The Eisenhower Matrix is used to categorize tasks based on urgency and importance.

The Eisenhower Matrix: A Tried and True Time Management Tool

Productivity Priorization & Balance

The Eisenhower Matrix is a tried and true matrix-based time management tool that divides tasks by importance and urgency level.

A time management tool, the Eisenhower Matrix is based on a statement that President Dwight D. Eisenhower purportedly made: “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” Although he didn’t actually create this matrix, there’s evidence that President Eisenhower organized his work life based on this statement.

Stephen R. Covey, the leadership guru, is widely credited with popularizing this matrix in his books First Things First and Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, his most famous work. The underlying premise of this pronouncement is that some tasks are important and some are not — and some tasks are urgent and some are not. Organize your tasks based on this and you may be able to manage your time more effectively and efficiently, as well as increase your productivity.

Navigating the Eisenhower Matrix

According to TEDEd, the Eisenhower Matrix consists of four quadrants that range from important to less important on the y-axis and urgent to less urgent on the x-axis. Determining what tasks fall into what category is how you best utilize this matrix. The urgent, important tasks are the ones that you should tackle first. These tasks include responding to a true customer crisis such as a missed delivery, participating in previously scheduled candidate interviews or calling the plumber when you have a major leak.

The second quadrant are those that are important, but less urgent. Tasks that fall into this quadrant are important but, due to their lack of urgency, can be scheduled for completion at some time in the future based on the due date. Examples of these tasks include completing mandatory online training or finishing various deliverables that are part of a project you are working on.

Tasks that are less important but urgent can be delegated. Alternatively, these tasks can be put back on the requesters. For these important but non-urgent tasks, it’s not important that you do it, but it is necessary for someone to do it — hence, the delegation. For example, various emails or phone calls that come in can be delegated to someone else on your team to address or you can supply the requested information to your employee and have him or her complete the task.

Those items in the fourth quadrant, which are both less important and less urgent, can often be deleted or at least drastically reduced and done later. Items in the fourth quadrant include continually checking stock prices or spending time conversing on Facebook.

What’s Really Important?

Keeping a schematic of the Eisenhower Matrix near you as an ever-present reference can serve as a constant reminder to focus on what’s really important and to reduce activities that adversely impact your productivity. According to a University of Buffalo presentation, this matrix can also be used to help you achieve work-life balance. For example, it’s urgent and important for you to attend your child’s piano recital, but you can use a transportation service to drop off and pick up your teenager from baseball practice while you head to the recital or accomplish other tasks.

How do you determine what’s important? By how germane the task is to your personal goals or your company’s goals. If the task will help you accomplish those goals or become more efficient or effective at achieving them, then that task is important. Being aware of your objectives can really help you efficiently filter your tasks into the proper category.

The Eisenhower Matrix can help you focus on the tasks that have the most impact on your mid-term and long-term goals and objectives. Effective use of this tool may help you balance life and work, as well as organize your time more effectively. You may also find that it reduces your stress levels by eliminating the pressure to complete so many tasks in a limited amount of time.

Tiffany C. Wright
Tiffany C. Wright

Tiffany C. Wright is the author of The Funding Is Out There!, Access the Cash You Need to Impact Your Business and Solving the Capital Equation: Financing Solutions for Small Businesses. She is the founder of The Resourceful CEO, which helps owners of small/medium-sized businesses prepare their businesses for sale. Tiffany has an MBA from the Wharton School of Business, sits on non-profit boards and serves as a business mentor with the Cherie Blair Foundation.