The method got its name from General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 37th President of the United States of America, who was known for his efficiency and accomplishments. In a speech in 1954, Eisenhower shared the following words of advice: “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”
Decades later, Eisenhower’s logic was popularized by Stephen Covey in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, which became an instant hit. The Eisenhower Matrix is the perfect task organization method for individuals who:
- Run all over the office tackling different tasks without any specific order.
- Have their hands full each workday but feel like they’ve accomplished nothing of significance.
- Are not progressing on their long-time goals.
- Are prone to distractions and procrastination.
- Have a hard time saying “No” when asked to do something by superiors or peers.
- Have difficulty delegating tasks.
The Difference Between Important and Urgent Tasks
The key principle of the Eisenhower Matrix is that an individual needs to know how to distinguish between important and urgent tasks, which would help them decide which tasks should be prioritized and which ones can be delegated.
Important tasks are tasks that may not require immediate action but help individuals with their long-term goals, values, and missions. Important tasks are not likely to yield instant results, so they tend to be neglected.
When individuals focus on important tasks, they can develop a responsive mindset, resulting in them feeling calm, rational, and open to new ideas.
Here are a few examples of important tasks:
- Plans for a long-term project
- Business networking that can lead to building a stable client base
- Regular everyday household chores
- Maintenance projects, such as car repairs, etc.
- Tax deadlines.
Urgent tasks are tasks that are often time-sensitive and require an immediate course of action. Urgent tasks are basically unavoidable, so the longer they’re neglected, the higher the chances for individuals to feel stressed and burned out.
Here are a few examples of important tasks:
- The completion of a project with a last-minute deadline.
- Urgent client request for that day.
- Job offers with urgent response timeframes.
- Last-notice utility bills that need to be paid.
- Busted water pipes that leak water in the kitchen.
The Four Boxes/Quadrants of the Eisenhower Matrix
Once individuals know how to differentiate between important and urgent tasks, they can begin dividing their tasks into the four quadrants of the Eisenhower Matrix.
When individuals have a long list of to-dos, the chances of them feeling overwhelmed are high, which may lead them into a complete shutdown. The Matrix allows individuals to go through each task individually and divide them into quadrants or categories.
- Quadrant 1 - Important and urgent = Do immediately
- Quadrant 2 - Important but not urgent = Schedule soon
- Quadrant 3 - Urgent but not important = Delegate
- Quadrant 4 - Not important nor urgent = Remove
The first quadrant in the Matrix is reserved for important and urgent tasks. These types of tasks are time-sensitive and typically have pressing due dates, meaning they need to be taken care of immediately.
Some examples of quadrant 1 tasks are fixing critical bugs on a client’s website that’s been out of order, tax deadlines, etc.
The second quadrant in the Matrix is reserved for important but not urgent tasks. These types of tasks don’t have pressing deadlines and are scheduled for later. The second quadrant is also called the quality quadrant, as these tasks yield the greatest satisfaction in the long run.
Some examples of quadrant 2 tasks are weekly planning, creating a budget and savings plan, spending time with family, exercising, reading, planning, and every other type of task that’s beneficial in the long run.
The third quadrant in the Matrix is reserved for urgent but unimportant tasks. These types of tasks are nearly always some kind of interruptions from the individual’s main course of action. Most often, quadrant 3 tasks are tasks that help someone else meet their goals.
Some examples of quadrant 3 tasks are phone calls, text messages, emails, assisting coworkers, unannounced guests, unannounced get-togethers with friends, or any other type of tasks that are not directly connected to personal short or long-term goals.
The fourth quadrant in the Matrix is reserved for tasks that are neither urgent nor important. These tasks don’t bring individuals any closer to their goals or help them complete their duties. Instead, they mainly consist of distractions or leisure activities.
Some examples of quadrant 4 tasks are watching TV, playing video games, browsing the internet, browsing social media, going out on casual shopping sprees, and other types of tasks that are considered unimportant.