a responsive mode, which keeps you calm, collected, and inventive.

Read the rest of Baer’s article here.

  • CordController

    These are great tips!

    • Hamza Khan


  • Leaving Mediocrity

    My problem has always been the delegation portion of that square. I know that it is urgent, but it is somewhere on that sliding scale between really important and not too important. Somewhere in the middle of that scale I find it difficult to delegate. My concern is that it will be done incorrectly. Most of the time, if it isn’t done exactly the way I would have done it, then it is still just fine. It is the letting go of those tasks that I constantly have to work on.

    • Hamza Khan

      I hear you. For years I’ve lived by the mantra of “if you want something done right, then do it yourself.” But that sort of arrogance doesn’t work in a team setting. Therefore it’s crucial to A) Hire people that are better than you and/or B) Invest in developing your team.

  • Adam Fogle

    Great post. Love this simple model and wish I remembered it more. Just scribbled it into my moleskine hoping it sticks and becomes habit.

    • Hamza Khan

      Thanks Adam. At the very least, just remember Eisenhower’s quote and it will help to reframe a lot of conversations w/ your team and clients.

      • Adam Fogle

        Absolutely. Jotted it down on a notecard and added it to my commonplace book.

  • KJ

    The only thing I don’t agree with is that eating cookies IS important, and sometimes urgent 🙂

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