Urgency vs. Importance: The Eisenhower Matrix

eisenhower matrix

Did you know that 40% of business owners feels that their own, personal time management gets in the way of productivity ? When there are too many things to do and not enough time to do them, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Too often, business leaders feel paralyzed by the busyness of their business, always putting out the next fire and never taking a step back to strategize.

The Eisenhower Matrix is a great way to transform a reactive leadership style into a proactive one. With the Eisenhower Matrix, you can plan the work you need to accomplish daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly. 

What Is the Eisenhower Matrix?

The Eisenhower Matrix, also known as the Urgent-Important Matrix, is a simple two-axis tool that helps you prioritize your tasks in terms of urgency and importance. By plotting items in one of four quadrants, you can determine the most effective way you and your team can accomplish what you need to get done. 

History of the Eisenhower Decision Matrix

The Eisenhower Matrix is named after President Dwight Eisenhower, the 34th president of the United States. Before he became commander in chief in 1953, Eisenhower led the United States Army as a general and led the Allied Forces in World War II as its supreme commander. He was also elected NATO’s first supreme commander in 1950.

Eisenhower’s experiences in military, political, and diplomatic leadership required him to make tough decisions about where to spend his time and energy. Eventually, Eisenhower’s leadership style came to be associated with this quote: “What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.”

Whether or not Eisenhower said these specific words may be lost to time, but it’s true that the former president often referenced a world in which urgency and importance seemed to be at odds with each other. This laid the groundwork for the Eisenhower Matrix, which helps leaders chart their tasks based on their urgency and importance.

How Does It Work?

The Eisenhower Matrix is a simple chart measuring urgency from left to right and importance from top to bottom. This creates four quadrants:

  1. Important and Urgent
  2. Important, But Less Urgent
  3. Urgent, But Less Important
  4. Less Important and Less Urgent

You can use these quadrants to determine which tasks to prioritize ahead of others:

  1. Do First: Important and urgent tasks should be completed as soon as possible.
  2. Schedule: Important tasks that are not urgent can be scheduled out.
  3. Delegate: Urgent tasks that are less important can be handled by others
  4. Don’t Do: Unimportant, non-urgent tasks require no action.

Why Is Prioritizing Important?

Prioritizing your tasks is important for a business because the efficiency of your work affects the quality of your work.

Too many business leaders waste their precious time, energy, and expertise on tasks that don’t further their company’s goals, or tasks that could be accomplished by others on their team. This means you can’t bring your entire self to the tasks that only you as a leader can accomplish.

Time Management Quadrant Examples

The four quadrants of the Eisenhower Matrix will contain different kinds of tasks depending on their urgency and importance. Examples of tasks found in each quadrant might be items such as:

1. Do First: Important & Urgent

  • Prepare for contract renewal meeting tomorrow morning with an important client
  • Make a final hiring decision by noon today
  • Approve next quarter’s budget by end of day

2. Schedule: Important, Less Urgent

  • Meet with department leaders to review monthly progress
  • Finalize new employee incentive program
  • Decide whether or not to upgrade to a project management software system

3. Delegate: Urgent, Less Important

  • Meet with a potential new client (delegate to head of sales team)
  • Try out new employee messaging systems before current contract is up for renewal (delegate to head of IT)

4. Don’t Do: Not Important or Urgent

  • Research the pros and cons of four-day work weeks (this can be done after hours, or it can be put off until it becomes important and/or urgent)
  • Get your inbox down to zero emails (this may sound nice, but it may not be the best use of your time if your current email system works just fine)

How to Use the Eisenhower Matrix

The Difference Between Urgent and Important

In order to use the Eisenhower Matrix, you have to have a clear understanding of what qualifies a task as important or urgent.

Tasks that are urgent have a fast-approaching deadline. It’s easy to confuse urgency with importance, since these tasks need to be completed soon. However, not all urgent tasks are important. 

Important tasks can only be accomplished by you and you alone. Tasks that are urgent but less important can be delegated to other people on your team to be accomplished on time.

Eisenhower Matrix & Time Management

Once you determine the urgency and importance of your tasks, you can use the Eisenhower Matrix as an effective time management tool. The Urgent-Important Matrix is more effective than a simple to-do list because it prioritizes certain tasks ahead of others for specific, strategic reasons. 

If you manage your time with too many cluttered to-do lists, it’s hard to determine which tasks need to be accomplished first. The order of your items on a to-do list may be completely arbitrary.

Additionally, your to-do lists are typically tasks you set for yourself to complete. Delegating certain tasks to others may never cross your mind. 

With the Eisenhower Matrix, you can prioritize your work assignments and tasks by specific qualities: namely, urgency and importance. Then, you can make a smaller to-do list of only the most important and urgent tasks for yourself. Other tasks can be scheduled to meet later deadlines or delegated to others on your team. The Eisenhower Matrix also helps you identify which tasks may not require any action at all.

How Often Should You Use the Eisenhower Matrix?

One of the strengths of the Eisenhower Matrix is that it can be used at any point to prioritize the tasks that lay ahead of you. This can be as simple as a quick matrix jotted down in the morning to determine the tasks of the day, or it can be used alongside other strategic planning resources to prioritize tasks for your team throughout the year.