In our day to day work many of us are overwhelmed with data, to-do items, and just general communication. In our brave new world of email, instant messaging, social media, twitter plus the occasional phone call it can be hard to sort through the list of possible tasks and decide what to do next.

One exceptionally useful tool is the Urgent vss. Important matrix, also known as the Eisenhower Decision Matrix. This tool can be combined with anything and everything else you use for time management and tracking and has the additional appeal of being very visual and quite simple.

Here’s what it looks like:

To talk about how to use it, let's assign numbers to the quadrants like this:

  • Quadrant 1: Urgent, Not Important
  • Quadrant 2:Urgent and Important
  • Quadrant 3: Not Urgent, Not Important
  • Quadrant 4: Important, Not Urgent


The Basics

Quadrant 1 has become pretty overwhelming in the years since this matrix was introduced. At first most of the items that fell into this quadrant had to do with the phone ringing and people stopping by, with a bit of email thrown in. These days we can add instant messaging, tweets, even that little ding when someone comments on your Facebook posts into this quadrant. Anything that demands attention with no real explanation falls into this quadrant.

Quadrant 2 involves things you really do have to deal with, and right now. It could be something like a system crash in the I/T world; itt could be a major customer who is extremely angry about something; it could be the need for a recall, or someone being admitted to the ER with life-threatening issues. These things have a big impact and will have an even bigger impact if you don’t deal with them RIGHT NOW.

Quadrant 3 involves things that you really shouldn’t be dealing with. Because ‘Important’ means important to you as well as to those other people who get a say in the decision, things in this quadrant usually mean wasting time with no payback.

Quadrant 4 contains those things that have a nice payback in one way or another but aren’t staring you in the face begging for your attention.

How to Use The Matrix

Ironically, those things in Quadrant 4 not clamoring for your notice are the very things you really want to be spending your time on. As much and as often as possible, work in this area - these are the things that will help keep you out of Quadrant 2 (Urgent and Important). Tasks include maintenance activities and process improvements. These activities may bring you personal satisfaction in some way (like exercising or reading or spending time with your family), and they might set you up for good things in the future (like education or networking). Spend as much time as Quadrant 4 as you can without driving things into Quadrant 2.

Quadrant 2 items need to be take care of as quickly and thoroughly as possible. If you’re an adrenalin junkie, give yourself some tight deadlines for Quadrant 4 activities to get that rush – it’s much more rewarding in the long run than chasing down emergencies.

You’ll need to figure out how to sift through the Quadrant 1 items. Just because you get a Skype ping doesn’t mean you have to answer it right this minute. You don’t need to see everyone’s tweets immediately. Set yourself some guidelines on how often you check things, and be sure to pay careful attention to the source. (If your boss is IMing you about an issue, that’s likely to hit your Quadrant 2; if your coworker is IMing you about his WoW victory that either stays in Quadrant 1 or drops off to Quadrant 3. Look into special ringtones or notifications for different people, or just look at the pop-up as notifications arrive. This will work for most of the distracting notifications you get.)

Finally, divest yourself of Quadrant 3 as much as possible. Sure, sometimes you need a break, but try to deal with Quadrant 1 items instead – at least they’ll get off your radar. If you’re inventing things in Quadrant 4 you need to recognize that and stop. If things are landing there because you have a hard time saying ‘No’ to people, consider assertiveness training as a Quadrant 4 activity and work to dig out of the area.


Sometimes just having one of these charts in front of you every day and classifying things on it will do the trick.If you want something a little more formal for task management, try PriorityMatrix (an iOS app) – it lets you actually do task management according to the matrix.Many of the more popular time management systems use the matrix as an integral part of their process (for example, Stephen Covey’s 7 habits and supporting tools).It’s so simple you should be able to work it into whatever time management tools and processes you’re already using.