The Eisenhower matrix is a task management tool that assists in sorting tasks based on urgency and importance.
The tool is a simple to use and intuitive graphic organizer. Users simply place their tasks in one of four quadrants on the Urgency-Importance matrix, depicted below:
Each quadrant is explained below:
- Important-Urgent: The “Do” tasks. Tasks placed in this task should be completed first. They need to be done immediately, and it’s important that they be done.
- Important-Not Urgent: The “Schedule” tasks. If a task is important but not urgent, we run the risk of ‘kicking the can down the road’. Instead, you should schedule this task for a specific date and time.
- Not Important-Urgent: The “Delegate” tasks. While this task is urgent, its lower degree of importance means it can be safely delegated to someone else. This might be an employee, team member, family member, etc. You may want to circle-back to this task to check it was done correctly later.
- Not Important-Not Urgent: The “Delete” tasks. If the tasks is neither urgent nor important, it should be deleted from your to-do list. It doesn’t warrant the mental effort or time.
Eisenhower Matrix Examples
Quadrant I: Important-Urgent Tasks
Urgent-important tasks are those that require immediate attention. They tend to be related to a crisis or deadline.
Generally, if the deadline is not met or the task is not done immediately, there will be negative consequences. So, they’re both urgent and important.
Here are some examples of urgent-important tasks:
- Medical Emergency: If you or someone close to you has a health issue that needs immediate attention.
- Critical Work Deadlines: A project or report that’s due today or tomorrow.
- Unplanned IT Outages: If you’re in a role responsible for IT and the company’s server goes down.
- Paying Overdue Bills: Especially if non-payment might result in penalties or service interruptions.
- Fixing a Major Leak at Home: Water damage can escalate costs and damage quickly.
- Responding to a Recall Notice: Especially for critical items like car brakes or child safety seats.
- Handling a Crisis at Work: Such as a PR issue that needs immediate attention.
- Dealing with a Car Breakdown: Especially if you rely on it for daily commuting.
- Addressing a Safety Concern: If there’s an immediate threat to personal safety at home or work.
- Attending a Funeral: Especially if it’s for someone close to you.
- Handling a Child’s Emergency: Such as an injury at school.
- Addressing a Critical System Error: If you’re in a tech role and a major system fails.
- Meeting Tax Filing Deadlines: To avoid penalties.
- Handling a Legal Summons: If you’ve been served and need to respond or appear in court.
- Addressing a Major Compliance Violation: If you’re in a role where compliance is key and there’s been a breach.
- Dealing with a Power Outage at a Critical Facility: If you’re responsible for operations and power is essential.
- Responding to a Natural Disaster: Preparing for or dealing with the immediate aftermath of events like hurricanes, floods, or earthquakes.
Quadrant II: Important-Not Urgent Tasks
Important-Not Urgent tasks are related to maintaining personally valuable relationships or long-term personal goals. Sadly, these are the tasks that are at most risk of being forgotten or ignored until they become serious problems.
To avoid this eventuality, you’ll want to set a firm schedule for when these tasks will be done. Set your own deadlines and set aside time to do these tasks in your busy week. If you don’t do these tasks soon, then you may come to regret it.
Here are some examples of important-not urgent tasks:
- Regular Exercise: Maintaining physical health and wellness.
- Maintaining Friendships: Spending quality time with friends before you drift apart.
- Calling your Elderly Parents: It’s not urgent, but if you don’t dedicate time for parents now, you may regret it later.
- Quality time with your Partner: If we forget to focus on our partner and maintain our marriage, we may start to cause resentment.
- Routine Medical Check-ups: Regular visits to the doctor, dentist, or other health professionals.
- Reading: Personal and professional development books, research papers, or other informative materials.
- Professional Development: Taking courses or attending workshops to upgrade skills.
- Meditation or Mindfulness Practices: For mental well-being and stress reduction.
- Financial Planning: Setting a budget, planning for retirement, or other financial goals.
- Home Maintenance: Routine checks and fixes to prevent bigger issues in the future.
- Personal Reflection and Journaling: Understanding oneself better and tracking personal growth.
- File Backup: Regularly backing up important files and updating security measures.
- Meal Planning and Cooking: Ensuring a balanced and healthy diet.
- Setting Boundaries: Ensuring work-life balance by setting specific times for work and relaxation.
- Updating Legal Documents: Like wills, contracts, or other essential papers.
- Planning Vacations or Breaks: Ensuring you have downtime and moments of relaxation in the future.
Quadrant III: Not Important-Urgent Tasks
These are tasks that need to get done immediately, but aren’t centrally important to you or your career. It might be a task that needs to be done by the end of the week, but in the scheme of things, it isn’t important to your long-term or even short-term goals.
Because these tend to be lower-risk tasks, we can often delegate them to an understudy, employee, a service provider, or even your kids as a chore.
Below are some examples of not important-urgent tasks:
- Unscheduled Calls: Phone calls that interrupt your workflow, especially if they’re not related to your primary objectives. These could be delegated to a call center.
- Some Emails: Not every email is essential. Many can be batch-processed and delegated to a virtual assitant.
- Lower-Level Meetings: You could delegate a keeper of minutes to pass-on the meeting minutes instead of attending in-person.
- Your Child’s Permission Note: You could negotiate for your partner to sign-off on these, if they have more time than you.
- Tasks Delegated by Others: Sometimes, people might offload their responsibilities onto you, which aren’t crucial for your role but need to be done. You could pass these on to understudies.
- Urgent but Non-Essential Requests: Someone urgently needs a favor that doesn’t align with your priorities. You could ask your assistant to negotiate this favor so you just need to give it the final nod of approval.
- Reactive Tech Issues: You could get the IT team to respond to minor tech glitches on your computer that aren’t critical.
- Addressing Minor Complaints: Some complaints or feedback might sound urgent but aren’t crucial and can be addressed by a PR member of your team.
- Chasing Small Sales: In business, going after every small sale instead of focusing on larger, more strategic opportunities, is less important, and can be delegated to interns or lower-level employees.
- Checking Sales or Stats Frequently: I get caught up in this task of constantly refreshing to see website traffic numbers. I could delegate this to my SEO manager who could simply produce monthly reports for me.
- Shopping Sales: Buying something just because it’s on sale, not because you need it. The sale makes it seem urgent, but it’s not important.
- Tasks with Short Deadlines but Low Impact: Just because something needs to be done quickly doesn’t mean it’s important. You may need to train a new hire to take these off your plate.
- Handling Minor Requests from Superiors: Sometimes, higher-ups might ask for something urgently, but it doesn’t align with the main objectives. Your assistant could help with this.
- Jumping into Others’ Emergencies: Always being the “firefighter” for others can distract from your priorities. A clear chain of actions they can take before this task lands on your place could help get these tasks into the ‘delegated’ checkbox.
Quadrant IV: Not Urgent-Not Important
This is the satisfying group because we can start drawing red lines through these tasks, relegating them to the ‘deleted’ pile, never to think about again.
These are tasks we might feel obliged to complete, we do out of habit, or are unhealthy habits. When we are going through our to-do list and sorting tasks, we need to think: is this task either urgent or important? If not, it could be harming our overall productivity.
Some examples of not urgent-not important tasks include:
- Mindless Web Browsing: Spending hours surfing the internet without a specific purpose.
- Excessive TV Watching: Binge-watching shows that don’t add value to your life.
- Endless Social Media Scrolling: Consuming content without intention or purpose.
- Playing Mobile Games Excessively: Especially those designed to be addictive without providing real value.
- Tasks you Regret saying ‘Yes’ To: These are tasks you committed to, but now realize are neither important or urgent. See if you can pull out of these obligations diplomatically.
- Attending Unnecessary Social Gatherings: Going to events or parties out of sheer boredom rather than genuine interest.
- Over-Organizing or Rearranging: Spending time organizing things that don’t need it because you’re just an over-organizer as a way to prograstinate.
- Watching Interesting YouTube Videos: While the videos might look fun, remember, they’re designed to steal your attention.
- Making Personal Calls During Work: You might have the idea of making that personal call in the back of your mind, but really, it’s not urgent nor important. Time to let it go!
- Re-reading the Same Information: Ask yourself if you’ll actually get any value out of re-reading that white paper.
- Waiting Around Without a Reason: This might include waiting for your friends to finish work so you can leave together.
- Constantly Checking Social Media Stats: This is often unproductive, so see if you can go a month without bothering to look!
- Collecting Items You Don’t Need: Accumulating things without value or purpose.
The Benefits of the Eisenhower Matrix
1. Enhances Prioritization
The main purpose of this graphic organizer is to effectively prioritize your tasks. The Eisenhower Matrix framework simplifies your tasks through the process of categorization, with clear and easy instructions on how to determine which category the task belongs in. Some items are vital and need immediate attention, while others are non-essential and can wait. This methodology effectively sorts out which is which, helping you to realize your priorities and even realize what should be removed from your to-do list entirely.
2. Encourages Productivity
While prioritization is the immediate benefit, the flow-on benefit is productivity. A disordered list of tasks can consume your mental energy. However, when you apply the Eisenhower Matrix, you have very clear instructions on what to do next – as in, what to do right now. Working on the most urgent and significant tasks first before proceeding to the less critical ones can drastically improve productivity levels.
3. Fosters Decision-Making
Sometimes, we find it hard to decide on what to do next because we are so confused and overwhelmed. Oftentimes, it’s challenging to decide where to dedicate your finite resources, such as time and effort, until you’ve used a tool like this matris. The matrix pushes us through the ‘paralysis by analysis’ moment by helping us to identify what tasks are worth our attention. Once you’ve prioritized your tasks, the decision-making process becomes much more manageable.
4. Improves Work-Life Balance
At an even deeper level, using the Eisenhower Matrix could significantly contribute to a healthier work-life balance. The matrix encourages you to reflect on what’s important to you, prompting you to compare, contrast, and prioritize work tasks and personal ones together. In particular, it encourages you to reflect on those ‘important but not urgent’ aspects of life, which are often the relationship-building and personal wellness aspects of life. By scheduling time for these, you can achieve a healthier work-life balance overall. By adopting the Eisenhower Matrix, you’ll be encouraged to schedule more time to spend with your loved ones or on hobbies without skimping on professional success.
Let’s sum up with a nice visual representation of what we’ve explored in this article. The below table summarizes the key facts and some Eisenhower Matrix examples from each quadrant:
|Important||Do: Tasks placed in this task should be completed first. They need to be done immediately, and it’s important that they be done.||Schedule: If a task is important but not urgent, we run the risk of ‘kicking the can down the road’. Instead, you should schedule this task for a specific date and time.|
|Not Important||Delegate: While this task is urgent, its lower degree of importance means it can be safely delegated to someone else. This might be an employee, team member, family member, etc. You may want to circle-back to this task to check it was done correctly later.||Delete: If the tasks is neither urgent nor important, it should be deleted from your to-do list. It doesn’t warrant the mental effort or time.|
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]