What is the Eisenhower Matrix?
The Eisenhower Matrix is a productivity, prioritization, and time-management framework designed to help you prioritize a list of tasks or agenda items by first categorizing those items according to their urgency and importance.
Also called an Eisenhower Decision Matrix, Eisenhower Box, or Urgent-Important Matrix, this approach consists of drawing a four-box square with an x-axis labeled Urgent and Not Urgent, and the y-axis labeled Important and Not Important. Then, group the items on your list into one of the four boxes, with the Urgent-and-Important box in the upper left requiring your immediate action.
What’s the History of the Eisenhower Matrix?
President Dwight Eisenhower himself developed the concept behind what would later be called the Eisenhower Matrix. He used it to help him prioritize and deal with the many high-stakes issues he faced as a US Army general, then as Supreme Allied Commander of NATO Forces, and eventually as president of the United States.
Decades later, author Stephen Covey popularized Eisenhower’s framework in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. As a result of Covey’s work, the Eisenhower Matrix has become a widely used time-management and decision-making framework in business.
Below is a sample Eisenhower Box taken from another of Covey’s books, First Things First.
How Do You Use the Eisenhower Matrix?
After you’ve drawn your Eisenhower Matrix, you will have four empty boxes, two by two. This will allow you to categorize your to-do items into one of four possible descriptions:
First Quadrant (upper left): urgent and important
Second Quadrant (upper right): important, but not urgent
Third Quadrant (lower left): not important, but urgent
Fourth Quadrant (lower right): neither important nor urgent
According to productivity expert James Clear, you can understand the items in each of the four quadrants with this simple framework: Do, decide, delegate, and don’t do (or delete).
Do the tasks in quadrant 1.
These are the items that are both urgent and important, and they, therefore, demand your action right away.
Items in this quadrant typically include crises and issues with deadlines. One example, Covey explains in his sample Eisenhower Matrix above, might be a fire in your kitchen.
Decide on when to deal with the tasks in quadrant 2.
These are essential issues, but they’re not urgent and therefore don’t require your immediate action. So these are the items you’ll want to schedule work for a later time.
Quadrant 2 items are typically tasks or projects that can help you personally or professionally or help your business achieve a long-term goal.
Delegate the tasks in quadrant 3.
These are urgent items that pop up and demand immediate attention. But because they’re not necessary, they don’t necessarily require your time, and they can, therefore, assign them to someone else.
Examples of these items would be requests for help from colleagues or emails marked urgent. If the content of these interruptions doesn’t rise to your level of importance, delegate them to others.
Delete the items in quadrant 4.
These items in your Eisenhower Matrix are not essential or urgent, so you can, in most cases, erase them from your list.
Quadrant 4 items include scrolling through Facebook, checking Twitter, or playing games. These tasks are okay if you have time or need a break from the more important and more urgent items, but they should not displace them on your list of priorities.
Eisenhower Matrix for Time Management
While the Eisenhower Matrix is primarily a means for prioritization, it offers similar benefits for figuring out how individuals or teams should spend their time. Business doesn’t necessarily equal optimal output. However, we can spend our time on plenty of tasks with minimal impact. The Eisenhower Matrix acknowledges this and instead helps people make the most of the time they have.
For instance, items in quadrant 1 are urgent, so these should command your immediate attention. Tackling these items and crossing them off the list first ensures what was most pressing and important doesn’t get dropped. Only once everything in the first quadrant is finished—or taken as far as possible for the moment—should your gaze wander elsewhere.
Quadrant 2 contains everything that’s important but isn’t as time-sensitive. Therefore, these are the items you should chip away at once you’ve cleared everything in the first quadrant. Ideally, you can make enough progress early enough that they never become urgent and migrate to quadrant 1.
Next up is getting everything in quadrant 3 off your plate altogether by delegating it to someone else. Only items you’re comfortable with delegating should appear there, to begin with, but once they do, they should get transfered to their new owner.
And while delegating quadrant 3 tasks frees up some of your time, it’s quadrant 4 that opens up your schedule. That’s because you’re never going to do any of them! Just cross them off and breathe a sigh of relief that there’s a little less on your to-do list.
Of course, quadrant 4 items span beyond unnecessary tasks, but also the unrewarding time-wasters contributing to your time crunch in the first place. Continuously checking social media, doom scrolling through the news, binge-watching television shows, and burrowing down the rabbit holes of the Internet never officially make our to-do lists, but they suck up a shocking amount of our time.
By recognizing this reality, slotting these items in quadrant 4, you’re consciously deciding to avoid or abstain from habits and behaviors that provide little reward while slashing productivity. If nothing else, constantly reminding you what NOT to do should open up a few more hours to knock out things you should be doing.
Eisenhower Matrix Examples
Furthermore, to put theory into practice, here are a few examples of what an Eisenhower Matrix works in different scenarios.
In addition, product owners sit at the nexus of implementing the product vision based on the priorities of the business. They’re doing well when the product development team has what they need to move forward, and product owners fail when they’re a bottleneck.
An Eisenhower Matrix can help product owners make sure they take care of what matters most for the overall success of the sprint and product.
Since project managers spend all day telling other people what they should be working on, they should apply a similar lens to their own daily lives. Moreover, an Eisenhower Matrix calls out what demands their attention and what should get left for others (or no one at all).
Director of Product
As a full-time manager, Directors of Product must delegate to succeed, not to mention ensuring that the goals, vision, and objectives are clear to everyone on their team. An Eisenhower Matrix may assist in how they allocate their time to maintain a high-performing product team.
Try the Eisenhower Matrix for Yourself
As Eisenhower said in his first term as president, “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent [problems] are not important, and the important are never urgent.”
In addition, learning how to view both your to-do lists and your list of long-term goals through this prism will help you prioritize your days, weeks, and longer timeframes more strategically and effectively.
Subsequently, if you have an ever-growing list of goals and tasks and you haven’t yet found a prioritization framework to help you determine which items to tackle first, drawing an Eisenhower Matrix is an excellent place to start.