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There will be moments where you will find yourself being stuck so many tasks to do and so little time to do it. What makes it worse is that almost EVERYTHING can seem urgent AND important! Google up the solution for this and you’ll find the Eisenhower Matrix being mentioned often. In summary, this matrix stems from a quote attributed to former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower: “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”

It is a very simple matrix to understand: Made up of four task quadrants, the matrix classifies tasks as:

  • Important and Urgent
  • Important and Non-Urgent
  • Non-Important and Urgent
  • Non-Important and Non-Urgent

Each quadrant offers a solution:

  • DO the Important and Urgent tasks first
  • PLAN for important but non-urgent tasks
  • DELEGATE the Important and Non-Urgent Tasks, and
  • ELIMINATE the Non-Urgent and Non-Important tasks.

The Flaw of Eisenhower Matrix

There is one problem with the Eisenhower Matrix: It does not account the fact that important-urgent tasks can sometimes be too complicated to focus on immediately.

Here’s a scenario: Let’s say you saw a person is drowning. It is no doubt an important and urgent task to save the person. The most immediate thought for anyone is to jump in and save him, of course. But here’s where it starts to get tricky: there may be things that prevent you from jumping into the water to save the man. The most obvious: You can’t swim. Or maybe there’s a fence in the way. Or he’s drowning in shark-infested waters.

In entrepreneurship, there are often things that happen that require immediate attention because of its urgency and importance. Yet you cannot address them when other, seemingly non-sequential issues become a hindrance to the goal. We take a look at the different things that can be defined as the “complexities” that can affect how immediate important-urgent issues can be addressed.

(PS: I acknowledge that some of these issues could easily be addressed with proper planning and management of resources. But do understand that in reality, entrepreneurs who are starting out and has minimal resources can seriously get overwhelmed by what they have to juggle.)

1. Lack of Knowledge

Imagine you are running an online business. That would of course mean that you’ll most likely have an e-commerce site running to sell your products or service. When the site goes down, getting it back up becomes the most urgent and important matter that needs to be addressed. However, not everyone is a tech geek or IT savvy. You may have gotten a website designer to handle the website creation; your involvement in the build was more hands off. So diagnosing the problem and eventually rectifying it may not be something you can do. At best you can contact your support, but after that it’s pretty much a waiting game.

2. Lack of Time

You have a grand opening event scheduled in three days, and your most important printed material just came in from the printers. You gave it one good look and found that, despite numerous checks and confirmation, the printers have somehow made a significant error in the print. Turnover for new prints would take 7-working days, hence there just isn’t any time to rectify the mistake and reproduce what is needed.

3. Lack of Money

Cash flow has not been kind to you. You are still awaiting payment from a few clients, however your internet bills has been due for the past several months. With significant danger of losing your internet connection (which is the most important resource that you currently have to run your business), you can’t possibly find a quick fix for this important and urgent challenge.

4. Force Majeure

You have a deadline to deliver a product tomorrow to a really important client. Suddenly you got a call that a family member is involved in an accident. Or an area-wide blackout affected your electrical supply. Or maybe someone in your team has suddenly taken ill. These unforeseeable circumstances that prevent you from fulfilling the task are termed as force majeure. These things are beyond your control, so that urgent and important project no longer takes the number one priority spot anymore. But that doesn’t mean that it is no longer urgent and important.

5. Regulations and Bureaucracy

Got offered a significant chance to present your business overseas? You applied for the travel visa, but the immigration department decided reject your application for some unknown reason. Despite you being fully confident of your business presentation’s success, you are tied down by bureaucratic policies.

6. Having Multiple Urgent-Important Tasks

This is probably the biggest factor in the Eisenhower Matrix’s flaw: When you have multiple urgent and important pending tasks, which one should come first? The Eisenhower Matrix is a simplification tool for task management, however tasks lists can be anything but simple when you are doing things on your own.

Prioritising What Can Be Done

Of course, the workarounds for five of the factors issues lies in focusing on what CAN be done:

  1. If your website is down, social media can be your next best platform for sales to keep coming in.
  2. Sending out copies of the printed material via email could possibly be a better alternative.
  3. Cafes and the library offers free internet access that allows you to continue with your work.
  4. Explaining the delay of project delivery to the customer can diffuse any reasonable unhappiness.
  5. Video conferencing is a great alternative when you can’t be at specific location.

As for the sixth, the solution would be to start with the simple task first. Which brings us back to the whole point of this article: complexity is a factor to be accounted for in deciding urgency and importance. Not accounting for the complexity can give a false sense of priority to entrepreneurs. It’s not just about focusing on the wrong tasks. It is also about focusing on the wrong important-urgent tasks. Adding the complexity factor into the mix can objectively make decision making far more easier.

Conclusion

I am not doubting the effectiveness of the Eisenhower Matrix in general. It is a very good tool in spite of what I highlighted above. As with any business formulation that tries to simplify things, there’s bound to be issues that makes exceptions. Entrepreneurs will always have to remain flexible in meeting challenges in every step of their journey.

Have you ever used the Eisenhower Matrix to help you manage your tasks before? What are the advantages and shortcomings that you experienced with that method? Do let me know in the comments below!

Armen Rizal Rahman

Founder/Creative Management

Armen has over a decade worth of experience in the creative industry. He is a xennial who prefers PCs over Macs and is both tech savvy and tech phobic. He hates being called the “IT Guy”.