What Is the Eisenhower Matrix? Definition, Tasks and Tips

Updated February 3, 2023

President Dwight D. Eisenhower recognized that great time management involves balancing your time between tasks that are urgent and tasks that are important. Knowing how to manage your time can help you be more productive in the workplace and effectively pursue growth opportunities. Eisenhower's decision-making method can be a great tool to help you choose which items on your to-do list to prioritize immediately and which you can delegate later.

In this article, we discuss the Eisenhower matrix and how to create one and bonus tips to help you effectively use the Eisenhower decision matrix in the workplace.

What is the Eisenhower matrix?

The Eisenhower matrix is a tool for prioritizing tasks you need to complete based on urgency to become more effective and productive in your work. Using the Eisenhower method, you can categorize tasks based on their urgency to determine which needs to be completed immediately and which you can eliminate. The Eisenhower matrix gets its name from President Eisenhower, who developed the technique for his own decision-making.

Before becoming president, Eisenhower was a general in the United States Army and the supreme commander of the Allied Forces during World War II. He experienced tough decisions daily about which of the many tasks he should focus on, which led him to develop a method for organizing decisions by urgency and importance. The Eisenhower matrix later became a common decision-making tool. 

Related: The Covey Time Management Matrix Explained

Eisenhower matrix categories

Using the Eisenhower matrix, you divide your responsibilities into these four different categories:

  • Urgent and important: You may work on these tasks immediately.

  • Important but not urgent: These tasks are important, but you can afford to complete them later. 

  • Urgent but not important: These tasks need to be completed immediately but aren't overly important and you can delegate them to someone else.

  • Not urgent or important: These are tasks you can eliminate.

The different quadrants can have the following labels:

  • Do

  • Decide

  • Delegate

  • Delete

Related: How To Calculate Productivity

Urgent versus important tasks

Two of the quadrants in the Eisenhower matrix are urgent and important and urgent but not critical. To better determine which tasks you can categorize into these two quadrants, it's important to understand the difference between urgent and essential. Here are the distinctions between urgent and important tasks:

Urgent tasks

These tasks require immediate attention and put you into reactive mode. They're often time-sensitive and deadline-driven. For example, responding to emails or returning phone calls may be urgent, but they may or may not be important. Urgent tasks often have to do with achieving someone else's goals.

Related: How To Create a Sense of Urgency Without Causing Stress

Important tasks

Important tasks contribute to your long-term goals, mission and values. Essential tasks are sometimes urgent, but in many cases, they aren't. For example, you may have a speaking obligation at the end of the month that's important but not currently urgent. By focusing on important tasks, you operate in a responsive mode rather than the reactive mode, which helps you remain rational, calm and ready for new opportunities.

Related: What Is Eisenhower's Urgent vs. Important Principle?

How to use the Eisenhower matrix

Here are the basic steps you can take to use the Eisenhower method effectively:

1. Classify urgent and important tasks

Start by evaluating your list of tasks and classifying the urgent and important tasks. The urgent tasks have a deadline attached to them, typically within the next one or two days. Important tasks are long-term ones. They may not provide immediate results but usually focus on long-term decisions.

Related: 14 Time-Management Techniques To Improve Productivity

2. Complete the "do" quadrant

These tasks are both urgent and important. They typically have a deadline approaching and contribute to your company's goals. Start by examining your list of tasks and assessing which are of the highest priority. If the task is important and needs to be completed within one or two days, it can go into the first quadrant.

3. Move to the "decide" quadrant

Next, identify the tasks that can go into the "decide" quadrant. These are important but not urgent tasks, such as sending important emails or following up with people. Tasks that you place in the "decide" quadrant are those that you can schedule for another time. They're important for your long-term goals. When you schedule them, ensure you have enough time to complete them so they don't transfer into the urgent category.

Related: Decision-Making Models: A Decision-Maker's Guide to 4 Types

4. Complete the "delegate" quadrant

After scheduling important but not urgent tasks, next decide which ones you can delegate. These tasks often appear important but ultimately don't contribute to your productivity. As you evaluate your list, determine if you can schedule them for a later time or delegate them. Some examples of activities to consider delegating are interview scheduling, meetings that can be conducted by someone else or replying to certain emails. Any activities you can delegate to someone else can free your time to focus on the tasks in quadrant one.

Related: Delegation Types and Skills for Delegation Examples

5. Eliminate unnecessary tasks

From your to-do list, identify the tasks that lower your productivity and don't contribute to your goals. Common tasks you can eliminate are activities you might use to procrastinate, such as attending a meeting without an agenda or checking social media. By eliminating unnecessary tasks, you have more time to dedicate to urgent and important ones. 

Related: Delegation Strategies for the Workplace

Tips for using the Eisenhower matrix

Here are some tips to consider when using the Eisenhower decision matrix:

Limit the number of items per quadrant

If you add too many items to each quadrant in the matrix, you can make it overly complicated. To effectively use the Eisenhower matrix for time management, try to limit the number of tasks to seven or eight in total.

Make separate matrixes for professional and personal tasks

While it's helpful to create an Eisenhower method for both your personal and professional life, it's best to make separate matrixes to avoid overlapping commitments. Try dedicating different times of the day to each commitment and evaluate how well the system works for you.

Assign color codes

Use color codes for each quadrant to make it easy for you to identify where they differ. This can help you recognize what needs to be done with just a glance at the matrix.

Dedicate certain times of day for certain responsibilities

Consider setting aside a certain number of hours or periods each day for activities in specific quadrants. You could also set aside several weekly hours to work on important but non-urgent tasks.


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