Entering the Matrix – Prioritising What is Important

Reading Time: 7 minutes

In the film, the Matrix is a way of distracting humans from understanding that they are slaves to the artificial intelligence which is controlling the planet. Whilst being distracted with both the urgent and the mind-numbing banalities of ‘reality’, humans accept their fate and fail to free themselves.

What if I told you that Morpheus never said “what if I told you…” in the movie?

What if I told you that the Matrix was real and that we could harness it to free ourselves?

Follow me down the rabbit hole of the Eisenhower Matrix.

The Busy Fool

Despite what my mum says I am not special, and I’m certainly not The One. When it comes to productivity and prioritising what is important I am an idiot. Worse than that, I am a busy fool.

I’m not lazy. I work hard. But until recently I have always worked at the wrong things.

And I’m bloody good at it. I am one of the most efficient people at working hard on the wrong things.

You see, efficiency means nothing if it’s not effective.

In the past this has been down to a fair degree of naivety on my part; not knowing what I should be doing. But as I have slowly and progressively invested time and understanding into productivity, I no longer have that excuse.

I have become a procrastibator

pruh·kra·stuh·bay·tuh

– A portmanteau of the words procrastinator and masturbator to describe the person in the act of doing stuff that promotes a ‘feel good’ dopamine hit, rather than yielding any actual positive and productive outcome.

The Wild Life Dictionary of Made Up Words

Where as procrastination often leaves us frozen in inactivity due to indecision, procrasti-bation finds us thrumming away incessantly at, sadly, usually all the wrong things.

girl in pink shirt holding notebook

We’ve all done it. Back in school you spent 3 weeks carefully creating, colour-coding, producing, and laminating a revision time-table only to discover you then had no time left to do the actual revision.

Well I take this to new levels. I am third-dan black belt in this shit.

That was until I had my eyes opened to the truth of the Matrix.

The Eisenhower Matrix

The Eisenhower Matrix is a simple tool for decision making and productivity used by Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the U.S.A. and someone famed for his ability to sustain productivity for a very long time. And he was pretty prolific too, both before and during his presidency.

I first came across the Eisenhower Matrix in the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Corey. In fact it forms the basis habit number 3 – ‘Put first things first’.

The Eisenhower Matrix

This is an Eisenhower Matrix for me today.

It’s simple. There are four quadrants:

  1. Urgent and Important
  2. Important but not urgent
  3. Urgent but not important
  4. Not urgent, not important

Let’s look at each quadrant.

ambulance architecture building business

Urgent and important

This is everything with a looming deadline that will have a consequence if not done. Due to the urgent and important nature of this quadrant it can elicit a fairly strong sympathetic nervous system response; a fight or flight reaction.

This will often cause us to focus and fixate entirely on this quadrant, essentially fire-fighting our way through it all. Not a bad reaction for getting this stuff done, but this limbic hijacking often means we are less likely to see the relevance of the next quadrant: Important but not urgent.

So get this stuff done. Now. Go on!

Important but not urgent

This is all the stuff you know you should be doing. It’s things that will bring you closer to your goals, the activities that ultimately make life a bit easier and make dealing with the ‘urgent and important’ quadrant much more simple.

In fact, Quadrant 1 (urgent and important) is often made up of the ‘important but not urgent’ things that we didn’t get round to doing. And this is the difficulty with this quadrant (quadrant 2). It’s very easy to put off doing them because they don’t have that shadow of a deadline hanging over them.

But putting off important things always comes to bite you on the arse. Urgency is the result of inactivity. Procrastibators beware!

Schedule this stuff so that you actually get it done.

What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.

Dwight D. Eisenhower – 34th President of the U.S.A

Both quadrants 1 and 2 would be what I would class as Deep Work which, as Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World puts it

is […] an activity that generates a sense of meaning and fulfilment in your professional life.

Cal Newport – Deep Work

But this could just as easily be applied to your health, your relationships or any other aspect of your life outside of your professional life too.

Urgent but not important

Quadrant 3 often contains the lion’s share of stuff to do. These are the things that are vying for your attention but aren’t actually that important. At least not to you.

This quadrant is usually littered with what other people think of as important. This is typified by most emails, business meetings, and impromptu drop-in visits from co-workers. Add to this the endless ringing, pinging and buzzing of modern smartphones desperately trying to get your attention.

The hyperstimulation of these situations creates the air of urgency. The key to this quadrant is realising the lack of importance. This is the perfect opportunity to delegate to someone else.

I am aware that we are simply placing the urgency onto someone else’s plate, but if that is a role people take then it becomes both urgent and important to them. An example of this would be getting someone to do an infographic for you rather that you doing it yourself and taking 4 times as long. Delegate whenever you can. Check out sites like Fiverr for virtual assistants and freelancers. I use them all the time.

Not urgent and not important

This last quadrant is the realm of the true procrastibator. It’s the fluff and dross, the mental chewing gum that gives us something to do without ever nourishing us or moving us forward.

What’s worse is that after the dopamine hit we receive from these types of activities wears off we are left feeling pretty shit and guilty.

This quadrant has existed for as long as humans have, the only difference for us is we now have infinite distractions that are custom designed to hijack our attentions and to be as addictive as possible.

Basically, avoid this quadrant as much as possible. For some help with this check out my article on how to reduce your smartphone usage.

It’s not a death sentence to your productivity to spend time in this quadrant, indeed it can be some light relief from deep work, but the caveat is that you do it after your deep work and that you are in control of it, not it controlling you. It’s a fine line to walk.

The quadrant 1/4 cycle

This is where I would have spent most of my time in the past. If I’m honest it’s where I spend my time now if I’m not making a clear effort to be mindful.

This is where you spend some time in quadrant 1, Important and urgent, then flit to quadrant 4 – not urgent and not important, before flitting back to quadrant 1.

The problem with this is that deep work doesn’t work like that. We need solid, uninterrupted blocks of time for it. Quadrant 4 work, mindless shallow ‘work’ dilutes it down and increasingly becomes the focus. It’s basically and superficially more fun looking.

It also keeps us out of the quadrant we should be spending more time in – Quadrant 2 Important but not urgent.

The importance of Important but not urgent

To me, this quadrant is where the magic happens. This is the space where the marginal gains occur. This is the place where we accrue a 1% improvement, but we keep doing it day after day until, one year later, we are 3,778% better.

Quadrant 2 often isn’t sexy. It isn’t high octane stuff. It’s the stuff we know we need to do, but just never get round to doing.

Why? Because it’s not urgent. If we don’t do it today nothing adverse happens. We can leave it a day, a week, a month, a year. But at some point that important but not urgent thing suddenly becomes very urgent indeed.

And it nearly always becomes harder to deal with than if we had just tackled it 1% at a time.

Let’s look outside of work and productivity. Let’s look at health.

It’s really easy to neglect our health, because we are too busy. We can only do this so long until the wheels start to fall off, and at this point it become far more of an effort to correct the issues facing us.

But what if we already workout? When we schedule our workouts they become urgent and important. Well done. At 6am you have to be at the gym to meet your mate for your class. So what are the ‘important but not urgent’ practices that will make your efforts in the gym easier and your gains greater?

That would be the daily walks/step count, the proper hydration, the optimal sleep, the appropriate food intake, the accountability, and the necessary recovery time. Not sexy, but vitally important.

And I would argue even more important than that 45 minute gym session.

The activities we do inside of quadrant 2 bolster every other activity we find ourselves faced with.

A great example from my own life would be my meditation practice. 20-30 minutes of just sitting still.

You do, and nothing happens. So you do it again. Still nothing happens.

2 years down the line and I’m still just sitting there. But my ability to deal with all the other shit in life has grown exponentially. Marginal gain making huge impacts.

Entering the Matrix

Using the Eisenhower Matrix on your own life, projects and situations enables you to make decisions based on what will actually move you in the right direction, rather than what your dopamine addicted brain, social media platforms and other people want you to do.

And when you combine this with your ‘WHY’ and your goals it becomes, YOU BECOME even more powerful.

Are you ready?

This your last chance. After this there is no turning back. You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember, all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more.

Morpheus

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