Home » What is the Eisenhower Matrix, and how you can use it

What is the Eisenhower Matrix, and how you can use it

by Dan
9 minutes read

Sometimes it feels as if your to-do list is in a constant battle with the clock, and neither is willing to concede defeat. This is where the Eisenhower Matrix can come into play, serving as a tactical field guide to navigate the chaos. You find yourself juggling various responsibilities—from urgent emails that demand immediate attention to long-term projects that require sustained focus. Just as you feel like you’re gaining ground, unforeseen interruptions throw a wrench in your plans. For those in fields with their own cyclic crunch times, like end-of-year reporting for finance teams or event seasons for marketers, the pressure is even more intense.

In this ever-evolving battlefield of tasks and deadlines, you need more than just a shield; you need a strategic plan. The Eisenhower Matrix provides that by categorizing your duties based on both their urgency and importance. Doing so not only declutters your mental workspace but also helps you make more informed decisions about where your time and energy should go. Stick around to learn how this time-management method could be the key to unlocking a more organized, less stressful work life.

What is the Eisenhower Matrix?

The Eisenhower Matrix is a way to split and work tasks. Essentially, categorising them into 1 of 4 quadrants to help with your time management. It’s sometimes known as the Eisenhower Decision Matric or the Urgent-Important Matrix. Each section represents a level of importance and urgency. The sections, or quadrants, are:

  • Urgent and important
  • Urgent but not important
  • Important, but not urgent
  • Not urgent, and not important

You probably already use a to-do list of some kind for your task management. Using a prioritization matrix like the Eisenhower Matrix can help take your priority setting to the next level. By identifying what’s most important and urgent, you can tackle your to-do list intentionally and strategically.

With this tool, you’ll be able to map out your tasks and visually see where you need to focus your attention. Looking at what’s important and urgent gives you a pretty clear idea of your priorities. So you can focus less on time-wasting tasks that don’t actually need your attention right now. If you’ve got a lot on your to-do list, using the Eisenhower Matric could be a real productivity game changer.

Where does the name ‘Eisenhower Matrix’ come from?

You probably figured it out already. But just in case, the Eisenhower Matric was developed by Dwight D. Eisenhower. He was the 34th President of the United States and a general during the Second World War. His approach to task prioritisation is what inspired the creation of this system.

What’s important is seldom urgent, and what’s urgent is seldom important.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

The Difference Between Urgent Tasks and Important Tasks

You might think that “urgent” and “important” are pretty much the same. It’s not a stretch to believe that if something’s urgent, it’s also important, and vice versa. However, the Eisenhower Matrix separates these two and forces us to treat them differently and consider them in a new light.

An urgent task is something that needs your attention right now. These are often tasks that come up unexpectedly and need to be dealt with so you (or someone else) can move on with a task or move on to the next thing. Deadlines are usually always urgent (especially the nearer the deadline gets). So is replying to that client that’s been waiting a couple of days for a response, or fixing a key broken link on your website. These might seem really important, but note the fact that they’re also pretty urgent.

On the other hand, an important task is one that helps you achieve long-term goals. These tasks don’t need to be done right now, but spending time on them will help in the long term. Tasks like setting up an invoicing system for clients, updating your website, or renewing a certification. These could all be very important, but that doesn’t mean they are urgent.

The Eisenhower Matrix Sections

Eisenhower Matrix diagram example

The Eisenhower Matrix has 4 sections, often referred to as quadrants. Pretty much every task you can think of will fall into one of these 4 sections.

1. Urgent and important

The urgent and important section in the Eisenhower Matrix is for tasks that require swift or immediate attention. These tasks will directly relate to your short-term goals. These are the things that you need to deal with yourself, and pretty quickly. Tasks in this section might include anything with an important deadline, problems that need fixing quickly, or random emergencies. Some examples of tasks that might fall into this section:

  • Finding a plumber to fix the leak in your bathroom
  • Spell-checking a presentation you’re due to show a client in the morning
  • Fixing a website issue preventing customers from checking out

These are the tasks that you should look at tackling first before you work on anything else. Tasks in this section are generally high-stakes things, if you don’t do them, something could go very wrong. So tackle these first.

2. Not urgent, but still important

The next section in the Eisenhower Matrix is the ‘Not Urgent, but still important’ section. There are tasks that are going to help your longer-term goals. Things that don’t need to happen right now, but are still important. These are the sorts of tasks that you should schedule into your calendar to deal with later. You should always remember though that just because they aren’t urgent now, doesn’t mean they won’t become urgent in the future. Some examples of tasks that might fall into this section:

  • Reviewing department budgets or KPIs
  • Reviewing keyword research for a planned piece of content
  • Scheduling social media posts for your business

To recap, tasks that fall into this section should be scheduled. Figure out at what point these tasks might become urgent, and plan to tackle them before then. Schedule time on your calendar to tick these off.

3. Urgent, but not important

Tasks that fall into the ‘Urgent, but not important’ section are things that need your immediate attention, but doing the task won’t really feed into your long-term objectives. These sorts of tasks are often sprung on you with little to no warning. You have two choices, you can either tackle them yourself, or you can try and delegate them to a colleague or someone else who could help. Examples of tasks that might fall into this section include:

  • Returning a call to a potential client
  • Dealing with an important letter that’s just arrived
  • Renewing a lapsed software license that you forgot about

In every case, if you want to get the most out of your time, you should try to limit what falls into this section with good forward planning. Some things will still come up, so the next best thing is to try and delegate the tasks. If you absolutely can’t delegate these tasks, try batching them so you get as many done as possible in a short amount of time.

4. Not urgent, and not important

The final section in the Eisenhower Matrix is the ‘Not urgent, and not important’ section. These are tasks or activities that won’t contribute to your professional or personal goals. These are also tasks that don’t need immediate attention. If you really think about tasks that fall into this section, you’ll likely realise that most of them are just distractions – especially in your professional life.

The best practice would be to try and limit this type of time-wasting task from your working day. Some examples of tasks that might fall within this section are:

  • Checking your email or Slack messages every half-hour
  • Attending meetings that don’t require you or you can’t contribute to
  • Micromanaging other people’s tasks and workloads

You should feel pretty comfortable removing any task that falls into this section. It’s not urgent, and it’s not important – so why would you do it? If it’s still something you feel strongly should be done, then it might fit better into another category. Alternatively, you could add the task to another list of ‘maybe one day’ tasks.

How to prioritise your tasks with the Eisenhower Matrix

Getting the most out of the Eisenhower Matrix really relies on your already having fairly good time management skills and a solid grasp on managing your professional and personal projects. If you already have these two skills, then bringing the Eisenhower Matrix into the fold could quickly turn you into a productivity powerhouse. But remember, you really can’t use the Matrix to its full potential if you don’t have the time to use it. There are a few ways you can get better at prioritising your tasks.

Track your activities

By tracking your activities, you can identify where you’re most productive and where you’re not. This can help you manage your time more effectively and plan your week. For example, if you find preparing reports particularly tiring, you could try blocking out time on a single day to get them done. This way, you’re not repeating a tiring task throughout the week, helping keep your energy levels higher at other times.

Kill the non-urgent, not important

After you’ve built your matric and you understand what tasks you need to accomplish, it’s time to kill the non-urgent and not important. One way you can do this is by delegating them, but if that’s not an option, you could try allocating a set time each week to batch the tasks and work through them. Things like responding you your standard emails and work messages might fall into this section, so you could allocate an hour at either end of your day to batch them all at once. Now you no longer need to keep one eye always on your inbox.

Keep the list short

Limit what you try to take on. If you try to take on too much all at the same time, you’re doomed to fail. No one can do everything, all at once. So try to limit each section to just a handful of tasks. Doing this will help avoid overwhelming yourself with a huge to-do list and should give you enough time to get everything done.

Your workspace, your rules

Make your workspace your kingdom. At work, interruptions can come in all different shapes and sizes. Unexpected messages or emails, colleagues stopping by your desk. While your quality of work might not change, these interruptions can disrupt your flow and increase your stress levels – which might lead to a drop in productivity and quality. You can tackle this by planning out your day and blocking deep work (or ‘do not disturb’) times where all notifications are off and the headphones are on (or however you let your colleagues know that you don’t want to be interrupted).

Creating your own Eisenhower Matrix

If you’ve been convinced by the power of the Eisenhower Matrix, you might be keen to give it a go yourself. There’s absolutely no need to overengineer this. All you need to get started is a sheet of paper (or a notebook) and a pen. Sketch out the basic diagram and start listing your tasks.

If you’d like to get a bit more fancy, you could use something like Notion to build your template. Whatever solution you use, it’s always a good idea to keep it handy so you can use it whenever you need it.

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