The Eisenhower Matrix

Avoid the "Urgency Trap" with Dwight D. Eisenhower's famous prioritization framework

A simple framework for separating the urgent from the important


The Mere-Urgency Effect a.k.a. Why We're Bad at Prioritization

The eisenhower matrix — urgent vs. important, how to rebalance your quadrants, how to implement the eisenhower matrix in todoist.

“Who can define for us with accuracy the difference between the long and short term! Especially whenever our affairs seem to be in crisis, we are almost compelled to give our first attention to the urgent present rather than to the important future.”

— Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961 address to the Century Association

Dwight D. Eisenhower — five-star general during World War II and 34th president of the United States — was a productive guy.

During his two terms as president of the United States, he led the construction of the Interstate Highway System, created NASA, signed into law the first major piece of civil rights legislation since the end of the Civil War, ended the Korean War, welcomed Alaska and Hawaii into the union, and managed to keep the Cold War with Russia cold.

And he did it all with panache — Eisenhower was Gallup’s most admired man of the year no less than twelve times.

How was Eisenhower able to rack up so many accomplishments that would have such a lasting impact on his country and the world? He understood the fundamental difference between the Urgent and the Important. In a 1954 speech, Eisenhower quoted an unnamed university president who said, “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”

Over 3 decades later in his best-selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People , Stephen Covey repackaged Eisenhower’s insights into a simple tool to prioritize tasks, now known as the Eisenhower Matrix (also known as The Time Management Matrix, The Eisenhower Box, The Eisenhower Method, and The Urgent-Important Matrix). This framework for prioritization helps you combat the “mere-urgency” effect (more on that later), eliminate time-wasters in your life, and create more mental space to make progress on your goals.

Try the Eisenhower Matrix if you...

Find yourself running around putting out fires all day (figuratively speaking)

Are busy but don’t feel like your work has a high impact

Have long-term goals but no time or energy to make progress on them

Have a hard time delegating and/or saying no

Want to be the president of the United States (hey, it worked for Eisenhower)

This article will walk you through why distinguishing between the Urgent and the Important is so critical, how the Eisenhower Matrix helps you do it, and how to apply the matrix to both your big-picture projects and everyday tasks using Todoist .

How do we decide which task to give our attention to at any given moment? Not very well, it turns out.

A recent study in the Journal of Consumer Research set out to examine how people decide what to work on when faced with tasks of mixed urgency and importance. Across five separate experiments, researchers observed a curious pattern: our attention is drawn to time-sensitive tasks over tasks that are less urgent even when the less urgent task offers greater rewards . This psychological quirk — dubbed the "Mere-Urgency Effect" — explains why we're so bad at task and time management. We're more likely to prioritize tasks with a deadline over tasks without one regardless of their long-term payoffs.

And the effect is even more prominent in people who describe themselves as “busy”. The same researchers found that self-described busy people were more likely to select urgent tasks with lower payouts because they were already fixated on task duration. If you're already feeling a time crunch, you’ll likely continue to prioritize tasks that keep you focused on the clock.

But there's good news too — the mere-urgency effect can be reversed.  When participants were prompted to consider the consequences of their choices at the time of selection, they were significantly more likely to choose the important task over the urgent one. The findings suggest that if you keep the long-term importance of non-urgent tasks in view, you can overcome the pull toward urgent distractions and focus on what really matters.

That’s where the Eisenhower Matrix comes in.

The Eisenhower Matrix is a simple tool for considering the long-term outcomes of your daily tasks and focusing on what will make you most effective, not just most productive. It helps you visualize all your tasks in a matrix of urgent/important. All of your day-to-day tasks and bigger projects will fall into one of these four quadrants:

Urgent & Important tasks/projects to be completed immediately

Not Urgent & Important tasks/projects to be scheduled on your calendar

Urgent & Unimportant tasks/projects to be delegated to someone else

Not Urgent & Unimportant tasks/projects to be deleted

In the real world, the distinction between urgent/non-urgent, important/not important is much murkier than under experimental conditions. Here's how Steven Covey breaks it down:

Urgent matters are those that require immediate action. These are the visible issues that pop up and demand your attention NOW. Often, urgent matters come with clear consequences for not completing these tasks. Urgent tasks are unavoidable, but spending too much time putting out fires can produce a great deal of stress and could result in burnout. Important matters, on the other hand, are those that contribute to long-term goals and life values. These items require planning and thoughtful action. When you focus on important matters you manage your time, energy, and attention rather than mindlessly expending these resources. What is important is subjective and depends on your own values and personal goals. No one else can define what is important for you.

Below is an in-depth look at each of the four quadrants of the Eisenhower Matrix to help you identify which tasks go in each and how to handle them accordingly.

Quadrant 1: Urgent & Important

Urgent and Important tasks demand you take action quickly. These items typically have visible deadlines and consequences for stalling on taking action. Most often, these are either things that were sprung on you from an external source or things that you put off until faced with a looming deadline. Either way, they require a crisis mode response.

For example:

Covering a project for a colleague out sick

Car stalls on the highway

Sink springs leak and floods your kitchen in two feet of water

Clients come to you with a pressing problem

A last-minute deadline is assigned to you

Quadrant 1 tasks are inevitable. Even if you never procrastinated (which is an impossible ask), there will always be something beyond your control. However, the problem comes when you focus on these unexpected or deadline-driven tasks to the exclusion of long-term goals that are important to you.

Covey cautions that spending too much time on Quadrant 1 tasks can lead to increased stress, burn out , and the sense that your days are out of your control. Spending all day putting out fires will quickly rob you of energy and passion for your work, and may make it easier to settle into mindless escapism found in Quadrant 4.

Quadrant 2: Not Urgent & Important

Not urgent, but important tasks are the activities that help you achieve long-term goals. These may not have a deadline (or even an end date) so it is easy to put them off in favor of more urgent tasks. However, these tasks have a much greater effect on your long-term effectiveness in completing your goals.

Planning for long and short-term projects

Regular chores or maintenance projects

Professional networking and personal relationship building

Learning a new skill, keeping up with current research in your field, attending educational events

Exercise and routine healthcare

Covey says that Quadrant 2 is the sweet spot of personal time management. This is the spot where you are focused not on problems (as with Q1) but on opportunities and growth. Living from this quadrant of the matrix means that you are proactive and prioritize activities that grow your skills and energy, and contribute to accomplishing meaningful goals. Quadrant 2 is where “ deep work ” happens because you are largely freed of pressing distractions.

By attending to Q2 consistently, you decrease the number of pressing problems that pop up in Q1. Living in Q2 means that you can create a plan to complete projects and avoid possible problems. For example, if you keep putting off completing routine car maintenance, you may pay for it later when your car stalls out.

Do you manage other people?

Do you manage other people? Learn how you can help your team spend more time in quadrant 2 too.

Quadrant 3:  Urgent & Not Important

Urgent but Not Important tasks are best described as busy work. These tasks are often based on expectations set by others and do not move you closer to your long-term goals.

Unnecessary interruptions from coworkers

Checking your phone or email whenever it goes off

Responding to certain texts, emails, or social media messages

Acting on coupons or limited time offers

Some meetings

Quadrant 3 is where the mere urgency effect lives. The drive to complete tasks because of real or assumed deadlines means you take on tasks that aren’t actually meaningful to you. Given that Q3 tasks are urgent but typically related to someone else's priorities, spending too much time in this square can feel like you are doing things you should do rather than what you want to do. Focus on Q3 tasks may make you feel like you are not living up your larger life goals or don’t have control over your day-to-day life.

Covey suggests delegating as many Q3 tasks as possible. Can you have someone else take those meeting notes? Can you get your groceries delivered instead of going to the store? Can you empower your children to do the dishes?  Can you hire a digital assistant to schedule family doctor visits? Is there anything in your life you can automate?

If you can’t delegate these tasks, try to keep them from taking over your day:

Turn off notifications on your phone and computer when working

Be clear with others about how much time you can spend on a given task

Save Q3 tasks for times when you are very low on energy rather than putting them first thing in the morning

Negotiate your workload with your boss

Practice saying no

For more tips on getting out of Q3, learn how to Vanquish Busywork and Spend More Time on What Matters .

Quadrant 4:  Not Urgent & Not important

Not urgent and not important tasks are time-wasting activities that should be ruthlessly cut out. These activities don’t contribute to progress on your goals but can end up taking over large chunks of time.

Watching TV for hours

Mindlessly refreshing social media and scrolling

Avoidance activities such as sorting and organizing email rather than answering it

Excessive shopping or online browsing

Quadrant 4 is the quadrant of excess and immediate gratification that ultimately leaves you feeling unfulfilled.

Don’t get me wrong we all need some leisure time. Eisenhower himself was a well-known bridge player — even playing nightly up to D-Day — and was famously criticized for his many golf trips while in office. The key is that these activities were a balance for the many stressful aspects of being a political leader. However, if you're not intentional about it, the way you spend your downtime can actually drain your energy, passion, and creativity.

A recent study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that how employees spend their off-job leisure time is a strong predictor for how much energy and positivity they expressed the following workday. Employees who engaged in self-mastery activities such as exercise or volunteering were more motivated the following day. Employees who relaxed with yoga, meditation, or by listening to music approached the workday more calmly.

Employees who engaged in distraction activities to avoid or ignore problems, like watching excessive TV, did show a renewed positivity the following workday. However, with continued use of distraction their moods and motivation worsened as the week continued. In other words, distraction in moderation was ok, but habitual distraction resulted in less work satisfaction overall.

At a loss for what to do in your spare time when TV and social media are off the table? Try these ideas

According to Stephen Covey, quadrant 2 is the “Quadrant of Quality” where time spent engaging these tasks increases your overall effectiveness. This is where personal and professional growth meets planning, prevention, and action.

To evaluate where you currently are on the matrix, start tracking your time and tasks. If you use Todoist for task management, you can easily get a list of all the tasks you completed and when you completed them. When you have a few days worth of data, sit down and organize your tasks into quadrants by asking the following questions:

Was this urgent for me?

Was this important to me?

Remember that you are only deciding these criteria based on your desired outcomes, not someone else’s.

Once your tasks are sorted into the appropriate quadrants, examine where your time is currently being spent. Are you happy with your quadrant balance?

If you spend a lot of time in Q1, invest time in planning to anticipate and prevent problems:

Next step: Organize a weekly or even monthly plan around your current goals and deadlines. At the end of each week, do a weekly review . Reflect on how well your plan worked and adjust for the next week. If most of your Q1 tasks come from external sources, strategize on how you can better plan and anticipate them. You may need to develop a more proactive workflow with a colleague or client, or talk to your boss about rebalancing an excessive workload. If there’s a particular client who’s creating a lot of Q1 tasks, the work may not be worth the stress.

If you spend your time in Q3, delegate, eliminate, or limit the amount of time you spend on these tasks:

Next Step: Strategize and write out specific steps on how you’ll limit these tasks. Can you delegate them? Can you just say no? Can you batch these types of tasks together in a single afternoon during your week? Can you have an open discussion with your boss about just how much time you’re spending on “busywork”? Schedule time in your week to take these steps.

If you spend your time in Q4, you may be stuck in a rut, stressed, or avoiding a problem:

Next Step: Use your time tracking to identify the biggest time wasters and strategize on how to avoid or limit them. Develop a plan to overcome procrastination before you're tempted to procrastinate. Remember, it’s ok to just relax sometimes, but activities in this quadrant have diminishing returns when used excessively.

As you shift your priorities toward quadrant 2, keep using the Eisenhower Matrix to know what you should be working on day to day.

You can use Todoist to organize your tasks into the four urgent/important quadrants with two different methods: labels or priority levels. Both methods are outlined below.

Using labels

In Todoist, labels and filters work together to help you organize and sort your task list. For this setup, first create these two labels :

Todoist Tip

You can change the color of a label and add emojis to make it stand out on your list.

Once you have your two labels, go through your tasks and assign the appropriate labels to each:

Add @urgent & @important to tasks that need to be done immediately and personally

Add @important to tasks that get a due date and are done personally

Add @urgent to tasks that can be delegated or relegated to

Don't add either label to tasks that can be dropped

You can quickly assign a label to any task by typing “@” into the task field. This will bring up a list of your current labels to select from. Keep typing the label name to narrow down the list.

If you have a lot of tasks, you can quickly assign labels to multiple tasks at the same time.

Once all of your urgent and/or important tasks are labeled, create four new filters to correspond with each quadrant:

Urgent & Important with filter query: @urgent & @important

Important & Not urgent with filter query: @important & [email protected]

Urgent & Unimportant with filter query: @urgent & [email protected]

Unimportant & Not urgent with filter query: [email protected] & [email protected]

And/or combine them all into one Eisenhower filter with the query: @urgent & @important, @important & [email protected], @urgent & [email protected], [email protected] & [email protected]

Now you'll be able to check each filter view to know which urgent and important tasks need your attention first; which important but not urgent tasks need to be scheduled; which urgent and unimportant tasks you should either delegate or do in your low energy hours; and which tasks you should just delete.

To keep your important tasks top-of-mind, add your Urgent & Important and Important & Not Urgent filters to your favorites . They'll show up at the top of your navigation menu for easy access.

Using priority levels

Instead of using labels to sort your tasks, you can use Todoist’s four priority levels. Each priority level will map onto a corresponding quadrant of the Eisenhower matrix:

Urgent & Important = Priority 1 (Red)

Not Urgent & Important = Priority 2 (Orange)

Urgent & Not Important = Priority 3 (Blue)

Not Urgent & Not Important = Priority 4 (No color)

Assign a priority level to any task by clicking or tapping the flag icon and then selecting the desired priority level.  Change the priority level any time by selecting the flag icon when editing a task, or just type p1, p2, or p3 right into the task field and Todoist will recognize and assign the right priority level when you create the task. Anything without a colored flag is P4 by default.

Next, set up a filter to view your tasks by priority from across all your projects. Go to filters, then click “Add Filter” and title it Eisenhower Matrix. Under query, enter “ p1, p2, p3, p4”.

Your highest priority tasks will appear near the top of each daily to-do list in your Today and Upcoming views (tasks with both a due date and time will appear first regardless of priority level).

When using this method, remember that anything without a colored flag (p1, p2, p3) is automatically sorted as P4. If you use Todoist to store reference materials, you may want to alter your filter to exclude P4 items from certain reference projects. In that case, your filter query would read: “p1, p2, p3, p4 & !#Reference”.  (You can read the last part of this filter as “show me all p4 tasks that are not in my Reference project”.)

Dealing with each quadrant

Once you’ve set up Todoist to work with the Eisenhower Method, you can begin to evaluate your tasks. Click your new Eisenhower Matrix filters to review your tasks by quadrant.

For Q1: Important & Urgent, p1:

Review your upcoming tasks and make a plan to complete these items first.

For Q2: Important & Not Urgent, p2:

Set a reasonable due date for the next steps on each task. Get ahead of your planning by using comments to attach reference materials or add notes to your task.

For Q3: Unimportant & Urgent, p3:

Delegate as many tasks as you possible. To delegate these in Todoist, you can share projects with anyone, assign tasks , set deadlines, upload files, and discuss task details with collaborators in the comments.

Q4: Unimportant & Not Urgent, p4:

When you’re faced with a set of tasks, how do you decide which to tackle first? Do you select the task that’s going to bring you closer to your long-term goals? Or do you give your attention to the most urgent item on your list?

Use the Eisenhower Matrix to avoid the mere-urgency trap and do more of what's important to you.

Laura Scroggs

Laura is a freelance writer, PhD candidate, and pug mom living in Minneapolis, MN.

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The Eisenhower Matrix: How to prioritize your to-do list

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The Eisenhower Matrix is a task management tool that helps you organize and prioritize tasks by urgency and importance. Using the tool, you’ll divide your tasks into four boxes based on the tasks you’ll do first, the tasks you’ll schedule for later, the tasks you’ll delegate, and the tasks you’ll delete. In this piece, we’ll explain how to set up an Eisenhower Matrix and provide tips for task prioritization.

The Eisenhower Matrix is a task management tool that helps you distinguish between urgent and important tasks so you can establish an efficient workflow. In this article, we’ll explain how to set up an Eisenhower Matrix and provide tips for task prioritization .

What is the Eisenhower Matrix?

The Eisenhower Matrix is a way to organize tasks by urgency and importance, so you can effectively prioritize your most important work. 

Dwight D. Eisenhower—the 34th President of the United States and a five-star general during World War II—presented the idea that would later lead to the Eisenhower Matrix. In a 1954 speech, Eisenhower quoted an unnamed university president when he said, “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” 

[Inline illustration] What is the Eisenhower Matrix? (Infographic)

Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People , took Eisenhower’s words and used them to develop the now-popular task management tool known as the Eisenhower Matrix. 

The Eisenhower Matrix is also known as the time management matrix, the Eisenhower Box, and the urgent-important matrix. This tool helps you divide your tasks into four categories: the tasks you’ll do first, the tasks you’ll schedule for later, the tasks you’ll delegate, and the tasks you’ll delete.

How to distinguish between urgent and important tasks

Urgent and important may seem like similar words, but when analyzing them in terms of the Eisenhower principle, the difference between the two is crucial. Differentiating between urgent and important within the Eisenhower Matrix can help you identify which tasks you should jump on and which tasks might be better handled by other team members. 

Urgent tasks require your immediate attention. When something is urgent, it must be done now, and there are clear consequences if you don’t complete these tasks within a certain timeline. These are tasks you can’t avoid, and the longer you delay these tasks, the more stress you’ll likely experience, which can lead to burnout .

Examples of urgent tasks may include:

Finishing a project with a last-minute due date

Handling an urgent client request

Fixing a busted pipe in your apartment

Important tasks may not require immediate attention, but these tasks help you achieve your long-term goals . Just because these tasks are less urgent doesn’t mean they don’t matter. You’ll need to thoughtfully plan for these tasks so you can use your resources efficiently. 

Examples of important tasks may include:

Planning a long-term project

Professional networking to build a client base

Regular chores and maintenance projects

Once you know how to distinguish between urgent and important tasks, you can begin separating your tasks into the four quadrants of the Eisenhower Matrix. 

The four quadrants of the Eisenhower Matrix

A long to-do list of tasks can feel overwhelming, but the goal of the Eisenhower Matrix is to go through these tasks one by one and separate them by quadrant. Once you can see your tasks in their designated categories, you’ll be able to schedule them  and accomplish your most important work. 

[Inline illustration] The four quadrants of the Eisenhower Matrix (infographic)

Quadrant 1: Do

Quadrant one is the “do” quadrant, and this is where you’ll place any tasks that are both urgent and important. When you see a task on your to-do list that must be done now, has clear consequences, and affects your long-term goals, place it in this quadrant. 

There should be no question about which tasks fall into this quadrant, because these are the tasks that are at the front of your mind and are likely stressing you out the most. 

Quadrant 2: Schedule

Quadrant two is the “schedule” quadrant, and this is where you’ll place any tasks that are not urgent but are still important. Because these tasks affect your long-term goals but don’t need to be done right away, you can schedule these tasks for later. 

You’ll tackle these tasks right after you tackle the tasks in quadrant one. You can use various time management tips to help you accomplish the tasks in this quadrant. Some helpful strategies may include the Pareto principle or the Pomodoro method . 

Quadrant 3: Delegate

Quadrant three is the “delegate” quadrant, and this is where you’ll place any tasks that are urgent but not important. These tasks must be completed now, but they don’t affect your long-term goals. 

Because you don’t have a personal attachment to these tasks and they likely don’t require your specific skill set to complete, you can delegate these tasks to other members of your team. Delegating tasks is one of the most efficient ways to manage your workload and give your team the opportunity to expand their skill set.

Quadrant 4: Delete

Once you’ve gone through your to-do list and added tasks to the first three quadrants, you’ll notice that a handful of tasks are left over. The tasks left over are tasks that weren’t urgent or important. 

These unimportant, non-urgent distractions are simply getting in the way of you accomplishing your goals. Place these remaining items on your to-do list in the fourth quadrant, which is the “delete” quadrant. 

4 tips for prioritizing your tasks

The best way to understand the difference between urgency and importance is to use the Eisenhower Matrix, but you may still find yourself struggling to prioritize your tasks. Here are some tips that can help you with prioritization as you sort your tasks in each quadrant.  

[Inline illustration] Tips for prioritizing your tasks (infographic)

1. Color-code your tasks

Color-coding your tasks is a tactic that can help you visualize high-priority items. As you go through your to-do list tool , try giving yourself four colors based on level of priority. Use the code as follows:

Green = Highest priority items

Yellow = Second-highest priority

Blue = Third-highest priority

Red = Not a priority

Once you’ve labeled your tasks by color, these colors will directly translate to your Eisenhower Matrix. Your green tasks are your “do” tasks for quadrant one. Your yellow tasks are your “schedule” tasks for quadrant two. Your blue tasks are your “delegate” tasks for quadrant three, and your red tasks are your “delete” tasks for quadrant four.

2. Limit tasks to 10 per quadrant

Even if you have a lot of tasks on your to-do list, try to limit your tasks to 10 items per quadrant. This will keep your Eisenhower Matrix from becoming cluttered and overwhelming. 

You can make multiple matrices, but limiting your task list to necessary action items will ensure you’re beginning the prioritization process with no time to waste.

3. Make personal and professional to-do lists

Another way to limit the number of items on your Eisenhower Matrix is to create separate matrices for your personal and professional to-do lists. 

Your work and personal tasks require different timelines, resources, and methods, and they’ll likely require different thought processes as well. In order to effectively manage your personal and professional goals , you’ll need to divide and conquer. 

4. Eliminate, then prioritize

Eliminate unnecessary tasks first to effectively prioritize. With this strategy, you’ll address quadrant four before moving on to quadrants one, two, and three. 

As you skim through your to-do list, assess what items you’ve written down that don’t need to be there. 

In fact, 60% of our time at work is spent on work about work—things like sharing status approvals or following up on information. If you can quickly scratch off items, go ahead and do so. This will speed up the prioritization process, and you’ll likely go through a second round of elimination on the back end.

Eisenhower Matrix example

To get a better understanding of what tasks you may place in each quadrant of your Eisenhower Matrix, we’ve gone ahead and provided some examples for you here.

[Inline illustration] Eisenhower Matrix (Example)

Examples of tasks you may include in quadrant 1:

Write a blog post due tomorrow

Finish a project proposal

Respond to client emails

Examples of tasks you may include in quadrant 2:

Sign up for a professional development course

Attend a networking event

Add improvements to a personal project

Examples of tasks you may include in quadrant 3:

Upload blog posts

Transcribing meeting notes

Fielding non-client emails

Examples of tasks you may include in quadrant 4:

Work about work

Attending a status meeting

Sharing status approvals

Remember that it’s best to have separate matrices for work and home life so you can tackle your to-do lists using methods best suited for the time and place.

Build your Eisenhower Matrix with task management tools

Sorting through your to-do list is the hardest part of the Eisenhower Matrix, but with automation, you no longer need to do this step manually.

Use task management software to determine which of your tasks are of highest priority. With task management, you can categorize, color-code, and delegate tasks to your team. Let the Eisenhower Matrix increase your productivity so you can achieve your goals in less time.

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Introducing the Eisenhower Matrix

What is the eisenhower matrix.

Where does the name come from?

Dwight D. Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States from 1953 until 1961. Before becoming President, he served as a general in the United States Army and as the Allied Forces Supreme Commander during World War II. He also later became NATO’s first supreme commander. Dwight had to make tough decisions continuously about which of the many tasks he should focus on each day. This finally led him to invent the world-famous Eisenhower principle, which today helps us prioritize by urgency and importance.

How to use the Eisenhower Matrix?

Prioritizing tasks by urgency and importance results in 4 quadrants with different work strategies:

We call the first quadrant Do first as its tasks are important for your life and career and need to be done today or tomorrow at the latest. You could use a timer to help you concentrate while trying to get as much of them done as possible. An example of this type of task could be to review an important document for your manager. The second quadrant we call Schedule . Its tasks are important but less urgent. You should list tasks you need to put in your calendar here. An example of that could be a long-planned restart of your gym activity. Professional time managers leave fewer things unplanned and therefore try to manage most of their work in the second quadrant, reducing stress by terminating urgent and important to-dos to a reasonable date in the near future whenever a new task comes in. The third quadrant is for those tasks you could delegate as they are less important to you than others but still pretty urgent. You should keep track of delegated tasks by e-mail, telephone or within a meeting to check back on their progress later. An example of a delegated task could be somebody calling you to ask for an urgent favor or request that you step into a meeting. You could delegate this responsibility by suggesting a better person for the job or by giving the caller the necessary information to have him deal with the matter himself. The fourth and last quadrant is called Don’t Do because it is there to help you sort out things you should not being doing at all. Discover and stop bad habits, like surfing the internet without a reason or gaming too long, these give you an excuse for not being able to deal with important tasks in the 1st and 2nd quadrant.

5 time management tips when working with the Eisenhower Matrix

task urgency matrix

  • Putting things to-do on a list frees your mind. But always question what is worth doing first.
  • Try limiting yourself to no more than eight tasks per quadrant. Before adding another one, complete the most important one first. Remember: It is not about collecting but finishing tasks.
  • You should always maintain only one list for both business and private tasks. That way you will never be able to complain about not having done anything for your family or yourself at the end of the day.
  • Do not let you or others distract you. Do not let others define your priority. Plan in the morning, then work on your stuff. And in the end, enjoy the feeling of completion.
  • Finally, try not to procrastinate that much. Not even by over-managing your to-dos.

For even more tips, refer to our comprehensive introduction to time management .

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Article • 7 min read

Eisenhower's Urgent/Important Principle

Using time effectively, not just efficiently.

By the Mind Tools Content Team

task urgency matrix

Imagine that your boss has asked you to prepare an important presentation for the next board meeting.

You only have a few days to put it together, your workload is already high, and you have many other urgent tasks on your To-Do List. Because of this, you're anxious, you can't concentrate, and everything seems to distract you.

Time stressors are some of the most pervasive sources of pressure in the workplace, and they happen as a result of having too much to do, in too little time. So, how can you beat this stress, and deliver the things that are essential to doing a good job?

Eisenhower's Urgent/Important Principle helps you think about your priorities, and determine which of your activities are important and which are, essentially, distractions.

What Are "Urgent" and "Important" Activities?

In a 1954 speech to the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches, former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was quoting Dr J. Roscoe Miller, president of Northwestern University, said: "I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent." This "Eisenhower Principle" is said to be how he organized his workload and priorities.

He recognized that great time management means being effective as well as efficient. In other words, we must spend our time on things that are important and not just the ones that are urgent. To do this, and to minimize the stress of having too many tight deadlines, we need to understand this distinction:

  • Important activities have an outcome that leads to us achieving our goals, whether these are professional or personal.
  • Urgent activities demand immediate attention, and are usually associated with achieving someone else's goals. They are often the ones we concentrate on and they demand attention because the consequences of not dealing with them are immediate.

When we know which activities are important and which are urgent, we can overcome the natural tendency to focus on unimportant urgent activities, so that we can clear enough time to do what's essential for our success. This is the way we move from "firefighting" into a position where we can grow our businesses and our careers.

How to Use Eisenhower's Principle

To use this principle, list all of the activities and projects that you feel you have to do. Try to include everything that takes up your time at work, however unimportant. (If you manage your time using a to-do list or Action Program, you will have done this already.)

Next, think about each activity and put it into one of four categories, as shown in figure 1, below:

Figure 1 – Eisenhower's Urgent/Important Principle

task urgency matrix

Then use the strategies described below to schedule your activities.

1. Important and Urgent

There are two distinct types of urgent and important activities: ones that you could not have foreseen, and others that you've left until the last minute.

You can eliminate last-minute activities by planning ahead and avoiding procrastination .

However, you can't always predict or avoid some issues and crises. Here, the best approach is to leave some time in your schedule to handle unexpected issues and unplanned important activities. (If a major crisis arises, then you'll need to reschedule other tasks.)

If you have a lot of urgent and important activities, identify which of these you could have foreseen, and think about how you could schedule similar activities ahead of time, so that they don't become urgent.

2. Important but Not Urgent

These are the activities that help you achieve your personal and professional goals, and complete important work.

Make sure that you have plenty of time to do these things properly, so that they do not become urgent. Also, remember to leave enough time in your schedule to deal with unforeseen problems. This will maximize your chances of keeping on track, and help you avoid the stress of work becoming more urgent than necessary.

3. Not Important but Urgent

Urgent but not important tasks are things that prevent you from achieving your goals. Ask yourself whether you can reschedule or delegate them.

A common source of such activities is other people. Sometimes it's appropriate to say "no" to people politely, or to encourage them to solve the problem themselves. (Our article 'Yes' to the Person, 'No' to the Task will help here.)

Alternatively, try to have time slots when you are available, so that people know they can speak with you then. A good way to do this is to arrange regular meetings with those who interrupt you often, so that you can deal with all their issues at once. You'll then be able to concentrate on your important activities for longer.

4. Not Important and Not Urgent

These activities are just a distraction – avoid them if possible.

You can simply ignore or cancel many of them. However, some may be activities that other people want you to do, even though they don't contribute to your own desired outcomes. Again, say "no" politely, if you can, and explain why you cannot do it.

If people see that you are clear about your objectives and boundaries , they will often avoid asking you to do "not important" activities in the future.

Eisenhower's Urgent/Important Principle helps you quickly identify the activities that you should focus on, as well as the ones you should ignore.

When you use this tool to prioritize your time, you can deal with truly urgent issues, at the same time as you work towards important, longer-term goals.

To use the tool, list all of your tasks and activities, and put each into one of the following categories:

  • Important and urgent.
  • Important but not urgent.
  • Not important but urgent.
  • Not important and not urgent.

Then schedule tasks and activities based on their importance and urgency.

Eisenhower's Urgent/Important Principle Infographic

See Eisenhower's Urgent/Important Principle represented in our infographic .

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Sowjanya Patwari

Interesting read.

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Eisenhower Matrix

What is the eisenhower matrix.

The Eisenhower Matrix is a productivity, prioritization , and time-management framework designed to help you prioritize a list of tasks or agenda items by first categorizing those items according to their urgency and importance.

Also called an Eisenhower Decision Matrix, Eisenhower Box, or Urgent-Important Matrix, this approach consists of drawing a four-box square with an x-axis labeled Urgent and Not Urgent, and the y-axis labeled Important and Not Important. Then, group the items on your list into one of the four boxes, with the Urgent-and-Important box in the upper left requiring your immediate action.

What’s the History of the Eisenhower Matrix?

President Dwight Eisenhower himself developed the concept behind what would later be called the Eisenhower Matrix. He used it to help him prioritize and deal with the many high-stakes issues he faced as a US Army general, then as Supreme Allied Commander of NATO Forces, and eventually as president of the United States.

Decades later, author Stephen Covey popularized Eisenhower’s framework in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People . As a result of Covey’s work, the Eisenhower Matrix has become a widely used time-management and decision-making framework in business.

Below is a sample Eisenhower Box taken from another of Covey’s books, First Things First .

Eisenhower Matrix Template:


How Do You Use the Eisenhower Matrix?

After you’ve drawn your Eisenhower Matrix, you will have four empty boxes, two by two. This will allow you to categorize your to-do items into one of four possible descriptions:

First Quadrant  (upper left): urgent and important

Second quadrant  (upper right): important, but not urgent, third quadrant (lower left): not important, but urgent, fourth quadrant (lower right): neither important nor urgent.

According to productivity expert James Clear, you can understand the items in each of the four quadrants with this simple framework: Do, decide, delegate, and don’t do (or delete).

Do the tasks in quadrant 1.

These are the items that are both urgent and important, and they, therefore, demand your action right away.

Items in this quadrant typically include crises and issues with deadlines. One example, Covey explains in his sample Eisenhower Matrix above, might be a fire in your kitchen.

Decide on when to deal with the tasks in quadrant 2.

These are essential issues, but they’re not urgent and therefore don’t require your immediate action. So these are the items you’ll want to schedule work for a later time.

Quadrant 2 items are typically tasks or projects that can help you personally or professionally or help your business achieve a long-term goal.

Delegate the tasks in quadrant 3.

These are urgent items that pop up and demand immediate attention. But because they’re not necessary, they don’t necessarily require your time, and they can, therefore, assign them to someone else.

Examples of these items would be requests for help from colleagues or emails marked urgent. If the content of these interruptions doesn’t rise to your level of importance, delegate them to others.

Delete the items in quadrant 4.

These items in your Eisenhower Matrix are not essential or urgent, so you can, in most cases, erase them from your list.

Quadrant 4 items include scrolling through Facebook, checking Twitter, or playing games. These tasks are okay if you have time or need a break from the more important and more urgent items, but they should not displace them on your list of priorities.

Eisenhower Matrix for Time Management

While the Eisenhower Matrix is primarily a means for prioritization, it offers similar benefits for figuring out how individuals or teams should spend their time. Business doesn’t necessarily equal optimal output. However, we can spend our time on plenty of tasks with minimal impact. The Eisenhower Matrix acknowledges this and instead helps people make the most of the time they have.

For instance, items in quadrant 1 are urgent, so these should command your immediate attention. Tackling these items and crossing them off the list first ensures what was most pressing and important doesn’t get dropped. Only once everything in the first quadrant is finished—or taken as far as possible for the moment—should your gaze wander elsewhere.

Quadrant 2 contains everything that’s important but isn’t as time-sensitive. Therefore,  these are the items you should chip away at once you’ve cleared everything in the first quadrant. Ideally, you can make enough progress early enough that they never become urgent and migrate to quadrant 1.

Next up is getting everything in quadrant 3 off your plate altogether by delegating it to someone else. Only items you’re comfortable with delegating should appear there, to begin with, but once they do, they should get transfered to their new owner.

And while delegating quadrant 3 tasks frees up some of your time, it’s quadrant 4 that opens up your schedule. That’s because you’re never going to do any of them! Just cross them off and breathe a sigh of relief that there’s a little less on your to-do list.

Of course, quadrant 4 items span beyond unnecessary tasks, but also the unrewarding time-wasters contributing to your time crunch in the first place. Continuously checking social media, doom scrolling through the news, binge-watching television shows, and burrowing down the rabbit holes of the Internet never officially make our to-do lists, but they suck up a shocking amount of our time.

By recognizing this reality, slotting these items in quadrant 4, you’re consciously deciding to avoid or abstain from habits and behaviors that provide little reward while slashing productivity. If nothing else, constantly reminding you what NOT to do should open up a few more hours to knock out things you should be doing.

Eisenhower Matrix Examples

Furthermore, to put theory into practice, here are a few examples of what an Eisenhower Matrix works in different scenarios.

Product Owner

In addition, product owners sit at the nexus of implementing the product vision based on the priorities of the business. They’re doing well when the product development team has what they need to move forward, and product owners fail when they’re a bottleneck.

An Eisenhower Matrix can help product owners make sure they take care of what matters most for the overall success of the sprint and product.

Project Manager

Since project managers spend all day telling other people what they should be working on, they should apply a similar lens to their own daily lives. Moreover, an Eisenhower Matrix calls out what demands their attention and what should get left for others (or no one at all).

Director of Product

As a full-time manager, Directors of Product must delegate to succeed, not to mention ensuring that the goals, vision, and objectives are clear to everyone on their team. An Eisenhower Matrix may assist in how they allocate their time to maintain a high-performing product team.

Try the Eisenhower Matrix for Yourself

As Eisenhower said in his first term as president, “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent [problems] are not important, and the important are never urgent.”

In addition, learning how to view both your to-do lists and your list of long-term goals through this prism will help you prioritize your days, weeks, and longer timeframes more strategically and effectively.

Subsequently, if you have an ever-growing list of goals and tasks and you haven’t yet found a prioritization framework to help you determine which items to tackle first, drawing an Eisenhower Matrix is an excellent place to start.

Want to learn more about prioritization? Watch the following webinar.

Read the product manager's guide to prioritization  ➜

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Home » Coaching Blog » Common Coaching Topics » Productivity & Time Management » Coaching Tools 101: The Urgent Important Matrix - What and How To Use it!

Coaching Tools 101: The Urgent Important Matrix - What and How To Use it!

Urgent Important Matrix on Desk with Pen

The Urgent Important Matrix is a powerful productivity and time management tool to help people manage their time more effectively. It divides tasks into 4 quadrants according to how urgent and important they are, which helps people understand where their time goes and be more productive with the time they have.

Who benefits from The Urgent Important Matrix?

The Urgent Important Matrix is great for a wide spectrum of coaches from career, executive and business coaches to life, parent and spiritual coaches. You can also use The Urgent Important Matrix with youth and anyone disorganized to help them be more focused. It also makes a compelling experiential tool to use in a workshop or webinar, and remember to use it for yourself too...

So, what is The Urgent Important Matrix?

Former US President Eisenhower used this so-called Eisenhower Principle to organize his tasks. He is quoted as saying, "What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important." But it was Dr Stephen Covey (who wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People ) who took these concepts mainstream in his book, calling it The Urgent Important Matrix .

A Quick Overview of The Urgent Important Matrix

Urgent Important Matrix Image of Quadrants

What do we mean here by Important and Urgent?

So, let's take a more detailed look at each Urgent Important Matrix quadrant.

Quadrant 1: crises or "important and urgent" tasks.

What: Tasks that fall into this quadrant include deadlines, urgent meetings, pressing problems, crises and fire-fighting.

This can be anything from an overdue project or report to customer complaints, a severe bottleneck or broken business process right through to a burst pipe or a health issue like a toothache that hasn't been dealt with!

How we feel: When we spend a lot of time in this quadrant we become stressed and burned out.

Goal: Minimise time spent in this quadrant by prioritizing, planning and delegating ie. spending more time in Quadrant 2.

Coaching Tips

Quadrant 2: Goals and Planning or "Important and Non-Urgent" Tasks

Surfer on a Wave

This Magic Quadrant is like surfing a wave. Stay on top of important things, make good progress and don't allow crises to develop!

What: This is your MAGIC quadrant! Also called the big picture quadrant, these actions move us towards our big goals and projects. They could include planning, relationship and team-building, issue prevention and risk-assessment and even health and recreational activities that help us maintain balance in our lives like a dentist appointment or booking a plumber.

How we feel: When we spend a lot of time in this quadrant we feel calmer and under control, we deal with most issues before they arise and are likely to have solid support from others. All of this means fewer crises to manage later which is good for our clients, their careers AND the organizations they work for.

Goal: Help your clients maximise the time spent in this quadrant.

Quadrant 3: Interruptions or "Urgent and Not Important" Tasks

What: Tasks or activities in this quadrant interrupt or take us away from our important tasks. This could be anything from co-workers stopping by for a chat, unnecessarily checking your email, answering the phone to other people's interruptions and unimportant meetings.

How we feel: When we spend a lot of time in this quadrant we feel like we're not achieving much or getting anywhere. Often, as a result, we react to others unpleasantly and feel stuck, frustrated and stressed out.

Goal: Minimize the amount of time in this quadrant by reviewing and prioritizing task lists and focusing on high importance tasks first.

Quadrant 4: Distractions or "Not Urgent AND Not Important" Tasks

What: Time spent in this quadrant are distractions from the tasks at hand. They can range from excessive or irrelevant email or phone calls from friends, social media usage to any activity we use that wastes time and avoids necessary work. These distractions lead to us being late, not finishing projects or tasks on time and can leave us tired, stressed and unable to be effective.

In our personal lives things like excessive TV or internet surfing at home can also fall into this category. At an extreme, too much time spent in this quadrant can lead to negative self-talk, depression and even people being fired!

It's important to note that some distractions can leave us feeling energized—in measured doses. So we're not saying people have to be focused all the time, just that to make best use of time we need to be aware of when, where and how often—and for how long—we distract ourselves.

Goal: Eliminate time spent unconsciously in distractions. Then use the time reclaimed from this quadrant to boost other areas.

The Urgent Important Matrix Summarised

The essence of the simple but powerful urgent important matrix is:.

Get your own Urgent Important Matrix Worksheet!

You can create your own handout , or simply ask clients to draw the Urgent-Important grid on a piece of paper, and talk them through it.

Or you can use our ready-made Urgent Important Matrix Template & Worksheet .

Urgent Important Matrix Template Page 1

Final thoughts on using this tool

The Urgent Important Matrix is an incredibly helpful concept. But remember that how much time your client spends in each quadrant will depend on many things including their personalities, how excited they are about their jobs, life and the type of job (and even boss), that they have.

Everyone needs to find a unique way of working that works for them—and it's our job as coaches to our clients them do just that.

Do you love time management?

If you loved this Urgent Important Matrix, you'll also love our Time Management Toolkit! This toolkit also contains the Urgent Important Matrix, the Action-Priority Matrix, Not To-Do List and Interruptions Blaster mentioned—plus 4 more tools and a detailed user guide to help your clients be more efficient and productive.

Productivity and Time Management Coaching Tools, Forms, Exercises, Templates in a Folder

Productivity & Time Management Toolkit

See the 9 products included >>

Also Available In: Coaching Tools & Exercises MEGAPack!

Finally, if you liked this article about The Urgent Important Matrix, you may also like:

Emma-Louise Elsey Headshot

Contributing Author:

Emma-Louise Elsey has been coaching since 2003 and is the Founder of The Coaching Tools Company and Fierce . She's passionate about coaching and personal development. Originally a project and relationship manager for Fortune 500 companies she combined her love of coaching, creativity and systems to create over 100 brandable coaching tools, forms and exercises including 30+ completely free coaching tools . She now serves coaches and the coaching world through her exclusive newsletter for coaches , Coaches Helping Coaches Facebook Group and many other great tools for coaches, plus resources and ideas for your coaching toolbox. The Coaching Tools Company is an official ICF Business Solutions Partner.

Learn more about Emma-Louise & see all their articles here >>

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Everything in life seems important but to treat the urgent matter with sense of urgency is a great challenge

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Hi Akinjide, the idea with The Urgent Important Matrix is to stop the "urgent" matters BEFORE they become urgent by planning and being organized! This tool helps you see where you might be spending your time, and making changes to be more effective 🙂 Warmly, Emma-Louise

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Very Useful - Thanks

Hi Allie, so glad you found this article on the Urgent Important Matrix helpful 🙂 Warmly, Emma-Louise

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The Eisenhower Matrix is one of the few productivity techniques that I actually find useful! It helps me focus on what I need to get done first. I actually use a platform called eisedo, which automatically prioritises my tasks into one of the four quadrants. It saves me a lot of time in deciding where to start and really helps me to make genuine progress!

That's really cool Sophia. I love the idea of an app that uses The Urgent Important Matrix as a guide! Thank-you for your comment 🙂 Warmly, Emma-Louise

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Productivity tips, calendar hacks, & product updates from the reclaim team..

task urgency matrix

Have you ever looked back on a super busy week only to realize you’ve hardly made progress on your long-term goals? Although you’ve barely come up for air putting out little fires everywhere, got all those last-minute requests done for your boss, and even made it to every meeting on your calendar – you haven’t gotten closer to where you really want to be. 

The problem isn’t that you’re not working hard enough, but rather that you’re working too hard on the wrong things. Even when you’re diligently chipping away at your to-do list every day – if you’re not effectively prioritizing your most important tasks, you’re ultimately undermining your performance in the long run. 

Author Stephen R. Covey highlighted this issue in the bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People , reflecting, "most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important”. 

But how are you supposed to know what is urgent and what is important when everything feels really important all the time? In this blog post we’re going to break down this ‘urgency trap’ and share 5 tips on how you can use the Eisenhower Matrix to better align your time with your priorities every week (free template included!).

Avoiding the urgency trap

If you’ve ever seen a new email in your inbox with a subject line that included words like URGENT, IMMEDIATELY, ASAP, SOS, or NOW (with any amount of caps or exclamation points) – you probably know the panicky feeling that quickly follows. In fact, you might usually drop whatever you’re doing to handle it right away because it’s obviously super important.

A 2018 study found that when people are deciding what tasks to work on, they will consistently prioritize urgent tasks over important tasks – even when the urgent task offers much less of a reward. This psychological phenomenon is called the Mere Urgency Effect and suggests that people will pick tasks with a short completion window because they provide more immediate payoff, instead of prioritizing important tasks with much larger reward that would take longer to complete.

But exactly what is the difference between urgent and important tasks? 

Difference between urgent vs. important tasks:

The thing is, the human brain has a hard time telling the difference between the two (which is why urgent tasks often feel important in the moment). Also known as the urgency trap, urgency effect, or urgency principle – this tendency actually helps explain why many professionals inherently struggle with time management. 

Consider urgency like a set of blinders that keep you nearsighted. They demand immediate attention and block your wider view of more important priorities that offer greater rewards down the line. Though you might be inclined to try and finish urgent tasks first and then work on important tasks ‘later’ – this cycle ultimately results in important tasks constantly getting set aside to accommodate the never-ending flow of new, ‘urgent’ demands. 

task urgency matrix

Shockingly, 78.7% of people say they feel stressed by increasing tasks and lack of time to get it all done every week – but how much of that task load is truly important work? Professionals who get stuck in the urgency trap are often stressed and mentally exhausted from being overrun by other people's priorities. And since they’re constantly occupied with urgent tasks, there is never enough time in the week for meaningful progress on their own priorities. The reality is – many professionals in this cycle might not even be aware that their ‘busyness’ isn’t actually productive.

But there is good news! The same study also found that the urgency effect can be reversed. When prompted to reflect on the long-term consequences of their decision between an urgent and important task, participants were more likely to choose the important one. 

So, with a little mindfulness and effective task prioritization methods it is possible to avoid the urgency trap and align your time and efforts where they matter most. Sounds great, but how do even start? Cue the Eisenhower Priority Matrix.

What is the Eisenhower Matrix?

You might have heard of the prioritization framework before, but what exactly is the Eisenhower Matrix? The Eisenhower Matrix is a decision-making and time management tool to help effectively prioritize tasks according to their urgency and importance.

But to really understand the value of this now popular productivity method used by professionals across the world – we have to go back to its beginning and brush up on a little U.S. history.

The Eisenhower Matrix was actually created by Dwight D. Eisenhower – highly awarded Army General, Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in World War II, and - most famously - the 34th President of the United States from 1953 until 1961. Just some of Eisenhower’s political legacy from his two presidential terms includes creating the Interstate Highway System, establishing NASA, ending the Korean War, bringing Alaska and Hawaii into the union, and effectively managing a Cold War with the Soviet Union. 

It’s safe to assume Eisenhower’s daily to-do list was pretty demanding for most of his professional career as a leader. And this is precisely what led him to develop a time management tool to help decide where his time and energy were best dedicated every day by identifying which of his tasks were truly important, and which were urgent.

Stephen R. Covey later popularized Eisenhower's urgent-important matrix in the 1989 publication of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Inspired by Eisenhower, Covey agreed that the key to time management wasn't about trying to do more, but rather deciding where your time is best invested every day. And to help others answer that question for themselves, Covey provided a simple grid to help even non-presidents identify the true priorities in their demanding task lists. 

The Prioritization Matrix template (with examples)

Divided into four quadrants, the Eisenhower ‘Box’ - or Covey's time management matrix - helps identify your priority tasks by effectively sorting them according to importance and urgency. Let’s take a look at each of the categories of the decision matrix, with example tasks for each one to help you get started.

task urgency matrix

Quadrant I: Urgent & important

High-value tasks and activities that have set deadlines and immediate consequences if not completed on time. Prioritize completing these tasks above others. 

Examples of urgent & important tasks:

Quadrant II: Important, but not urgent

High-value tasks that support progress towards long term goals which may, or may not, have a set deadline. Create a plan to complete these tasks, and schedule time to work on them for sustainable and strategic growth towards goals.

Examples of important, but not urgent tasks:

Quadrant III: Urgent, but not important

Low-value tasks and busywork that needs to be completed on time, but don't require your expertise. Delegate these tasks to someone else, or automate the process where you can with smart tools (like to optimize your calendar management!).  

Examples of urgent, but not important tasks:

Quadrant IV: Not urgent, nor important

Low-value tasks that interrupt your focus and pull time from your other tasks. Cancel and decline these tasks from your schedule. 

Examples of not urgent, nor important tasks:

5 prioritization tips using the Eisenhower Principle

1. set goals & make a plan.

The first step in better prioritization is to actually establish where you’re headed. Take time to come up with professional and/or personal end goals that you are passionate about, and review these periodically to ensure you’re still on the same page. 

Once you’ve established your big goals, you can work backwards on a goal-ladder to identify stepping-stone (or rung!) goals that will help you in achieving them. Try creating weekly plans around these smaller SMART goals to reduce day-to-day decision paralysis and stay motivated even when the finish line is still out of sight. 

2. Take time to prioritize your tasks

Remember how participants were able to reverse the Mere Urgency Effect? Be sure to reflect on your choices before immediately responding to urgencies that might not serve progress towards your end-goals.

Take advantage of the Eisenhower Matrix (you can download the free priority matrix template here ) to regularly sort through your own master list of to-dos as they come in. That way, you can build out productive daily goals around your long-term priorities and take care of your current important urgencies without getting stretched too thin in every direction. 

3. Learn to deprioritize

You only have so much time in a week. That’s why it’s important to remember that effective prioritization also means effective de prioritization (hello, quadrant IV).

Practice strategically saying ‘no’ to non-priorities and other people’s urgencies when you don’t have the time or bandwidth. By taking back control of your availability, you can reduce time anxiety and be more confident that your efforts are being focused where they matter most – even if the greater reward is further down the line.

4. Defend time for important work

Unfortunately, urgencies and distractions don’t disappear once you start prioritizing your goals. While learning to decline non-priorities is a key element in getting the most from your week, there are other ways you can protect your time and energy better as well.

Time blocking your to-dos in your calendar boosts productivity up to 80% by facilitating single tasking and reducing context switching . But another awesome benefit is that it actually allows you to effectively communicate to others when you’re busy with priorities, and when you’re available for collaboration. That way you always have real time defended for productive deep work and important personal routines , while at the same time managing interruptions and reducing requests that pull you from those priorities.

5. Audit your progress

Once you’re putting in the effort to invest your time more productively – making it a habit to audit your calendar at regular intervals can offer valuable insight on where you can fine-tune your prioritization in your next planning session.

Look back at your schedule every week (or even monthly) to identify how much time you spent across focused work , productive vs. unproductive meetings , busywork and urgencies, or on personal habits. You can then evaluate where you’re being effectively time efficient on true priorities, and where your focus might be misallocated based on progress towards your goals.

Words of wisdom from a President to you 💡 

After his second term in 1961, Eisenhower reflected on lessons from his presidency in several pieces for The Saturday Evening Post . These words of advice on time management still offer wisdom to busy professionals six decades later,

“These are nothing more than sturdy, down-to-earth rules that, in the busy life of high officials who seem to be always compelled to deal with the urgent ahead of the truly important, can, by their availability in the mental reference library, often point the way to satisfactory solutions.”

In today’s fast-paced world, there sometimes seem to be more urgencies than hours in a day. But whether you’re running a country like Eisenhower, writing bestsellers like Covey, or trying to hit more personal or professional goals – everyone’s time and energy are limited resources. There’s only so much you can realistically do. Being able to identify which of your tasks are true priorities allows you to be more productive in the pursuit of your long-term success, without running yourself into the ground over fleeting urgencies. 

What are your thoughts on the urgency trap? Have you used the Eisenhower method to prioritize your tasks? Tweet us @reclaimai to share your thoughts! 👋

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Eisenhower Matrix: How to prioritize tasks (examples, template)

February 3, 2023 5 min read 1486 102

Eisenhower Matrix: How To Prioritize Tasks (Examples, Template)

In this guide, we’ll introduce you to the Eisenhower Decision Matrix and show you how to use it to prioritize your team’s time and tasks.

We’ll show you some Eisenhower Matrix examples and provide a free, customizable template you can use when implementing the approach on your team.

Table of contents

What is the eisenhower matrix, who uses the eisenhower matrix, eisenhower matrix example, eisenhower matrix template, how to categorize your tasks, how to get your team using the eisenhower matrix, limitations, alternative prioritization and task management frameworks.

The Eisenhower Matrix, also known as the Eisenhower Decision Matrix, Eisenhower Box, and Urgent-Important Matrix, is a time and task management tool that helps individuals prioritize their tasks by considering two factors: urgency and importance.

It is named after Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the U.S., who was known for his effective time management strategies.

To use the Eisenhower Matrix, first identify all the tasks you need to complete. Then, based on the urgency and importance of each one, place it in one of the four quadrants of the matrix:

Eisenhower Matrix

Here’s what each quadrant of the Eisenhower Matrix represents:

Anyone who needs to manage their work can use this approach. It is particularly useful for project managers because it helps them focus on the most important tasks and avoid being overwhelmed by urgent but unimportant tasks.

If you’re a product manager or a project manager, you might use the Eisenhower Matrix to do things such as:

By using the Eisenhower Matrix, you can effectively manage your time and resources and ensure that projects are completed on time and within budget.

Let’s see an example of how the Eisenhower Matrix works in practice.

In this example, the project manager has identified the following tasks:

Based on the level of urgency and importance of each task, the project manager has placed them in the appropriate quadrant of the matrix:

Eisenhower Matrix Example

Here’s how you can read the example Eisenhower Matrix above:

If you want to give the Eisenhower Decision Matrix a try, you can use our free, customizable template to get started.

To use the Eisenhower Matrix template , click here and then select File > Make a copy from the menu above the spreadsheet.

Categorizing tasks using the Eisenhower Matrix can be a helpful way to prioritize your tasks and manage your time effectively. To realistically categorize your tasks, it is important to be honest with yourself about the level of importance and urgency of each task.

Before you begin categorizing your tasks, take some time to think about what is important to you and your goals. This will help you prioritize tasks that align with your values and objectives.

Think about the potential consequences of not completing a task. If the task is important, there will likely be negative consequences if it is not completed. On the other hand, if the task is not important, the consequences of not completing it may be minimal.

Establish deadlines for each task to help determine its level of urgency. A task with an imminent deadline is likely to be more urgent than a task with a longer timeline.

It is important to be consistent in your categorization of tasks. If you consistently categorize tasks based on their level of importance and urgency, you will be better able to prioritize your time and efforts.

From time to time, review and update your categorization of tasks, as priorities can change over time. Make sure to reassess the level of importance and urgency of your tasks regularly to ensure that you are focusing on the most important tasks.

task urgency matrix

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task urgency matrix

If you plan to use the Eisenhower Matrix, you first need to explain the concept of the Eisenhower Matrix to your team and how it can be used to prioritize work and manage time efficiently.

Have each team member identify all the tasks they need to complete, including both work-related and personal tasks.

Then, have team members categorize their tasks using the matrix, placing each task in the appropriate quadrant based on its level of importance and urgency.

Encourage team members to focus on tasks in quadrant 1 first because they are both urgent and important. They should also give attention to tasks in quadrant 2, which are important but not urgent. Tasks in quadrant 3 can be delegated or postponed, while tasks in quadrant 4 should be eliminated if possible.

Encourage team members to regularly review and update their task priorities. This will help them stay on track and ensure that they are focusing on the most important tasks.

Like any other framework or tool, the Eisenhower Matrix is not a one-size-fits-all solution and has some limitations.

For one, categorization of tasks into the quadrants of the matrix can be subjective because the level of importance and urgency of tasks can vary depending on the individual and the context. This can make it difficult to determine the appropriate categorization of certain tasks.

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Furthermore, the Eisenhower Matrix does not consider external factors such as the workload or the availability of resources. It also does not account for unexpected events or priorities that may change during the day.

There are many different frameworks and tools that can be used to prioritize tasks and manage time effectively. Here is how the Eisenhower Matrix compares with other popular prioritization frameworks:

Priority Matrix

Time management matrix, pareto principle (80/20 rule).

The Priority Matrix is a tool that helps individuals prioritize tasks based on their potential impact and the resources required to complete them. It consists of a matrix with four quadrants, similar to the Eisenhower Matrix. However, the criteria used to categorize tasks are different.

Priority Matrix Example

The Time Management Matrix , also known as the Covey Matrix, is a tool developed by Stephen Covey to help individuals prioritize tasks based on their level of importance and urgency. It consists of four quadrants similar to the Eisenhower Matrix, but the criteria used to categorize tasks are slightly different.

Time Management Matrix Example

The Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule , states that 80 percent of the effects come from 20 percent of the causes.

This principle can be used to prioritize tasks by focusing on the 20 percent of tasks that are most important and will have the greatest impact.

The 80/20 Rule Example

Kanban is a project management method that uses a visual board to track the progress of tasks through various stages of completion. It is a flexible tool that can be used to prioritize tasks by moving them to the top of the board or assigning them to specific team members.

Kanban Graphic

The Eisenhower Matrix can be a valuable tool for managing time and priorities efficiently and achieving your goals, whether you are an individual or part of a team.

By understanding the framework and how to implement it, you can take control of your time and be more productive.

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Eisenhower Matrix

task urgency matrix

What is the Eisenhower Matrix

Eisenhower matrix or box (aka Importance Urgency matrix) is a prioritization tool that helps you visually divide a task list into four parts depending on the best sequence of action: Do First, Schedule, Delegate, Don’t Do.

Why using the Matrix

A matrix is a great tool to slice and dice your backlog into four parts and gives you a bird’s eye view of all your tasks and their impact. Such clear visual representation is convenient when building plans and strategies.

Who can use the Eisenhower Matrix

Anybody can use the Importance Urgency matrix to prioritize anything from personal to-dos to job duties for best productivity. The matrix can be applied to both daily or weekly tasks and monthly or yearly projects as well.

How to use the Eisenhower Matrix Template

1. prepare a list of tasks to prioritize.

First of all, decide on the task list requiring prioritization. You can get the tasks into the template in 3 ways:

task urgency matrix

2. Set up the template for your team

The template has super-standard criteria scored from 0 to 3:

Importance —How important is it for the main objective?

Urgency —How urgent is it? Is there a deadline soon?

These descriptions are too general and hard to estimate. Important for what objective? It means you should at least always keep it in mind. And if you evaluate with a team? Every member will have their own idea of ‘Importance’. In the end, such estimations won’t make any sense.

Pinpoint your main objective your tasks must influence to help you prioritize better. Our templates are fully customizable and we recommend you adjust criteria descriptions.

task urgency matrix

3. Evaluate and decide on priorities

You can evaluate all tasks by yourself, but if it’s a team project, it’s best when every team member assigns their scores.

After the assessment, all the tasks will be placed into the four quadrants according to the scores they got:

Inside each quadrant, the tasks are also listed by their significance. You can pick top tasks from several quadrants, or choose one quadrant of focus, expand it full screen, and complete only its tasks.

But please don’t forget—prioritization is just a tool to help you decide, not decide for you. So if you think that one task is more important than the other and must be done first—so be it. Discuss your priorities with the team. At the end of the day, collaborative prioritization is the best tool for team clarity and shared understanding.

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