Time Management – The Eisenhower Matrix

What is important is rarely urgent and what is urgent is rarely important.

Above quote is from Dwight Eisenhower, who left us, besides his valuable strategies, one of the best matrix for time management. Let’s find out first why it is called the Eisenhower Matrix.

London, February 1944. The bombing alarms sound throughout all the city.

In a small room, however, everything is calm, extremely calm. In this room, Dwight Eisenhower is preparing the “OverLord” operation, an operation of capital importance. Eisenhower is a general in the US military. The decisions he makes will have an unprecedented impact on his life, his career and the whole world. Europe has been suffering from Nazism for too long.

“OverLord” has as its objective the landing of allied troops on the coast of Normandy to free Europe from Hitler’s nazism. It is a historic moment: it is the largest landing of military troops. The fate of Europe and the whole world are at stake. Eisenhower’s staff are pessimistic. The King of England, George VI, wrote him a letter telling him that the more the project progresses, the more frightening it becomes. His organization does not hold. Eisenhower is in his quiet room in London and the bombs don’t stop falling. It seems that the weight of the whole world is on his shoulders. But he is confident, he trusts his plan. History will prove him right a few months later. Eisenhower is part of that group of heroes of which little is said, despite being the author of one of the greatest military successes in history.

On 6 June 1944 he saved Europe from nazi-fascism.

Eisenhower is at the same time a brilliant strategist, a peerless organizer and a charismatic statesman. His successes are numerous. In 1953 he became the 34th President of the United States. During his mandate, he launched several reform programs, including the modernization of all road infrastructure in his country. We remember him as a man with an infallible organization. A man who is not afraid of challenges, of whatever size they may be. Among the lessons we can learn from Eisenhower, there is the management of time according to the matrix that takes his name, the Eisenhower matrix.

What is important is rarely urgent and what is urgent is rarely important.

This phrase was a kind of mantra for Eisenhower. He analysed all his actions according to this principle. Therefore, he has built this matrix, which teaches us to make choices.

It’s very simple. Imagine 4 boxes on a table (in the picture here below they are called quadrants):

  1. one containing urgent and important things;
  2. a second box containing important but not urgent things;
  3. a third box containing urgent but not important things;
  4. a last one containing non-urgent and unimportant things.

This matrix can help you in both private and professional life.

For all the things you have to do, you shall ask yoursef these two questions:

  1. How urgent is it? When have I absolutely to do this?
  2. What level of importance does it have? What happens if I don’t do it?

For example, I have a medical appointment that I have been waiting for a long time. Is it urgent? Yes, I booked it a long time ago and so now it’s urgent. Is it important? Yes, because I have to understand the origin of this health problem that has been bothering me for some time.

Therefore, I will put it into the top left “Urgent and Important” box (quadrant I).

In the top right box (quadrant II) I put the activities that are important but not urgent because they are things I can do later. Right now they are not crucial to achieving my goals. For example, I want to promote my business on social media. This can be planned.

Then, there are some activities that are urgent but not important (quadrant III). For example, replying to an email that does not concern me directly, or attending a meeting that I consider superfluous but it is important that someone from my team participate. I can delegate this activity.

In the lower right box (quadrant IV) I put everything that is neither urgent nor important. Actually, for everything that is inside this box, I should ask myself: shall I keep it?

According to Eisenhower, such a drastic choice is difficult. However, if after a few weeks, the things inside this box have not been done yet, they must be eliminated.

This matrix is ​​very useful because it forces you to take distance and question yourself about how to prioritize.

Here are 5 questions that you would need to answer:

  1. What really matters to me / to my project?
  2. What do I like about this thing / that project?
  3. Why do I procrastinate on that?
  4. What is blocking my personal development / my project?
  5. What should I stop doing right away so that I don’t waste more time?

What do you think about the Eisenhower Matrix? Have you ever used it?

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22 thoughts on “Time Management – The Eisenhower Matrix

  1. I was wondering where you were going when you started talking about Eisenhower, but now I see you were giving us a valuable tip, not only for time management, but for managing our emotions and our expectations. When I feel triggered and something feel very urgent, I try to stop and ask if it really is urgent or have I just been triggered. 9 times out of 10, I’ve been triggered. Very few times is something urgent and important.

  2. I first learned about the Eisenhower matrix in Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I now use it when I’m discussing “Time Management” with my college students. I point out that so much of what is urgent compels us to act (acts on us), like a ding or buzz on a cellphone. But what is important lies dormant and needs to be constantly put in front of us so that we can act on it.

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