Chris Read: Lockdown week four – time for the Eisenhower Matrix

    Chris Read continues his lockdown columns for RP with a look at the Eisenhower Matrix when prioritising tasks during lockdown and beyond…

    Week four, the war continues. Let’s face it, it’s nothing like war really.

    Last time I looked at the reports from Yemen our hospitals were not being bombed, children were not being indiscriminately maimed, and people certainly aren’t starving.

    Completely the opposite, we clap our NHS on a Thursday evening, children are cosseted at home and dare I say Weight Watchers will be busy.

    Born in 1890, Eisenhower or ‘Ike’ as was coloquially known, went onto become the 34th President of the United States from 1953 to 1961, following an illustrious carrier as a wartime general. Ike knew a thing or two about how to conduct himself in a crisis.

    The Eisenhower Matrix named after him, lays out a method of prioritising tasks. You’ve probably used this matrix in one form or other. To make it work, you assess the urgency and importance of a task and place it in the matrix.

    Drawing four boxes connected two up and two down you have four quadrants:

    1. Quadrant 1 (upper left): urgent and important – tasks that just must be done
    2. Quadrant 2 (upper right): important, but not urgent – tasks that you can decide to do
    3. Quadrant 3 (lower left): not important, but urgent – tasks that need to be done, but not by you
    4. Quadrant 4 (lower right): neither important nor urgent – tasks that really don’t need to be done, other than for fun maybe

    Many of us spend our lives in the urgency of Quadrant 1, the putting out of fires and dealing with deadlines. We know to be wary of being sucked into other’s urgencies in Quadrant 3. Some of us know not to touch anything in Quadrant 4.

    However, it’s Quadrant 2 that, more often than not, is forgotten.

    My Quadrant 2 list includes Tai Chi and Yoga, playing the Mandolin, reading fiction and cycling. These are the things that are important to me but are not urgent. These are things that I will do when I retire. These are the things I will do when I am on holiday. These are the things that are kind to me.

    Cortisol is a hormone released by the adrenal gland in response to stress. It elevates blood pressure and prepares the body for a fight or flight response. Many of us spend our working lives in Quadrant 1. Cortisol is the Quadrant 1 drug of choice, flushed through our bodies as we lurch from one urgency to another.

    And breathe

    Have you ever tried to breathe, no, really breathe like in a meditation?

    Have you noticed how stopping dealing with an urgency and breathing helps?

    Too much cortisol will lead to weight gain, mood swings, anxiety, depression and make us more susceptible to infection. Not good.

    During Week one and two of the lockdown my working patterns mimicked the work patterns of the office. Get to the office before the rush, work, work, work, have a few meetings, a life of Quadrant 1.

    I’ve become adept at batting away Quadrant 3, I have a wonderful team of colleagues who help me. By the time week three of the lockdown came, I noted that not only was I clocking more time at my home office, I was spending more time in Quadrant 1. I know in my case; isolated working encourages longer hours. Is it an addiction, an absorption, a virtue-signalling? I put it down to my Catholic guilt seeking contrition, a penance, a relief.

    So as week three has passed, I have created a new working arrangement.

    I have a whiteboard and listed are 10 Quadrant 2 tasks. I won’t share all of these with you (you have a sneak preview above) to spare my blushes.

    Every day I must touch at least four of my Quadrant 2 tasks. I have allowed myself to intermix these tasks with Quadrant 1 tasks. In fact, by doing so, I believe I am prepared better to deal with the urgency of Quadrant 1.

    I hope that when I leave the luxuriance of my glorious isolation in a few weeks’ time, I am able to continue to manage my time in a way that is not only healthier for me but also great for the company.

    At the Dunstan Thomas campus at Lakeside in Portsmouth, we have a peaceful quiet room called the Reflection Room. It’s also got a few nicknames which are too rude to publish here, however, I am sure you get the idea.

    In this room, we have two chairs, a coffee table and a mirror. There is also a Yoga mat and a Bluetooth speaker. I will be popping into the room more often. I will encourage those who I work with to use the room more often to express their own Quadrant 2.

    By doing so, I hope we can take the positives from this time in lockdown and become our own General Eisenhower.

    Better able to deal with work and to recognise the work on ourselves, so that we can more happily and with better health sail through the quadrants of our lives.

    Chris Read is group CEO at Dunstan Thomas