The Eisenhower Matrix, also known as the Urgent-Important Matrix, is a decision-making framework that helps individuals and teams prioritize tasks based on their urgency and importance. It is a short-term decision making and prioritization framework. It was popularized by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and is widely used to improve time management in high pressure environments where items may need immediate attention. Hence its popularity within the armed forces and military.
However, it is also a commonly used prioritization approach in companies and organizations around the world. The key differentiator of the Eisenhower Matrix is that it helps people differentiate between tasks that are highly time sensitive and those that are not.
What are the Eisenhower Matrix quadrants?
The Eisenhower Matrix is made up of 4 quadrants based on axes that determine whether an item is high value or high urgency.
The four quadrants of the Eisenhower Matrix are:
The matrix consists of four quadrants:
- Urgent and Important (Top Left): Tasks in this quadrant require immediate attention and are crucial to the success of your goals. They are both urgent and important, and often involve mission-critical deadlines.
- Important but Not Urgent (Top Right): Tasks in this quadrant contribute to long-term goals and success but are not time-sensitive. These tasks require strategic planning and are often overlooked in the Eisenhower Matrix in favor of more urgent matters.
- Urgent but Not Important (Bottom left): Tasks in this quadrant are urgent but do not contribute significantly to your long-term goals. They are often distractions or interruptions that can be delegated or minimized.
- Not Urgent and Not Important (Bottom right): Tasks in this quadrant are neither urgent nor important. They are time-wasters and can be eliminated or minimized without negatively impacting your goals.
When to use the Eisenhower Matrix
President Dwight D. Eisenhower used his “urgent-important matrix” to manage priorities as a US Army general, as Supreme Commander of NATO Forces, and as the 34th President of the United States. But chances are you aren’t using the Eisenhower Matrix to command a battalion or run a country.
In that case, the Eisenhower Matrix is an excellent tool for short-term prioritization since it helps you understand what needs to be done immediately. Items that fall into the top right quadrant often get left behind and ignored in Eisenhower, so it’s worth using something like RICE prioritization if you want to take a more considered approach.
The Eisenhower Matrix also makes for a good daily or weekly prioritization tool. Where in product management we might do a big prioritzation session to plan our roadmaps, the Eisenhower Matrix is something you can run at the start of every day or week to identify the most important tasks and create your to-do list.
How to do Eisenhower prioritization
There are two options for how to use the Eisenhower Matrix.We’ll take a look at both options and explain them so you can independently decide which one works best for you.
- Matrix approach
- Tagging approach
How to use an Eisenhower Matrix
Create an Eisenhower Matrix template with four quadrants in a whiteboarding tool or on a piece of paper and drag/write the relevant tasks in the the relevant quadrants of the Eisenhower Matrix. Then create an action plan for your high urgency items. Add high urgency, high importance to your own task list. Consider who can help you perform the high urgency, low importance tasks.
Benefits of using an Eisenhower Matrix
Eisenhower was originally conceptualized as a matrix, and on that basis, many people like the visual nature of mapping out their tasks into four quadrants. Having a visual reference and being able to see how different tasks are prioritized or placed relative to each other is the main benefit of this approach.
How to use the tagging approach for Eisenhower prioritization
A lesser known, but potentially more practical approach is to tag all of your tasks with a shorthand that indicates where it sits on the matrix. You can do this by creating a key using numbers or letters. For example:
P1 – high urgency, high importance
P2 – high urgency, low importance
P3 – low urgency, high importance
P4 – low urgency, low importance
You can work through your to-do list assigning each item one of these tags. Then filter by P1 tag to see your list of most urgent tasks and most important tasks to complete in the day or the week.
Benefits of the tagging approach
This approach works well if you’re someone who prefers to organize their tasks every day in a to-do list or task management tool rather than drawing out a matrix every day or week to map tasks to. Tagging might just be more practical.
How to use the Eisenhower Matrix template
Here’s a short overview of how to get started running a collaborative Eisenhower Matrix prioritization workshop in Parabol. You can run your meeting alone, or bring in any internal or external stakeholders to prioritize as a team.
- Open the Eisenhower Matrix template in Parabol, preferably ahead of any meeting you have planned so you can import all the items you want to prioritize.
- Set your Eisenhower tagging model in Parabol. Use P1-P4 or A,B,C,D, where quadrants of the matrix are mapped to a character.
- Import the items you want to prioritize from Jira, GitHub, or GitLab via integration, or add them in manually as Parabol tasks.
- Invite participants to join you in ranking items. In Parabol everyone can rank the items collaboratively based on whether they think a task is urgent or non-urgent, etc.
- Schedule a call if you want to process and discuss trends together
- Independently rank items by selecting P1-P4 or A,B,C,D for each item you want to prioritize.
- Reveal the results and discuss/compare rankings with your team-mates.
- Set final Eisenhower scores and come up with a plan for how you will tackle the items in each priority category.
- Walk away with a fully prioritized list. End the meeting and receive an email summary with your prioritized list of items.