You know, I truly appreciate you finding time to read this, particularly given that you’re very likely fighting to stay afloat in a sea of emails, posts, tweets, and texts, all competing for your attention.
So, as I say, thank you for being here.
Actually, this does seem an appropriate way to begin, as our focus today is on the fourth letter of the six-letter acronym S.P.I.R.I.T., which forms the bedrock of our “recipe for psychological well-being.”
The letter “R” stands for Resourcefulness, originally labelled “Environmental mastery” in the work I’m basing my thinking on.
Environmental mastery is not, as you might have incorrectly imagined, about being able to prevent acid rain, or reverse global warming.
It is, instead, broadly about staying on top of your life, its responsibilities, and its opportunities.
In even simpler terms, you might summarise it as your ability to manage everyday life.
However, although it may be simple to describe, it’s a process that seems to be ever-harder to manage.
The way most of us are bombarded with a constant barrage of electronic communications, each shouting “read me, read me,” is but one example of life’s demands outpacing our capacity to deal with them.
So, given that your resourcefulness is probably finite, given that there are only so many hours in the day, and given that all this noise is only going to become louder, how do you and I make sure we juggle the right balls?
Are we becoming so distracted that we’re sometimes failing to do those things in life that might make the biggest impact on our journey through it?
I’ve been feeling the need to reflect on this myself, and after being pleasantly reminded of a tool known as the Eisenhower Decision Matrix, I thought I’d share it with you, including a downloadable worksheet we can both print out and use.
Dwight D Eisenhower was born in 1890, and died almost 50 years ago, in 1969.
He was definitely one of life’s high achievers, serving as 34th President of the United States, and as a five-star General in the U.S. Army.
One of many useful approaches that enabled him to make such a difference in life was to ask two simple questions of every demand placed upon his time.
Is it important?
And is it urgent?
It led him to suggest, “What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.”
The author Stephen Covey turned Eisenhower’s principles into a 2 x 2 matrix, or grid, in his book “The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People.”
I’ve now turned the matrix into a window.
You’ll get the idea more immediately by looking at the worksheet, but just in case you’re relying solely on my written description, imagine a square window, divided into four equal panes.
Over the top of the window, we’ll place the labels “Urgent” above Pane 1 (top left) and “Not urgent” above Pane 2 (top right).
Down the left-hand side of the window, we’ll add the labels “Important” and “Not important,” alongside Pane 1 (top left) and Pane 3 (bottom left).
This gives us four different conditions: Pane 1, Important and Urgent; Pane 2, Important but Not urgent; Pane 3, Not important but Urgent; and Pane 4, Not important and Not urgent.
The idea behind using the matrix is to check in with it before allocating your time, and – interestingly – to aim at increasing the amount of focus you place on Pane 2 – the Not urgent but Important, tasks.
Simple examples of what activities would go where are:
Pane 1 – Urgent and Important – your car breaks down, or you fall over and break your leg.
Pane 2 – Not urgent but Important – spending time with your family, or taking some exercise.
Pane 3 – Urgent but Not important – many emails and text messages.
Pane 4 – Not urgent and Not important – mindlessly watching TV, or scrolling through social media.
I’ve only skimmed the surface of the Eisenhower Decision Matrix here, so if you’d like considerably more detail, do check out a great post on a website called The Art of Manliness (seriously, whatever your gender):
I was first introduced to this idea by a management consultant when I was in my 30s, struggling at times to juggle rather too many balls.
And that was before Facebook, and Twitter, and WhatsApp, and Instagram etc. etc.
Perhaps, more than ever, it’s time to dust off the idea and put it back to work again.
Here’s that worksheet again. Please feel free to share it with others: