Do you have trouble prioritizing your tasks or getting things done on time? If you’re up for a new task management technique, try the Eisenhower Matrix. With it, you can prioritize tasks based on urgency and importance, helping you determine which tasks to tackle first.
What Is the Eisenhower Matrix?
As you may have guessed, the name Eisenhower Matrix is derived from the 34th President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower.
As both a political and military leader, he had many important tasks to accomplish each day. This led him to invent the Eisenhower Principle for managing his workload. This technique helped him, and now us, prioritize tasks based on urgency and importance.
I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.
— Dwight D. Eisenhower
Sometimes referred to as an Urgency-Importance Matrix or Priority Matrix, the Eisenhower Matrix organizes tasks in an eas-to-manage grid structure.
There are two columns and two rows in the grid. Where each column and row meet, you have a quadrant, giving you a total of four. Tasks are placed into the quadrants corresponding to their levels of urgency and importance.
Although you may see variations in the wording, the concept remains the same.
- Urgent and Important (Quadrant 1): tasks that should be done first and by the end of the day.
- Not Urgent and Important (Quadrant 2): tasks that are important but not urgent, so they can be done later.
- Not Important and Urgent (Quadrant 3): tasks that are urgent but not important and should be delegated to others.
- Not Important and Not Urgent (Quadrant 4): tasks that are neither urgent nor important and shouldn’t be done at all.
How to Use the Eisenhower Matrix
By using this task management method, you’ll stop trying to decide which task to tackle first, as the matrix handles that for you. Place your tasks in their quadrants and simply get to work on them.
When it’s time to decide which quadrant to add your tasks to, these details should help you sort the items on your list.
- Quadrant 1 (Do, Do Now, Do Today): tasks that must be done first, now, or today. Think of an item with a deadline of today, a task that will have a detrimental effect if not completed immediately, or tasks from Quadrant 2 that have become urgent.
- Quadrant 2 (Do Later, Schedule, Plan): tasks that are essential but not urgent and can be scheduled. This includes tasks that need planning, have a dependency, or don’t (yet) fall into Quadrant 1. Many of your tasks will likely fall into this quadrant.
- Quadrant 3 (Delegate, Assign): tasks that are less important but more urgent that you should delegate to someone. Those to-dos that don’t require your particular skills and can be assigned to another person. This is often referred to as the Delegate Quadrant.
- Quadrant 4 (Don’t Do, Delete): Tasks that you won’t do at all and can delete. This might include tasks that you’ve moved from other quadrants which are no longer important or urgent or those you determine unnecessary.
Eisenhower Matrix Tools and Templates
While you can easily use your current task management application and its built-in tools, you may want something specific for this method. You may want to check out these Eisenhower Matrix tools and templates.
Use an Online Eisenhower Matrix
One terrific web-based tool you can use is provided by Eisenhower.me. It offers quadrants for Do first, Schedule, Delegate, and Don’t do with a few useful extra features. The tool is free, and you can log in with Google, Facebook, or an email and password.
- Once you create your free account, you’ll see your Eisenhower Matrix ready for your tasks. Enter your to-do in the “Create new task” section of the quadrant.
- The matrix displays the total number of tasks per quadrant at the top of each, the number of completed tasks at the bottom of each, and statistics for all completed tasks at the top.
- Select the three dots to the right of a task for additional actions. Quick actions include “Mark Complete” and “Delete.” Note that you can also mark a task complete by using the checkmark to the right.
- If you choose “Delegate,” you’ll see a new message window open using your default email service that contains details for the task, ready for you to finish and send.
- If you select “Focus Mode,” you’ll be prompted to enter a time to concentrate on that particular task. When the time is up, you can mark the task complete, reset the timer, or use the “X” on the top left to exit and return to the matrix.
- For more, select the gear icon in the top right corner. You can then change the background, set a default Focus Mode time, receive notifications, and change the language.
Use an Online Task and Project Manager
Online project management tools structured in a Kanban layout are also great for the Eisenhower Matrix. They give you the visual you need for your quadrants and tasks. You can use applications like Trello, Asana, Monday, or MeisterTask. For an example of how to set up your matrix with one of these tools, we are using Trello.
- Create a board for your Eisenhower Matrix and add a list for each quadrant starting with urgent, important on the left ending with not urgent, not important on the right. Optionally, you can include a list on the far right for completed tasks.
- Insert a card for each task within the corresponding list (quadrant). Select “Add a Card” and enter the task name.
- You can arrange the tasks within the quadrant in the order you like. Drag a card up or down to place it in the position you want. Alternatively, select the three dots on the top right of the list and choose “Sort by” to order the cards by created date or alphabetically.
- Optionally, open a card to add more details to the task. You can include a description, add labels, enter comments, or insert a checklist.
- If you need to move a task from one quadrant to another, just drag the card from its current list to the new one.
- As you complete the tasks on your lists, you can open the cards and select Archive to move them to the Archived Items. If you include a Done list as mentioned above, simply drag a card to it when you complete the task.
Use a Template for Microsoft Word or Google Docs
Another good tool for the Eisenhower Matrix is a template with the quadrants set up and ready to go. If you use Microsoft Word or Google Docs, you can use this free template from Smartsheet.
- When you open this template in either application, you’ll see the color-coded quadrants “Do,” “Decide,” “Delegate,” and “Delete,” with a short purpose prompt next to each.
- Simply enter the tasks in the quadrants in the order you want them listed. To make the lists neat and clean, you can also insert bullet points or create numbered lists if you would like.
- When you complete a task, you can use the strikethrough text format to mark it off or just remove it from the quadrant.
Use a Template for Excel or Google Sheets
If you prefer a template for Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets, Vertex42 offers this free Eisenhower Matrix template.
- Start by adding your name or logo on the top right, then enter the topic, title, or goal in the box below.
- Add the tasks to each quadrant on the lines provided.
- If you need to move a task from one quadrant to another, select the cell and drag it to the quadrant you want.
- A handy feature of this template is that it also includes checkboxes to easily mark off your completed tasks.
Try this: free Excel templates to manage your budget.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I limit the number of tasks in the matrix?
It’s never good to overload your task list, so try not to add too many tasks to the quadrants in the Eisenhower Matrix to avoid becoming overwhelmed.
As a rule of thumb, keep no more than six to eight uncompleted tasks in each quadrant at one time. If you decide to use the online Eisenhower Matrix tool described here, you can opt to receive a notification when you add more than eight tasks to a quadrant.
What is the Kanban layout mentioned above?
The visual layout is used in the Kanban method of agile project management, which uses boards, lists (or categories), and cards. Using this system, you move cards from one list to the next as you progress through a project until it’s complete.
This technique allows you and your team to visualize the stages of a project and watch as the tasks move through each phase.
What’s a good way to focus on accomplishing tasks?
It can be hard to concentrate on completing tasks when you have multiple distractions. Consider using a helpful tool available for your device.
For instance, you can check out an app that can help you stay focused when using your mobile device. You can also look at the Focus Assist feature in Windows or give Apple’s Focus Mode on Mac a try.
Image credit: Pixabay. All screenshots by Sandy Writtenhouse.
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