The Organizer #13 | Leadership

How do I spend time wisely? Good leaders decide if something is important and/or urgent, and they prioritize their time accordingly.

Good leaders spend time wisely

Deciding how to spend time is one of the toughest parts of leadership.

Who can define for us with accuracy the difference between the long and short term! Especially whenever our affairs seem to be in crisis, we are almost compelled to give our first attention to the urgent present rather than to the important future.

— Dwight D. Eisenhower, December 1961

You are what you choose to do

The most precious thing we have is time. You can’t create it, buy it, or trade for it. On top of that, you never know how much you have.

There is an endless list of ways you could spend your time. You could be planning for the future, or completing tasks, or managing people, or communicating a vision, or building a network. Those are all important, all valuable. It’s also impossible to do them all.

At some point in adulthood, you realize that you’ll never do everything. When you were a child, adults curated your opportunities, itemized everything you needed to do to succeed, or made sure that what’s expected of you fits into a timetable.

Now you are the adult, the curator of time. And when there isn’t enough time to do everything, you have to make choices.

Curating your time is harder than it sounds

Even while you are making choices about how to spend your time, the world will present you with new options and demands. Meanwhile, people around you have differing — even conflicting — priorities and needs. If you are trying to do it all, you will drown.

You need to make choices, which is easier said than done.

The chaos is real

Leaders, by definition, are positioned at the confluence of many different streams. Those streams wash up against you, tug you in different directions, and move with ever-shifting intensities and speeds.

The feeling of those forces and the tug of the different streams is never going to go away. In fact, the more successful you are, the more forces you will feel pushing you, pulling you, inviting you to join them.

How you choose to spend your time defines who you are as a leader.

Use the Eisenhower Matrix to choose how to spend your time

Everyone gets caught up in the chaos sometimes. If you need a way out, the “Eisenhower Matrix” is a helpful way to organize your thoughts and prioritize your time.

Here’s how it works.

Look at your to do list. For each item on your list, ask two questions:

  • Is it important?
    Important activities that have a big impact on your ability to achieve your mission. They might include preparing your strategy for the coming year or filling a crucial vacancy on your team.
  • Is it urgent?
    Urgent activities have looming deadlines. They might include grant proposals, conference deadlines, or a call from a reporter.

Every activity falls into one of four categories:

Important and Urgent
Do it. Put it at the top of your to do list and set aside time to do it this week.

Important but Not Urgent
Book it. This is usually the most important work leaders do, yet it doesn’t call for your attention as loudly. Maybe you won’t do it this week, but block off time now on your calendar, and defend it.

Not Important but Urgent
Delegate it. This is stuff that doesn’t have to be done by a leader but needs to be done before a deadline. Hand it over to someone else.

Not Important and Not Urgent
Let it go. This work won’t move your agenda forward, so don’t spend time on it.

When you find yourself pulled in too many directions, make a list of the things competing for your attention. Don’t forget the things you know are important but are overlooked but others. Put each item into one of the four buckets. Now you know how to spend your time. Chaos sorted.

Don’t try this at home

This matrix is most helpful in the context of work or projects. In life, the “not important” and “not urgent” stuff is often what brings us joy or helps us grow. Not everything needs to serve your agenda to be worth your attention. Not everything has to serve a purpose to be appreciated.

Credit where credit is due

The “Eisenhower Matrix” has been around for decades. According to Google Scholar, it was popularized by Steven Covey and reflects Eisenhower’s mindset more than his actual project management style. The design in this message is based on a different matrix template provided by Canva.

How to spend your time

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