Tips & Stories

Work More Effectively and Productively with the Eisenhower Matrix

Work More Effectively and Productively with the Eisenhower Matrix

Posted by Taylor Pipes on 02 May 2017

Posted by Taylor Pipes on 02 May 2017

Dwight D. Eisenhower, the five-star general and the 34th President of the United States was heralded for his ability to lead and make decisions in times of conflict and duress. He prioritized people and resources above everything else. Even in the darkest hours and most pivotal moments of World War II, Eisenhower was intensely ambitious and steadfastly positive.

And like many of our noteworthy luminaries, there remains a certain, almost apocryphal mystique behind how the legendary leader earned his own power-packed productivity tool. According to legend, the matrix below was attributed to Eisenhower who said, “What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.” Despite its questionable veracity, there’s not much difficulty in debating Eisenhower’s effectiveness in time management. It’s why the Eisenhower Matrix system exists today. His ability to manage his time and tasks was essentially a decision matrix—a framework for deciding what was important and what wasn’t.

Most recently, the system has been popularized by Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.


Source: Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

Time management solutions are a helpful antidote to days filled with increasingly blurred deadlines, incessant noise, and excessive disruptions. Today, one of the biggest business challenges (and personal challenges, too), is how we can decide what is urgent and what’s not. Once we clear that hurdle, procrastination melts away, and things start getting done.

The Matrix

Think of a task you need to do today. How do you decide when you’ll get it done, given all the competition from other items on your to-do list? Use the Eisenhower Matrix to help you figure it out Where you decide your task falls within a specific quadrant dictates where, when, and how long you should take to do that task. Take a look:

Quadrant 1 – “Do it immediately”

Type: Urgent and important

These are the tasks and to-dos that need immediate attention. They are very important deadlines with the highest level of urgency.

Quadrant 2 – “Decide when you’ll do it”

Type: Important, but not urgent

This is considered a strategic section of the matrix, perfect for long-term development. Items that belong here are important, but they do not require your immediate attention.

Quadrant 3 – “Delegate to somebody else”

Type: Urgent, but not important

Phone calls, emails, and last-minute meeting requests belong in this quadrant. These types of tasks usually don’t warrant your attention because they don’t produce measurable output. The goal with these tasks is to make an attempt at eliminating and reducing the things that don’t help you do work.

For some, delegation can be an attractive option by offloading work to others so that the calls, emails, and requests can still be handled, freeing you to focus on things that matter in other quadrants.

Quadrant 4 – “Do it later”

Type: Not important, not urgent

Activities that belong in this quadrant are the time-sucking things that don’t contribute any value whatsoever. Simply put, this is the stuff of procrastination—the time-wasters that prevent us from accomplishing the more urgent and important tasks in the first two quadrants. It’s best for you to see them in this quadrant so you can work hard at completely eliminating them from your work day.

Choose your own color

To add a new dimension to your matrix, assign each of the sections in your system a color. The perfect color codes to implement can be modeled after those of firefighters. Assign each color priority level.

For example:

Red = urgent: Do this task immediately

Yellow = important, but it’s not super urgent: Decide when you need to do it.

Green = urgent, not important: Delegate this task!

Grey = not urgent, not important: Dump this task!

If you’re tackling the matrix for your professional goals, you may start to see that many of your to-dos are in quadrants one and three. The biggest payoff comes from actions in the second quadrant.These are the goal-setting and evaluation of business objectives that impact the long-term success of a business, yet, they are rarely classified as urgent.

Be a steward of your most precious resource: time.

  1. Make a list of the things you need to do.
  2. Label each of the things with a number, one through four (matching the matrix).

Now that you have written your list, you have an accurate representation of the things you need to work on, and what is most pressing.

Urgent vs. important?

It’s a huge challenge to understand the things that take you off your projected course compared to the things that will move the needle. But if we don’t get a handle on this fundamental time management issue, it could leave a lot of us wishing we could get things done instead of actually getting them done.

Instead of focusing on solely the ‘urgent and important’ quadrant of the Eisenhower Matrix, ask yourself these questions to help set the future for your long-term decision-making strategies.

  • When will you deal with the tasks that are important, but not urgent?
  • When will you take the time to deal with the important tasks before they suddenly become urgent?

If an emergency comes up, your priorities will change. For example, if you own a small business, and a customer calls and asks to speak to a manager about missed expectations, that suddenly takes precedence over other action items in your matrix.

Things to be done

President Eisenhower was able to delegate tasks to his staff. If you don’t have a staff, 25 percent of this matrix is useless. To solve the problem of being a staff of one, implement a to-do list. Assign a number on each task from the list to the quadrant to which it belongs in the matrix.

If you need another way to think about what needs to be done and when, look no further than multi-billionaire, Warren Buffett. He suggests making a list of all the things you have to get done each day. Start with the very top of your list and scratch it off when you have completed it.

To do more – design your time

Here are a few more tips on using the matrix to your advantage so you can accomplish more.

  1. To-do lists help ease your mind. How you employ a list is up to you, but make sure you question (much like Mr. Buffett), what you need to accomplish first. Priority is key.
  2. The point of each quadrant is to add many actions and tasks, but it will get over-complicated if you have more than seven or eight action items. The goal is accomplishment.
  3. Try creating a separate list and matrix for your professional and personal life.
  4. Only you get to define the priority level of the action items on your list. Hit the to-do list every morning, and you’ll start to experience how it feels to accomplish your tasks at the end of the day or week.

Use the Eisenhower Matrix in Evernote. Grab this template and save it to your Evernote account. Tip: If you’ll be using it frequently, make it a shortcut!


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7 Comments RSS

  • mystrangeworld

    Dear Mr/s Pipes,

    thank you for this refreshing of the task matrix.

    I would suggest to either create a task list note for each quadrant e.g. !Task:Quadrant_1 and fill them with check boxes for each corresponding task in that quadrant.

    Furthermore I would suggets to add Reminders [with or without date] on each of the four notes.

    Another additional way would be to use tags for each quadrant e.g. a tag stack called Tasks with under tags .Q1, .Q2 etc.

    As well as qualifying tags e.g. @Work, @Golf

    More powerful could be [if you use Swipesapp] to add the swipes tag to them.

    A different way could be to to create a note for each major task with check boxes in the note for the sub tasks. Adding tagging conventions e.g. stack Tasks with sub tags .Q1 as well as date tags e.g. .2017,.05, .25
    Furthermore using reminders with dates is a powerful option.
    Eventually creating a table of content note with all the categorised notes e.g. quadrant 1 ones.

    Reminders enable you to follow time wisely your notes or to have them grouped at a click.

    I am sure there are many more ways to translate your tools into a productive integration of Evernote into your own workflow.



  • Richard Herrera

    Thank you for the helpful hints! A daily to-do-list can be very helpful for organizing your daily activities in order of importance. I have been using the A, B, C’s (A being the most urgent, then B and C) I start with A’s and add the numbers 1 thru 4 sequenchally in order of importance as well…the same with B’s and C’s. After completing all the A’s and checking them off, then move to the B’s if time allows…if not, the B’s become A’s for the next day…and so on. Whatever ‘system’ we use..will,no doubt, contribute to helping us complete our daily tasks and goals!

  • Joel Marchesoni

    As someone who is unable to delegate tasks, I’m in the group with the busted matrix. Unfortunately, that basically means quadrant 1 gets infested with urgent but unimportant (to me) tasks. Not great for morale and usually tedious but nothing to do but plow through them.

  • Kapil

    This is a great matrix to follow, also I like the example you gave of not focusing solely on the matrix, but answering how to deal with important vs urgent. I think executing tasks is one aspect, but another important aspect is to understand how you spend time. There is a need to analyse time and optimize it.

  • Atul Singh

    In a single word this article can be explained as awesome
    Or I have no words in praise of this
    Really liked reading this awesome one.
    Keep up the good work.

  • countach

    How can you define the background color of a cell of a table?

  • Craig

    I like that I can color cells of a table… if color is so important for organizing, are you planning to offer different colors of highlighters?

    [It seems 90% there, as I can copy and paste content from word with different color highlights, and that formatting is kept in Evernote (at least on Windows)]