Eisenhower Matrix: Prioritising tasks well

In the world of work, one wants to work effectively and efficiently and increase productivity as much as possible. To achieve this, priorities should be set. The Eisenhower Matrix, a method for prioritising the individual tasks on a to-do list according to urgency and importance, is suitable for this. This method was named after former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who quoted a college president in 1954: "I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent ones are not important, and the important ones are never urgent". However, this quote raises the question of what the difference is between urgent and important and how the matrix can be divided on this basis.
A statue of Dwight D. Eisenhower


The four quadrants of an Eisenhower matrix

First, the difference between urgent and important should be clarified, as it is important for the application of the matrix to know what priority each task has and to which category it belongs. The Cambridge Dictionary defines urgent as something that is very important and needs attention immediately and important as something that is necessary or of great value. From this it can be concluded that urgent tasks have a higher priority than important ones, which is how the first two quadrants of the matrix were found, namely important and urgent as quadrant A and important but not urgent as quadrant B. Quadrant C contains tasks that are urgent but not important and quadrant D contains tasks that are neither important nor urgent.
The Eisenhower Matrix graphically represented.

Quadrant A

As mentioned earlier, this quadrant contains tasks that are important and urgent and should be done first. These tasks must be completed within certain deadlines or may have consequences such as problems or crises if they are not completed and may affect the long term goal.

Quadrant B

These are important but not urgent tasks that will lead to long-term success but have unclear deadlines. These tasks are dealt with after the first quadrant, i.e., later. Here you should try to use time management so that these tasks are not neglected, otherwise they can quickly move into Quadrant A.

Quadrant C

The Quadrant C contains urgent but not important tasks. They need to be done, but do not require special skills and can therefore be delegated. In this way the workload can be reduced, and the team can develop their own skills as they take on new tasks through delegation.

Quadrant D

This is where the unimportant and non-urgent tasks are found. These manifest as unnecessary tasks and are distracting. They can therefore be discarded.

Instructions for using the Eisenhower Matrix

To be able to use the matrix meaningfully, a to-do list with all the tasks to be done must first be available. Before going into the evaluation of the individual tasks, the first step should be to eliminate the tasks that belong in quadrant D. These tasks can either be discarded immediately or, if they do not have a current value but could possibly still get one, they could first be put on a separate pile in order to go through them again later when all other tasks have already been done. 
Then the question must be asked how important and how urgent each task is. To check the urgency, you can ask yourself the following question:
  • Would there be consequences if the task is not done immediately?
  • Is there a deadline? 
  • Does anyone depend on this task being done immediately? 

If all three questions can be answered with yes, then the task is urgent and can be found in quadrant A or C. Now consider whether the task can be delegated or whether you have to do it yourself. If you have to do the task yourself, then it must be placed in the A quadrant, otherwise in the C quadrant.
If you cannot answer all three of the above questions in the affirmative, but the task is important for the long-term goal, then you should place it in the B quadrant.

To visualise the matrix well, it would be beneficial to choose different colours for the quadrants. Also, do not place too many tasks in each quadrant, otherwise it will become too cluttered. Especially in an agile and ever-changing environment, new tasks will be added all the time, confusing the prioritisation and thus the schedule and efficiency. So it can happen that a new task appears in Quadrant A, causing the tasks in Quadrant B to be neglected. However, because they are still important, they must not be neglected, because if they are left for too long, they can slip into Quadrant A and cause unnecessary stress. This reveals one of the main criticisms of the method: urgent tasks are almost always important, just as important tasks are almost always urgent. 
Therefore, it is usually difficult to separate tasks into Quadrants B and C, which means that many automatically slip into Quadrant A. Therefore, the method would have to be much more subdivided so that it is really easy to distinguish which task belongs where. In addition, it is not possible to work through the matrix chronologically for 8 hours, as performance levels fluctuate during the working day and you have to do simpler tasks in between.
However, it should not be underestimated how easy the matrix is to understand and apply. This is particularly positive in terms of time wasting and prioritising tasks. The classification makes it immediately clear how to deal with each task and which ones need the most attention. This can also improve time management if new tasks are not constantly added.

Examples of the Eisenhower Matrix from practice

During a project, different tasks may arise, but they have different priorities. For example: an important stakeholder emails to complain about a certain process, someone has left the company and needs a reference, a campaign for a product needs to be created, tickets for the next conference need to be booked, a birthday party needs to be planned or a meeting is coming up. The first question to ask is which tasks belong in Quadrant D, i.e., which are neither important nor urgent. Planning the birthday party could fall into this quadrant, as it could be celebrated spontaneously on a smaller scale or planned after all other tasks have been completed. The stakeholder's complaint clearly belongs in Quadrant A because it has a clear impact on the project and is therefore urgent. The campaign for the product belongs in Quadrant B. This is because the task is only important because it has no immediate impact on the project. Quadrant C is for writing the reference, the plane ticket and the meeting. Because all these things can be done by others.


Whether or not the Eisenhower Matrix is worth using is a matter of personal preference. What is clear is that the application clearly shows which tasks are time wasters, which is a clear advantage of the method. Above all, it helps to work more effectively and increase productivity through prioritisation. Since the classification involves tasks that span several days or weeks, there are other methods for prioritising tasks for a day, such as ABC analysis.

Eisenhower Matrix - The IAPM logo
Author: IAPM internal
Keywords: Project Management, Eisenhower Matrix, Prioritising

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