You Should Be Using the Eisenhower Matrix To Make Decisions

The most urgent decisions are rarely the most important ones.
—Dwight Eisenhower

In light of our always-on world, it’s natural we focus on time-sensitive tasks; the seemingly non-ending list of things that have to be done. At work, these tasks include responding to emails or voice mails, generating a report due later in the day, or attending a mandatory meeting. In your personal life, it might include getting gas when your tank is almost empty, paying a bill, or even stopping on the way home to get something for dinner. A former colleague of mine used to call this the tyranny of the urgent.

While there will always be urgent tasks to deal with, we must be vigilant when faced with urgent decisions. Decisions made in the spur of the moment are rarely as impactful as those with enough time for careful consideration. While I’m definitely not advocating paralysis by analysis, I do believe you should prioritize both tasks and decisions by importance rather than urgency.

Important decisions are more strategic. They tend to have longer term impact, even if they don’t have short term effects. Psychologically, important decisions are often put off because we are worried that we might not make the right decision. Instead todo lists are littered with urgent but less important tasks.

As a result, we run out of time for things that are important but not urgent.

One approach to avoid this incorrect prioritization is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. The Eisenhower Matrix is a two-by-two grid that characterizes decisions/tasks by both urgency and importance:I update my decision matrix weekly, sometimes more frequently during high-intensity periods. First, I focus my items on the upper left-hand quadrant – items that are important and urgent – making time to work on them as soon as possible. If there is a large number of items in this quadrant, I know something systematic has gone wrong: either I’ve taken on too many responsibilities or I’ve been working on the wrong things.

Given my role, I usually delegate the urgent and unimportant items (bottom left). It’s key to recognize importance is subjective; it might not be important for me to personally decide but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important to resolve. By delegating, I free up my own time and empower someone else to make a decision.

The previous two steps ensure there is time for items which are important but not urgent (upper right). These are items that many people overlook or just never get to. I schedule specific timeslots to work on them and, when that time comes, make sure it’s protected from the tyranny of the urgent.

The Eisenhower Matrix isn’t perfect – the nature of work means that sometimes you’re forced to work on seemingly unimportant tasks – but it’s highly effective. I recommend you try it for a few weeks, especially if you’re in a situation in which you’re struggling to manage your time. It may change how you work.

Adaptability may be more important than IQ or EQ

For most of my career, I have favored candidates with high Emotional Quotient (EQ) over those with high Intelligence Quotient (IQ). Just like my mantra that culture eats strategy, I believe situational awareness often trumps pure smarts.

Of course, I’ve never known any candidate’s IQ test score let alone their EQ score. (Yes, you can test for EQ.) But, in my experience, success on standardized tests has rarely translated well into the unpredictability of the business world.

Travis Bradberry, author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, has some startling evidence to back up my experience: people with average IQs outperform those with high IQs 70% of the time. Furthermore, he claims 90% of top performers have high emotional intelligence while only 20% of bottom performers have high emotional intelligence.

Studies have shown high emotional intelligence is the strongest predictor of performance among a wide variety of workplace skills. EQ explains “a full 58% of success in all types of jobs”. Bradberry summarizes:

You can be a top performer without emotional intelligence, but the chances are slim.

While I still favor EQ over IQ, over the last few years, I’ve felt like there’s something missing. We live in a world of constant change and neither high EQ nor IQ seem to be good predictors of a person’s ability to thrive in this new environment. Change means we can’t rely on what we’ve learned in the past as it often no longer applies. Lately, I’ve been using the rallying cry: “what got us here won’t get us there.” We need to be more adaptable.

Because being adaptable is increasingly important, I wonder whether there should be an adaptability quotient (AQ). A high AQ would suggest someone is less bothered by new situations, can extrapolate from seemingly unrelated experiences, and embraces new ideas rather than resisting them. Different roles require varying levels of AQ.

Actually, this isn’t a novel idea. Eight years ago, HBR declared that adaptability was the new competitive advantage. Five years ago, a UK study found that 91% of HR decision-makers thought it was likely people would soon be recruited on their ability to cope with change and uncertainty. And a Fast Company article earlier this year suggested a blended measure of IQ, EQ, and AQ as the way to screen employees.

While the term AQ pops up frequently in articles and many people seem to agree adaptability is important, there isn’t a commonly-agreed way to measure it. Until there is, I recommend asking interview questions designed to understand the adaptability of candidates. For example, ask a candidate to describe a time they were unprepared for a situation, how they reacted, and what was the ultimate outcome. If the candidate relied solely on standard approaches, it suggests they are less adaptable. If they changed strategy and showed resourcefulness, it’s likely the candidate will do it again when faced with uncertainty in the future.

IQ to EQ to AQ. Adaptability is everywhere.

The Power of Suggestion

“Objection, your Honor, the Defense is leading the witness.”

If you’ve watched TV courtroom dramas, you’ve heard this common expression. One lawyer is complaining that the other lawyer is asking leading questions; the questions suggest the answers the witness should give. As such, it unfairly taints the witness’ testimony.

As often happens, a recent courtroom drama made me wonder if there’s any science behind the objection. Perhaps not surprisingly, there is.

In Daniel Schacter’s book The Seven Sins of Memory, he describes the sin of suggestibility in which people are susceptible to incorporate incorrect or even misleading information into their memories. The information can come from a wide variety of external sources – reading descriptions from other people, watching videos, or listening to others – but people later misremember the source of the memories. The memories based on outside information seem just as real as those based on our own experiences.

The book summarizes a series of experiments in which participants viewed a simulated armed robbery, answered intentionally misleading questions about what happened during the robbery, and then later were asked to verify whether their memories of the event came from the video or the questionnaire. Even when participants initially knew they hadn’t remembered information from the video and that the information had been suggested by the questions, the participants believed the information was accurate and later claimed they remembered it from the video. A false memory had been created.

The power of suggestion does not just happen in the courtroom and is not always intentional. During an investigation, police officers interview an eyewitness multiple times, asking questions from many different angles in the hopes of jogging their memory. However, there is an inherent danger that some of these questions are suggestive of new information and the eyewitness might later misremember the source of the memory. Eyewitness testimony is inherently unreliable.

All of this makes me consider my own childhood memories. Research shows it’s relatively simple to implant false childhood memories. I wonder how many of my memories are based on the original event and how many are derived from repeated discussions with my parents over the years. Remembering the events together clearly strengthens the belief in my own memory but doesn’t necessarily increase the accuracy.

While I doubt my parents were intentionally “leading the witness,” human nature suggests they bring up the ones they remember the most fondly. Over time, these are the ones I am most likely to discuss around them. We have a collective shared memory.

The power of the suggestion means you can’t trust your own memory.

Hockey is for Everyone, Doggonit

Research shows that businesses with more diverse workforces perform better financially and are more innovative. Similarly, diversity and inclusion is good for the business of sports. The more that sports teams embrace the diversity of the community they are in, the more likely their fans will embrace them back.

The National Hockey League (NHL) uses the international reach of the game of hockey to help drive positive social change and foster more inclusive communities. Under the slogan Hockey is for Everyone™, the NHL takes a unifying and supportive approach:

We believe all hockey programs – from professionals to youth organizations – should provide a safe, positive and inclusive environment for players and families regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, disability, sexual orientation and socio-economic status.

Over the years, the San Jose Sharks have embraced these ideals. From Sikh and Filipino heritage nights to Los Tiburones themed events as part of Hispanic heritage month, Sharks fans in the SAP Center represent the amazing cultural diversity that is the Silicon Valley / Bay Area.

At last year’s Hockey Is For Everyone Night, the San Jose Sharks partnered with You Can Play, an NHL-supported non-profit organization that works to ensure the safety and inclusion of all in sports including LGBTQ athletes, coaches, and fans. Sharks players taped their warm-up sticks with Pride-themed hockey tape and proceeds from these autographed sticks were donated to charity. The next Hockey is for Everyone Night at SAP Center will be Sunday, March 31 when the Sharks play Calgary in what may well be a battle for first place in the Western Conference.

The SAP Center also works hard to support the accessibility needs of our guests. Assistive Listening Devices are available at no charge. Guests with disabilities may bring their service animal with them. In addition, SAP Center offers safety sensory kitsto fans who have sensory sensitives (e.g. Autism, Neurological Impairment, PTSD, or Dementia).

On the lighter side, the idea of hockey is for everyone can be interpreted literally and extended in unexpected ways. Through an event called Pucks & Paws, we allowed dog owners to bring their pets to a San Jose Barracuda hockey game. While the majority of the attendees were hockey fans, many were first-time attendees who were attracted by the spectacle of bringing their dog to an arena and spending time with their pet – the hockey game was secondary.

We are all unique. Let’s celebrate our differences. You don’t even have to like hockey. Doggonit.

[This article previously appeared on Becher’s Bytes.]

Does Swearing Reduce Pain?

While I’m not an expert handyman, I don’t mind trying to fix things around the house (except electricity – no, thank you). My skills are such that I’ve occasionally hit my thumb which invariably elicits a yelp swear word from me. Over the years, I’ve wondered why I feel better after the outburst. Does swearing reduce pain?

Richard Stephens, a psychologist at Keele University in England, has designed multiple experiments to find out. In one version, undergraduate students twice placed their hands in ice-cold water for as long as they could; one of the times they uttered a swear word and the other they used a more common word. Stephens also measured the participants heart rates and galvanic skin response (GSR tracks changes in sweat gland activity typically caused by emotional stress).

When using the swear word, participants kept their hands in the ice water almost 50% longer. In addition, their heart rates increased and their GSR went down. Stephens concluded the participants experienced less pain while swearing.

Pain used to be thought of as a purely biological phenomenon, but actually pain is very much psychological. The same level of injury will hurt more or less in different circumstances. Richard Stephens.

If you don’t swear when you feel pain, you might consider starting. Stephens conducted another experiment to test whether the effect only worked on people who were comfortable swearing in front of others or who at least had sufficient practice doing so in their daily lives. Participants were asked how likely they were to swear when in pain or angry. The results showed “it didn’t make a difference; swearing worked equally well.” Even non-swearers got relief.

Whether you’re used to swearing may not matter but the word you use does. An unpublished Stephens experiment showed that the strength of the expletive did have an impact on how long you could keep your hand in the ice water and how much pain you felt. Milder words such a “darn” or “shoot” had more effect than a neutral word like “tree” but less effect than a stronger word (cue George Carlin’s 7 dirty words). If you’re going to use the technique, it isn’t worth being half-hearted.

The next time you get chastised by someone for swearing as a response to a painful situation, show them this article. You’ll feel better and maybe they will too.