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In which John discusses what is important, what is urgent, and how to get things done.

p.s. I'll be in comments, but one thing I want to note here is that productivity need not be about work, or maximizing output or whatever. There are lots of ways to be productive. To me, productivity is mostly a matter of recognizing that time is what we have.

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Good morning, Hank. It's Tuesday.

I'm a little bit stressed at the moment and, as such, I have been thinking about the Eisenhower Matrix.

Like most people, I have a wide array of urgent problems. I have to get my kids to school. I have deadlines for editing CrashCourse scripts. I need to respond to emails that literally have "urgent" in the subject line. I have an urgent desire to eat several times a day.

And those urgent problems are so numerous and so immediate that it is really hard for me to find time to do things that are important but not urgent, even if they are more important than any of my urgent problems.

There are many examples of this: updating my will is important, but hopefully not urgent, as is clearing honeysuckle from my backyard. But the biggest important not-urgent issue in my life is writing a novel, partly because writing fiction is my number one strategy for maximizing sanity, and partly because it's you know, like, my job.

But even though writing a new book is much more important to me than, say, paying the cable bill or responding to an email that proclaims itself to be urgent, I end up forsaking the important in favor of the urgent until the important but not urgent problems just become these vast expanses of dread that I only visit late at night when I can do nothing about them.

I think this may also be a broader human phenomenon. We are much better at addressing emergencies like disease outbreaks or natural disasters than we are at addressing ongoing problems that don't feel like emergencies. The most obvious example I can think of is probably climate change, which is maybe the biggest problem facing humans, and yet we constantly de-prioritize it in favor of whatever news happens to be breaking and therefore in need of our immediate attention. 

All of which brings me to the Eisenhower Matrix, sometimes called the Eisenhower square or box and named for US general and eventual president Dwight D. Eisenhower. So this is the box that you put all of your problems you can conceivably fix into on a scale of important to not important and urgent to not urgent.

Things that are both urgent and important you do now, so if your kitchen is on fire, for instance, that needs to be addressed immediately. Or if AFC Wimbeldon are playing that needs to be watched live and with complete focus. 

The things that are urgent but not important you are supposed to delegate, but of course that's very easy if you're a general or a president and somewhat more difficult if you're not. Most of us cannot delegate laundry or paying bills or sending emails, but we can ignore the faux urgent demands on our time like push notifications.

And some urgent but less important tasks can be automated, like paying bills online instead of writing checks.

The not important and not urgent things we're just supposed to just not do, like, for me that would be every second spent on Twitter.

But that's just me. Twitter makes lots of people happy and we need to leave room for happiness. A lot of conversations about productivity don't make room for, like, joy. 

Which is unfortunate because I would argue life is not about becoming the most efficient problem solving value creation machine you can become, it's also about fulfillment and enjoyment, so if there are unimportant un-urgent things you love they aren't actually unimportant. 

Right, so then lastly there is the important but not urgent: updating your will, writing your novel, exercise, connecting with people you love, etc. The Eisenhower Matrix argues that the key to addressing those issues is scheduling uninterrupted and uninterruptable time for them.
 
Put it on the calendar, create deadlines, make that stuff urgent. That's how I wrote my first novel. I gave myself deadlines and scheduled time at night and on the weekends to write it. And it's how I'm gonna write my next novel, if there is a next one.

My parents introduced me to this strategy for the urgent and the important when I was a kid, and I have found it very helpful throughout my life, even though on a minute-by-minute basis it is very difficult to implement.

But I'm gonna keep trying. I was talking to a friend recently who's much busier than I am and I said "I know you've got to go, you've got a lot going on," and they said "No, no. I've got nothing but time." and I realized how true that is.

Hank, I'll see you on Friday