Many top executives have long touted the benefits of an early morning start. Apple CEO Tim Cook famously wakes up at 3:45 am. PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi is up by 4:00 and in the office by 7:00. General Motors CEO Mary Barra is at her desk at 6:00. And, perhaps with the help of a grande latte, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz arrives to work by 6:00, too.
When it comes to decision-making, knowledge is power. But what about knowledge that comes from an unconventional source? That pit in your stomach each time you meet with a potential business partner. The frisson of excitement that accompanies a sudden insight into a design problem. These gut reactions can convey valuable information about potential choices—in a fraction of the time it takes to consciously analyze your options.
A shadow crosses your desk. It’s your supervisor, asking if you can squeeze in another “little project.” Your stomach drops as you picture your calendar, already packed with pressing assignments. Adding more will mean sacrificing quality—not to mention sanity. You take a deep breath and face your boss: “Sure, no problem.”
“When you come to the fork in the road, take it,” as the saying goes. If only decision-making were so simple. Instead, we spend countless hours comparing options, evaluating information, and sweating choices large and small. Eventually, we lose our perspective and our momentum. We come to the fork in the road and stand there, frozen by indecision.
It’s the weekly meeting again. You grab a seat, set down your coffee, open your laptop, and get comfortable—mind-numbingly comfortable. Your energy drops, your focus drifts, your ideas begin to calcify.
Dwight D. Eisenhower made plenty of tough decisions in his career. As a two-term US president, a five-star World War II general, and the first Supreme Commander of NATO, Ike spent his days prioritizing ruthlessly and acting quickly. The secret behind his cut-to-the-chase efficiency? The Eisenhower matrix, a system that prioritized problems according to two key factors: importance and urgency.