Dwight Eisenhower, an icon of efficacy in work and management, often spoke of how the demands of the moment often pushed valuable work onto the back burner. In 1989, Stephen Covey took these ideas and turned them into the Eisenhower Matrix, which classifies tasks based on urgency and importance.
The Eisenhower Matrix is widely used for personal time management and in business. Common wisdom suggests urgent but unimportant tasks (quadrant 3) should be delegated. But, we would argue there’s also a good case for delegating quadrants 2 and 4. But why hire a virtual assistant for non-urgent work?
Here’s how doing so can help you—and your team—become more effective throughout the workday.
- The Eisenhower Matrix classifies tasks into four quadrants based on urgency and importance.
- Quadrant 1 tasks (urgent and important) should be handled immediately, while quadrant 2 tasks (important but not urgent) require scheduling to prevent them from becoming urgent.
- Quadrant 3 tasks (urgent but not important) can be delegated, and quadrant 4 tasks (neither urgent nor important) can be deleted or ignored.
- When delegating tasks, focus on quadrant 3 but don’t forget quadrant 2 tasks, as neglecting them can create urgency. You can also delegate quadrant 4 tasks for personal balance. Hiring virtual assistants can significantly aid in managing these tasks.
A Quick Introduction to Quadrant Thinking
Researchers in work-related behavior have found that people tend to focus on work that appears time-sensitive, even if it means letting important tasks fall by the wayside.
According to a study in the Journal of Consumer Research, people tend to do tasks with lower payoffs rather than those with higher payoffs if the former are “ characterized merely by spurious urgency (e.g., an illusion of expiration).”
Covey’s own matrix is based on similar ideas of importance and urgency, though they apply specifically to personal (or professional) development.
- Important tasks are those that contribute directly and significantly to progress toward your primary objectives.
- Urgent tasks are those that are either time-sensitive or otherwise demand immediate attention (a phone call is a common example; it may not turn out to really be urgent, but the ringing certainly demands attention!)
Being able to identify importance and urgency as distinct traits is crucial to being productive rather than merely busy. (Being busy with urgent but trivial tasks is a good way to get nothing done!)
Indeed, research shows that people who take time to assess a task’s importance the moment it’s assigned—rather than immediately jumping on what’s urgent—tend to make more productive decisions on prioritizing their work.
To Do or to Delegate
Covey’s principles were quickly adopted for professional life. There is a widely accepted response to each of the four types of tasks, which can be summed up as follows:
Quadrant 1 (Important, Urgent)
These represent time-bound tasks with potentially major payoffs for the business or for you as a professional. It’s natural for a business to have a few of these, but if these are a large share of your work, it likely means not enough quadrant 2 tasks are being dealt with when they should be.
There’s no question: these tasks are top priority, and you should attend to them yourself.
Quadrant 2 (Important, Not Urgent)
These represent work that brings your goals ever closer. They’re not time-bound, and so, as Eisenhower observed, they tend to get overlooked in favor of what is urgent.
It’s important to make time for this sort of work. This usually means scheduling some time each day or week to make real headway on it.
Quadrant 3 (Not Important, Urgent)
These tasks require quick attention but don’t have much of a direct payoff in terms of business or professional goals.
The general consensus is that these should be delegated to someone with fewer important (in business-goal terms) tasks to deal with.
Quadrant 4 (Not Important, Not Urgent)
Conventional wisdom says these should be deleted or removed from your schedule altogether. The only real challenge is knowing how to tactfully but firmly refuse requests to attend to this sort of work.
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Why Delegate Quadrants 2 and 4?
Given the details above, you may wonder why you’d want to delegate work in quadrants 2 and 4—the former because it’s important enough to merit personal attention, the latter because it’s neither important nor pressing.
Quadrant 2 is easier to answer for: it’s because it’s all too easy to lose track of these sorts of tasks. Our instincts, after all, compel us to prioritize urgent work.
Slip up for a moment, or lose focus, and you might find your quadrant 2 tasks have suddenly moved to quadrant 1! Furthermore, parts of these tasks are often routine and/or teachable—traits that make them ideal for delegating.
Quadrant 4, meanwhile, has to be considered in the bigger picture, outside of just professional life or business goals. Remember, “importance,” as the matrix uses it, refers specifically to particular objectives. Some tasks that are unimportant for work are nonetheless a valuable part of life.
As many rightly push back against the 9-to-5 office job and its outmoded prevalence, it’s important to remember that not all time needs to be productive. Leisure is valuable too, and protecting it sometimes means dealing with the trivial—or getting some help with it.
Delegating the Non-Urgent to Virtual Assistants
Virtual assistants have become quite popular over the past decade for their ability to improve productivity at a relatively low cost. And while they are good at handling ad hoc requests (quadrant 3 stuff), they’re also good at taking on simple, routine work, which can contribute to quadrants 2 and 4.
Here are a few ways you can have VAs help you out with non-urgent tasks.
Getting someone to manage your calendar is one of the most effective ways to manage your time period. A VA can handle simple things such as scheduling meetings or reminding you of upcoming events.
A more comprehensive approach, however, would be to hire a virtual executive assistant (EA) to come up with a master calendar for you. A master calendar organizes your weekly (or monthly) schedule into blocks of time to ensure you always have time for important tasks.
A master calendar is built around your personal patterns of productivity, ensuring you do focused work when it’s most conducive for you rather than when it’s most convenient for other people.
This doesn’t just refer to business-important tasks, either. A good master calendar takes into account the personal matters you mustn’t neglect, such as family matters, personal development, and proper rest.
Quadrant 2 work often involves regular work over a long period of time, sometimes involving multiple people at different stages. It can be easy to lose track of this, especially when the current tasks are out of your hands.
A VA can help prevent these situations by managing online collaboration tools—like kanbans, message boards, or timelines—and coordinating the people involved. They can assign tasks, send reminders, and follow up on work on your behalf.
Handling Supporting Tasks
Sometimes, important work that needs your attention involves preparations that don’t. Administrative tasks like collating data, performing research, or drafting memos or presentations are all things you can delegate to a VA. When they’re done, you can step in and wrap up the parts that truly require your involvement.
Travel Planning and Personal Assistance
The above holds true for tasks unimportant to business, as well. If you have an executive assistant (or a VA assigned specifically to you), you can have them help out with personal matters that might otherwise encroach on your attention, if not your schedule.
Your assistant can research travel options, purchase gifts online, or schedule important appointments for your family. This way, you can focus on work when you’re at work without other important things ending up neglected.
Get the Assist You Need from Magic
Magic can get you a virtual assistant (or virtual EA) quickly and easily.
Tell us what sort of work you’d like to hand off or what support you need, and we’ll find the right assistant for you. We can also provide suggestions if you’re struggling with productivity but are not sure where the extra help would have the biggest impact.
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