Urgency, Importance and the Eisenhower Box

Eisenhower Box - Urgent, Important, non-urgent, non-important

I’ve seen variations of this matrix many times, though the most extensive use witnesses was by Adrian Joseph just after he joined Trafficmaster. The real theory is that nothing should be in the urgent and important square; it’s normally a symptom of bad planning or a major unexpected (but key) surprise.

When I think back to things i’ve done that have triggered major revenue and profit spectaculars, almost all fit in the important but not urgent box; instead, the pressure to move quickly was self inflicted, based on a clarity of purpose and intensive focus to do something that made a big difference to customers. The three major ones were:

  1. Generating 36 pages of text of ideas on how to increase software sales through Digital’s Industrial Distribution Division, then the smallest software Sales “Region” at £700K/year. Having been told to go implement, I never made it past the first 3 ideas, but relentlessly executed them. It became the biggest region two years later at £6m/year.
  2. Justifying and getting funding to do the DECdirect Software Catalogue. The teams around me were fantastic, giving me bandwidth to lock myself away for long periods of absence for nearly three months to work the structure and content of the work with Bruce Stidston and his team at USP Advertising plc. That business went 0-$100m in 18 months at margins that never dipped below 89% margin.
  3. Getting the Microsoft Distribution Business at Metrologie from £1m/month to £5m/month in 4 months, in a price war, and yet doubling margins at the same time. A lot of focus on the three core needs that customers were expressing, and then relentlessly delivering against them.

The only one I recall getting into the Urgent/Important segment was a bid document for a sizable supply contract that HMSO (Her Majesty’s Stationery Office), where I was asked to provide a supplementary chapter covering Digitals’ Servers, Storage, Comms and Software products. This to be added to a comprehensive document produced by the account manager covering all the other product areas for the company. I’d duly done this in the format originally requested by her, but asked to see the rest of the document to make sure everything was covered – and that we’d left no gaps between the main document and my own – with two days to go. At which point she said she’d had no time, and had decided to no-bid the work (without telling any of us!).

The sales team really needed the revenue, so they agreed to let me disappear home for two days to build the full proposal around the work i’d done, including commercial terms, marketing plan and a summary of all the sales processes needed to execute the relationship – but just for the vendor we were accountable for. We got the document to Norwich with 30 minutes to spare. Two weeks later, we were told we’d won the business for the vendor we represented.

The lesson was to put more progress checks in as the project was unfolding, and to ensure we never got left in that position again, independent of how busy we were with other things at the same time.

With that, i’ve never really hit the urgent/important corner again – which I think is a good thing. Plenty that is important though – but forcing adherence to what Toyota term “takt time” to measure progress, and to push ourselves along.

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