The Eisenhower Matrix: Understanding important vs. urgent

Published 9:49 am Saturday, November 7, 2020

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Effective time allocation is one of the most important aspects of running a successful business. However, when delegating tasks, it can be difficult to determine how much time is needed, as well as how much time should be warranted to ensure a high level of team productivity. To best understand what tasks to put at the forefront of your team’s to-do list and which projects to place on the back burner, consider utilizing a tried and true productivity tool: The Eisenhower Matrix.

Before serving as the 34th President of the United States, General Dwight D. Eisenhower served as the Allied Forces Supreme Commander during World War II. As a leader on the front, he was tasked with determining which specific tasks he should focus on each day. Ike famously said, “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” This philosophical conundrum led him to develop the Eisenhower Decision Matrix.

The Eisenhower Matrix

This time-management tool allows you to sort through your tasks to determine the best approach to check them off your list. By breaking down each item into separate categories, you’re free to be productive and efficient. On the X- and Y-axes are the two words: Important and Urgent. Urgent tasks are what must be accomplished today, while the important tasks are those that contribute to your values and long-term goals. Download this free Eisenhower Matrix template to begin listing your tasks into the four separate quadrants.

First Quadrant: Do First (Important, Urgent)

In the first quadrant, list the items that are both urgent and important to accomplish as soon as possible. This could be completing a board report for a meeting, calling a client to discuss an issue, or any task that needs to be completed by you today. Focus on these items at the beginning of the day to ensure they don’t slip through the cracks.

Pro tip: These items typically include deadlines, emergencies, urgent problems, etc.

Second Quadrant: Schedule (Important, Less Urgent)

Items that are placed in the second quadrant are tasks that are still important; however, they aren’t necessarily vital to accomplish first. It’s best to schedule these tasks and place them on the back burner for now or put them on your calendar to focus on later.

Pro tip: These items are planning, goal setting, relational tasks, etc.

Third Quadrant: Delegate (Less Important, Urgent)

While some tasks are urgent, they aren’t necessarily important to you or your goals. These are best placed in the third quadrant to delegate to others. For example, if a request comes to you that could be better suited for a colleague who has more margin in their work day or who is better qualified, delegate the task in order for it to be accomplished in a timely manner. Another way to handle this type of request is to give the information and tools needed to the individual requesting it in order for them to take on the project or fix the problem.

Pro tip: These items might be interruptions, meetings, requests, etc.

Fourth Quadrant: Delete (Less Important, Less Urgent)

In the final quadrant, list items that are neither important nor urgent that tend to be time wasters. These are tasks that may lead to procrastination or keep you from accomplishing the items listed in the first and second quadrants. While it may seem that everything on your weekly to-do list is important, the truth is there are several things we do throughout the work week that simply do not positively affect the mission or organization. Take an inventory of all the time wasters in your day, as well as tasks on your list them seem to be busywork and eliminate them for good.

Pro tip: These items are busy work, timewasters, entertainment, games, etc.

Helpful Insight When Using the Eisenhower Matrix

Like any tool, the Eisenhower Matrix only works when used properly. Check out these five tips from

  1. List making frees your mind, but always question what’s worth doing first.
  2. Limit each quadrant to no more than eight tasks. When you cross one off, add another.
  3. Include both business and personal tasks on your matrix, so at the end of the day, you’ve completed tasks for work and home life.
  4. Don’t let others distract you or define your priorities. Plan in the morning, and then focus on accomplishing your tasks.
  5. Remember, over-managing your lists can be a form of procrastination. Try to avoid this.