By Mikael Kamber, management expert, author of The Yes Culture, news presenter for TV 2 NEWS in Danemark

When running a company, one of the more important things to keep in mind is focus. But what do we mean by this? We could mean keeping your mind on your company’s vision and mission, on whether a product stays true to this and lives up to what your company is about, on whether said product doesn’t take too much out of your resources. Focus can mean a lot of things, but we shall be focusing – no pun intended – on a tool that you can use in improving your focus as the person in charge of your company.

We Like Ike’s Matrix

Focus could refer to the things you do as a boss or the things your employees do while in the office. On the leadership side, it’s not uncommon for bosses to spend too much time on what isn’t really essential, and on your employees’ side, you’ve got to admit that only a small percentage of rank-and-file workers are really focused in the truest sense. So with that as a backdrop, we’d like to share an essential tool that wasn’t developed by a mover and shaker in the world of business, but rather a former U.S. president and Army general.

Though it’s been about six decades since Dwight Eisenhower was president of the United States, his “Eisenhower Box” has stood the test of time, with American business and management writer Stephen Covey having popularised it for today’s generation of leaders. Let’s take a look at the four quadrants.

There are two columns (Urgent and Not Urgent) and two rows (Important and Not Important) in Eisenhower’s matrix, and in the top left (Necessity) quadrant, you’ve got those tasks that are urgent AND important. We’re talking about time-sensitive projects and major company issues, or even a sick child or an especially demanding client. The upper right (Quality) quadrant pertains to important tasks that aren’t that urgent, and this would normally be for training, planning, and your recreation away from the workplace.

Then you’ve got the Deception quadrant, which refers to urgent tasks that are not important – select meetings, projects, reports, emails, and phone calls, to name a few. The matrix’s final quadrant is the Waste quadrant on the lower right – these are tasks that are neither urgent nor important, such as catching up on your favourite TV series when you should be doing something else, replying to trivial emails or answering trivial phone calls, checking football scores on the Internet while at work, etc.

Now that You Know the Matrix, What’s in it for You?

We’ve given you a brief description of the four quadrants in the Eisenhower Box, but how does this all relate to focus and your role as a leader in your company? The Necessity quadrant refers to the things you can’t ignore. The Deception quadrant refers to things that are ostensibly essential – this means things that you believe are urgent, but aren’t really important at the end of the day. The Waste quadrant is for things that get in the way of your role as a company leader, and, on the rank-and-file side, things that could ruin the focus of your employees. If you didn’t notice, we purposely left out the second quadrant, which is aptly known as Quality.

As we stated above, the Quality quadrant is for important things that really don’t have a strong sense of urgency attached to them. We’re talking about planning for the future, initiating preventative measures in the event of a company crisis, building positive working relations with your employees and clients, and even taking some time out for yourself without being too wasteful. If you’re looking to truly improve your focus, we suggest spending about a quarter of your time or more in the Quality quadrant.

If you’re finding that hard to achieve, you may want to focus on eliminating the time you spend in the Waste quadrant; once you’ve done that, you can try minimising the time spent in the third, or Deception quadrant. Once you’ve redirected the time spent in quadrants three and four to the second one, there’s a good chance you’ll organically be devoting less time to the first, or Necessity quadrant, because of the advance preparation you’ve done by doing tasks related to the Quality quadrant.