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Agile & Development: 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.

Origin of the Eisenhower Matrix

President Dwight Eisenhower himself developed the concept behind what would later be called the Eisenhower Matrix, 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.

Eisenhower Matrix Template:

Eisenhower-Matrix
Example of the Eisenhower matrix

How to 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:

Quadrant 1 (upper left): urgent and important

Quadrant 2 (upper right): important, but not urgent

Quadrant 3 (lower left): not important, but urgent

Quadrant 4 (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 important issues, but they’re not urgent and therefore don’t require your immediate action. So these are the items you’ll simply want to schedule work on at some future 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 important, they don’t necessarily require your time, and they can, therefore, be assigned 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 important or urgent, so you can in most cases just erase them from your list.

Quadrant 4 items include scrolling through Facebook, checking Twitter, or playing games. These tasks are fine to do if you have time or need a break from the more important and/or more urgent items, but they should not displace them on your list of priorities.

Read the product manager's guide to prioritization  ➜

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.” 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.

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 a good place to start.