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What is the Eisenhower Matrix
4 mins read

Eisenhower Matrix

What is the Eisenhower Matrix

Definition of the Eisenhower Matrix

The Eisenhower Matrix is a simple four-quadrant diagram for structuring your tasks in order of importance and urgency. Named after its creator, President Dwight Eisenhower, the matrix has been used by corporations and individuals to boost productivity for decades.

The matrix is used to divide the time we spend working into categories of urgency and importance, ranked accordingly:

  1. Important and Urgent

  2. Not Important and Urgent

  3. Important and Not Urgent

  4. Not Important and Not Urgent

By structuring your time and tasks in this way, you can avoid mindlessly working on various things for hours on end and instead focus your mindless effort where it belongs and pay concentrated attention to the tasks that deserve it. 

What are the quadrants of the Eisenhower Matrix?

As mentioned above, the Eisenhower Matrix consists of four quadrants: Important and Urgent, Not Important and Urgent, Important and Not Urgent, and Not Important and Not Urgent. Below is a breakdown of each quadrant to hello you decide which of your own tasks belong in which sections. 

Important and Urgent

This is the highest priority quadrant, where you'll put tasks that deserve the majority of your attention. Sometimes called the "Do" quadrant, this is where you may spend a great amount of your working day; focusing on your most important and stressful jobs. 

Though this is important (per the title of this quadrant), it's equally important that you avoid working exclusively out of this quadrant. As you'll see through using the Eisenhower Matrix, the theme is balancing the four quadrants for maximum productivity. 

Keeping this section of your quadrant too full will result in undue amounts of stress and, eventually, burnout. If you find yourself or your team in this position, look for tasks in this quadrant that can be moved to Not Important and Urgent or Important and Not Urgent. 

Not Important and Urgent

This is the second quadrant, sometimes ranked as the third quadrant. It's for tasks that require immediate attention but aren't necessarily very productive. It may seem counterintuitive to consider a task "urgent" and "not important" at the same time, but it’s within this unexpected thinking that the matrix’s strength really lies.

For example, a significant part of your time may be spent responding to emails or customer feedback. These tasks are urgent — since you don't want to keep clients and customers waiting — but not necessarily important, or critical, to your productivity. For this reason, this quadrant is also known as the "Delegate" quadrant, as it's the quadrant you would delegate to an employee or assistant if possible. 

Important and Not Urgent

The third quadrant (sometimes the second, depending on how you structure your own Eisenhower Matrix) is for tasks that are critical to your productivity but are free of a hard deadline. These are typically long-term tasks that you work on as soon as all of your urgent tasks have been addressed. 

This might include jobs like coming up with a slogan, designing a logo, writing a blog post, sorting your expenses, etc. These tasks have to be completed by the end of the project, but don't need to take precedence over other things on your to-do list.

This quadrant is also known as the "Decide" quadrant, because it's filled with tasks that you can decide to do when you're ready. 

But hold up. You do need to keep on top of this quadrant, so that no task that once was Important and Not Urgent suddenly needs to be promoted to Important and Urgent. This happens when you neglect the tasks in this category for so long that they become a pressing need. Complete Important and Not Urgent tasks while you still have plenty of time, to avoid panic or burnout later on. 

Not Important and Not Urgent

This category is aptly named the "Eliminate" category because it's where you put all of the tasks and routines that you want to eliminate from your workflow. You can consider these productivity killers. These are mindless, time-consuming tasks that don't amount to any measurable progress. 

Though the items in this category aren't important, listing them out is.

By listing them out, you can start to realize where the wasted time in your project is going and take steps to reduce unproductive behavior. Of course, your team should have some scheduled time wasters, for bonding and relaxation, but if any of these tasks become a regular part of your routine, then it's time to put them in check. 

How to balance the Eisenhower Matrix

By putting all of your daily/weekly/monthly tasks into the Eisenhower Matrix, you'll be able to visualize which quadrant you're spending the most time in — chances are, it’s the quadrant with the longest to-do list! From here, you can begin balancing the quadrants and, in effect, your time. 

It's important to keep in mind that balancing your Eisenhower Matrix does not mean placing the same amount of tasks in each box. Instead, it's about deciding which quadrant you want to dedicate the most amount of time to. Ideally, you'll spend very little time on Not Important and Not Urgent, or Not Important and Urgent tasks. 

You may assume that the majority of your time should be spent in the Important and Urgent quadrant, and while this isn't a bad category to operate in, this can lead to heavy amounts of stress and burnout. 

The most productive category is the Important and Not Urgent quadrant, which allows you to accomplish tasks without burning the midnight oil.

General FAQ

Who created the Eisenhower Matrix?
Though no one knows for sure who came up with the first Eisenhower Matrix, President Dwight Eisenhower was the first to popularize this specific version of a productivity matrix.
Why is it called the Eisenhower Matrix?
The Eisenhower Matrix is named after President Dwight Eisenhower, though he isn't the one who created the matrix. The matrix evolved after Eisenhower made the following statement: "I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent."
How to handle recurring tasks in the Eisenhower Matrix?
Tasks that are recurring should be placed into the Important and Not Urgent or Not Important and Not Urgent categories. If you find yourself with an abundance of recurring tasks, consider making two matrices, one for one-time tasks and another for recurring tasks.
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