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Building a Business vs. Building a Brand: Channel Your Inner Eisenhower

By William R. Harris

Are you addicted to urgency? Before you answer, think about the two most important words of that question.

Urgency = an assignment requiring swift action
Addicted = enthusiastically devoted to a particular thing or activity

Now, be honest: are you enthusiastically devoted to completing assignments swiftly? It’s okay — I think I know the answer. After all, I’m just as urgency-addicted as you.

So let’s make a pact, you and I — a shared 2017 resolution. In the upcoming months, let’s adopt the time-management behavior of a dead president to become a better business/team owner, leader or manager. The president is Dwight David Eisenhower, and the behavior involves a four-quadrant tool that evaluates any task against two fundamental measures — is it important and/or urgent? This is what the tool looks like:


170328_Eisenhower Box


What’s Your IQ2?

The tool, known as an Eisenhower Box, organizes tasks into four categories:

  1. Q1 Tasks: Urgent and Important, which must be dealt with immediately.
  2. Q3 Tasks: Urgent and Not Important, which must be delegated to someone else (presumably someone lower on the managerial food chain).
  3. Q2 Tasks: Important and Not Urgent, which must be considered carefully.
  4. Q4 Tasks: Not Important and Not Urgent, which must be eliminated entirely.
Why is this important? Because you’re not just doing business — you’re building a brand. “Doing business” refers to day-to-day operational stuff: answering phones, replying to emails, ordering supplies, organizing tasks. Doing business is transactional; it encompasses the actions you take to compete.

“Building a brand,” on the other hand, refers to developing an idea that is worth loving. This is the idea that connects what you do with the people who consume it; this is all about creating value — for your employees, for your customers and even for the larger community around you.

Developing this idea is a definite Q2 activity — it’s not urgent, but it’s really, really important. And coming up with this idea, your brand essence, takes time. You need time to think, read, consider and discuss. Then you need time to iterate, to bring a concept to life in words and then revise it again and again until it’s exactly right and completely unique to your business.

In addition to time, you also need space. Space refers to the distance you’re able to put between you and distractions (i.e., urgent tasks). You can achieve this space by going to a room in your office that promotes deep thinking, a room without phones, computers and mobile devices. Or you can abandon the office for a place that allows your mind to wander and promotes creative thinking. Ideally, you would have both kinds of spaces available — a quiet room within your office that you could visit frequently and an off-site location to which you could retreat on occasion.

How to Eisenhower

Some productivity and time management coaches propose radical approaches to getting quality Q2 time. They propose the notion that nothing deemed “urgent” should ever be done first. That seems a bit extreme and, more pragmatically, sets you up for failure. So let’s look at some simple steps you can take to channel your inner Eisenhower:

Focus. You can’t swallow an elephant in one gulp — and you can’t advance more than four or five significant strategic initiatives at any given time. What are they? Clearly define them and then drive them forward.
Communicate. You may need space to do the thinking required of brand building, but you also need to come together with your colleagues and share what’s going on. Communication is critical if you want your big idea to be embraced by those around you.

Team. Effective delegation is a hallmark of the Eisenhower method, so you have to be surrounded by a good team. Hire people who can take care of urgent tasks without your supervision and who know when to ask for help differentiating what’s important from what’s urgent.

Schedule. Set aside some time each day to devote to Q2 activities. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time — even 30 minutes a day will yield 2.5 hours of quality thinking time a week.

Douse. If urgent matters come calling, evaluate them carefully and decide if they truly must be dealt with today at the expense of something else that will be far more important to your business in the future.

Remember, we’re in this together, so let’s see if we can take the steps necessary to focus more on what’s important and less on what’s urgent. I don’t know about you, but when I look in the mirror, I can already see a bit of Ike’s famous, sunny-sided smile in my own reflection.