Avoid the Pendulum Swing Next Year

Shiny lights are everywhere. New initiatives, new books, new philosophies, new, new, new. As educators, we are expected to stay on the cutting edge and to embrace what’s new, but so often we do this at the expense of what works. In economics, we use the term Opportunity Costs to reflect those things that are sacrificed as we pursue another option. In education, we call these things Best Practices, often, with no evidence that new is indeed better.
Did you know that every day there are 7,000 books published?  Did you know there are currently more than 5 million podcasts available, with the average podcast having about 50 episodes? Everybody these days has something to say. Everyone has an opinion on what works and what doesn’t. Everyone is trying to present the next best thing, so how do we filter through the noise and actually embrace what we need?

Let me introduce you to the Eisenhower Matrix. Named after the 34th president of the United States and Supreme Commander of NATO forces, General Eisenhower was constantly bombarded with “expert” advice. Everyone around him had solutions to questions he wasn’t even asking. Thought leaders, civil servants, and stakeholders from all walks of life had solutions to win the great war, to improve the economy, to save our schools, and to, well, do just about everything. Eisenhower knew he could not address everything and he couldn’t solve everything. He had to prioritize. The Eisenhower Matrix is how he did it. Here’s the short and sweet version.

Imagine as a leader you have a dozen ideas that you think could help improve your organization next year. You can’t implement them all or those you serve will be overwhelmed. You won’t have focus and you won’t be able to measure success and failure. You are hesitant to abandon any idea because you think they are all good and have potential. You also recognize that you have been making progress in recent years and want to make sure you do not lose momentum…sound familiar? The Eisenhower Matrix is a starting place. Here’s what you do.

Think about this year and next year. Between these two years, what are 10 initiatives you have embraced or would like to embrace? Write them down. There is no particiular order. Just list them as you think of them.

Next, using your list of ten, re-write the initiatives, but this time I want you to do so by order of IMPORTANCE. You get to decide how you define importance, but in its purest sense, think about those that will move the needle the most. Whatever it is that you measure: Learning gains, Retention, Proficiency, Referrals, Cost Savings, etc…Whatever is most important to your system, list these initiatives in order from Most Important to Least Important. ***A caution- everything on your list is important or it would not have made your list. You are simply ranking by relative importance. It is up to you how much effort you want to spend diving into research to prove your rankings. It’s OK to at first just go with your gut.

Now, you are going to rewrite your list again. This time, focus on URGENCY. Those items that are most urgent, and at the top of your list, are those items that need to be addressed sooner rather than later. The more urgent, the more crucial to address in the near future.

The last step of the process is to now create a matrix. Simply draw a large + on a sheet of paper. The line running North and South should be labeled Importance. The line running East and West should be labeled Urgency. The point where the two lines intersect should be titled “5”.

Focus- IntegratED


And just like that, you have created a plan for improvement. Each initiative on your list can now be placed somewhere on the matrix. Items scoring better than “5” on both importance and urgency go to the upper right quadrant. Those that are important but not urgent, get placed in the upper left. Those that are urgent but not important get placed in the bottom right. Those that are neither urgent nor important get placed in the bottom left.

As you can see from the illustration above, the placement of each initiative in the matrix helps you determine a prioritized action. Not everything should be “done”. Some things should be scheduled for the future. Some things should be delegated to others. Some things should be deleted and not thought of again until next year, if ever again.

The Eisenhower Matrix will not solve all of your problems, but it is an amazing tool to help you sift through the noise and focus on what you really need. Without intention, everyone will have a solution to your problems. With focus, you can determine what is really needed.

Avoid chasing the shiny lights. Avoid thinking what is new is always better. Avoid assuming everything needs to get done right away. Be strategic. Be focused. Be intentional.

Want to learn more? Reach out to Dave at david.schmittou@gmail.com or check out his full website for more information. https://schmittou.net

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