The Eisenhower Matrix Explained: Important vs. Urgent

Do you get easily overwhelmed when your task list keeps expanding? Are you struggling to find a helpful system to keep track of what’s important and what is due? Organizing and prioritizing your task list is essential to productivity to make sure you are working on the right things. One popular method to consider is the Eisenhower Matrix.

The Eisenhower Matrix is a task management and decision-making tool that is designed to organize a list of tasks by categorizing how important or urgent each one is. The matrix has 4 quadrants to assign value to every task to know which to complete first.

If you would like to adopt this method into your routine, then keep on reading to know what the 4 categories are and how to use the Eisenhower Matrix.

Where did the Eisenhower Matrix Come From?

“Accomplishment will prove to be a journey, not as destination”

Dwight D. Eisenhower

The Eisenhower Matrix got it’s name from President Dwight Eisenhower. Eisenhower was the 34th president of the United States, serving two terms from 1953 to 1961. Leading up to that he was a five-star general in the United States Army and served as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces during World War II. He also became the first Supreme Commander of NATO.

In everything he has accomplished, it’s no surprise his process and method have become popular and are still relevant, studied, and used today.

What is the Eisenhower Matrix?

The Eisenhower Matrix
The Eisenhower Matrix

The Eisenhower Matrix is a simple graph with 4 quadrants/categories scaled from Important and Urgent, Important and Not Urgent, Not Important but Urgent, and not Important and Not Urgent. In simpler terms, the categories are Do (Do it now), Decide (Schedule a time to do it), Delegate (Assign to someone else), Delete (Get rid of it).

This matrix was designed to categorize task lists to organize the chaos, simplify the to-do list, and reduce stress and overwhelm. It gives a clear picture of what to focus on first, what to do later, what to assign to other people and what is a waste of time altogether.

This is a great method because it can be used by anyone with a task list that is having a hard time deciding what to focus on. It can be used by project managers and owners, directors and leaders, parents, or even individual use.

Here is a helpful video explanation of the method:

What is the Difference Between Urgent and Important?

“I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Urgent and important can feel like they go hand in hand, but from what Eisenhower said, urgent are not important and important are never urgent. So what is the difference?

Urgent – When something is urgent, it is unavoidable. Urgent requires your immediate attention, or else there will be high consequences if it doesn’t get done right at this moment. Urgent is also associated with someone else’s goals and rules. For example, things at your job that has a deadline. You are reporting to someone that has expectations from you.

Important – When something is important, it contributes to that person’s goals and values. What is important then, is subjective and different for each person. For example, exercise is important, but it’s not urgent. It’s important because you want to lose weight and be healthier, but it’s easy for you to put off because it’s not urgent, there is no deadline for exercise.

What Are The 4 Parts Of The Eisenhower Matrix?

The Eisenhower matrix is split into 4 quadrants below:

The Eisenhower Matrix with Graphics
The Eisenhower Matrix with Graphics

Important & Urgent – Do

  • Top Priority – You need to do it now
  • Tasks that require your immediate attention
  • Should plan on task being completed on the same day
  • Task has clear and demanding deadline
  • A crisis, usually unexpected
  • You constantly think about this task and it makes you feel anxious or uneasy
  • Immediate or high consequences if no action is taken

Examples: Something is on fire, client projects, a family member got in a car wreck, emails that need immediate response, presentations for clients

Important & Not Urgent – Decide or Schedule

  • Second priority, important but not urgent
  • Your own personal goals
  • Contributes to your own values
  • Improves your professional or personal life
  • Don’t require immediate action
  • Would like to eventually get to, so it will be scheduled for the future
  • No set deadline
  • No high consequences if you procrastinate

Examples: Exercise, work training videos for personal or business improvement, networking, hobbies

Not Important & Urgent – Delegate

  • Specifically helpful if you have people to work with
  • Demands immediate attention but you are comfortable assigning it to someone else
  • Doesn’t require your specific skills, presence, or time

Examples: Uploading to social media, hiring a logo designer, responding to emails that don’t require coming from you

“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it”

“Dwight D. Eisenhower”

Not Important & Not Urgent – Delete

  • Not essential or urgent
  • Distractions that hold you back from achieving your goals
  • Distractions holding you back from doing your work
  • Can only be enjoyed as a reward or in moderation while taking a break
  • Bad habits
  • Things that make you procrastinate

Examples: Scrolling through social media, watching TV, playing video games

Tips for Prioritizing Your Tasks

This simple and effective method works because it makes you go through each task and assign value to each one to decide if it’s worth your time. It minimizes the stress and overwhelm of feeling like you have to complete the entire list. Here are some extra tips to help get you going.

  1. Plan and organize the week before, the day before, or the night before. Always have a plan ready before you start your day, that way you don’t waste any time dwelling or thinking about what you need to do. This can sometimes lead to overwhelm and ultimately procrastination if you wait.
  2. Have buffer time for unexpected events or distractions.
  3. Don’t put everything in the important and urgent pile, set a limit for yourself. Read here for how many daily tasks you should do for maximum efficiency. If everything is important and urgent, then nothing is important and urgent.
  4. Always have the urgent and not important tasks scheduled on the calendar, even if you don’t know when you’ll do it. Having a placeholder will be a good reminder so you’ll never lose sight of it because it’s essential to our well-being to focus on things that are important to us.
  5. Have two separate list if you are using it professionally and personally.
  6. Paper and pen are effective if that is your preference, but online tools like Asana, Todoist or Notion will help streamline the process.

“The supreme quality of leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Other task management prioritization methods to check out:

Hong Singer

I'm the creator of Ambition Forward. I keep things simple by focusing on the goal and being consistent in my actions to get the results I want, and I'm here to help you do the same. I encourage you to look for the things that bring you joy and go for it!

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