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How to Use the Eisenhower Matrix to Prioritize Your Tasks

Accomplish more of what matters for your business each day with the Eisenhower Matrix.

There’s always more to do than can be achieved.

That’s why prioritizing tasks is so important. By determining what actually matters, you can focus on achieving the items that will offer the greatest return on time spent.

As the 34th president of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower understood the significance of task management well. An adage famously attributed to him states “Most things which are urgent are not important, and most things which are important are not urgent.”

This quote is the basis for what is now known as the “Eisenhower Matrix”—a method of prioritizing tasks based on what’s urgent and what’s important.

Don’t get bogged down in what’s not important, and learn how to use the Eisenhower Matrix to achieve more by avoiding the urgency trap.

What is the Eisenhower Matrix?

Distractions enter your reality every day in a small business: important emails coming into an inbox; urgent push notifications to a smartphone; other items that may not be important, or even urgent.

The Eisenhower Matrix is a task-prioritization method that defines tasks by their urgency and importance. This framework can then be used as a time management strategy to organize your tasks.

There are 4 quadrants in the Eisenhower Matrix.

Quadrant 1: Urgent and Important (Do) Quadrant 2: Important and Less Urgent (Schedule) Quadrant 3: Urgent and Less Important (Delegate) Quadrant 4: Less Urgent and Less Important (Eliminate)

Let’s dive into each quadrant to see how you can categorize and prioritize tasks.

Urgent and important (do)

The top priorities on your to-do list are both urgent and important. These are tasks that need to be done by end of the hour, end of the day, or tomorrow at the latest. If these tasks do not get done, there will be significant repercussions.

What are some examples of urgent and important tasks?

  • Deadlines: Signing an agreement before a fiscal year ends. Sending an email campaign for this weekend’s big sale. Preassigned projects with due dates.
  • Crises: The crashing of a website. Providing a response to negative media coverage. Making payroll.
  • Problems: An important customer making an urgent request. A quality issue with a product or service. Redirecting a link within an email campaign that leads to a broken page.

Complete as many of these urgent tasks as possible. By identifying and focusing on the top priorities of the day, you get the most important things done.

Important and less urgent (schedule)

The items to schedule on your to-do list are important, but less urgent. These are tasks that need to be listed on your calendar and in a project management system. If these tasks get done, there will be a meaningful impact on your business or career.

Here are a few examples of important and less urgent tasks.

  • Planning: Creating 90-day goals with plans. Analyzing performance to improve upcoming campaigns. Finding a new CRM that reduces steps in the marketing process.
  • Building: Cleaning up audience contacts. Researching email automation campaigns. Syncing all marketing tools together for an integrated campaign.
  • Relationships: Monthly employee satisfaction check-ins. Quarterly client check-ins. Important meetings or emails.

This is the quadrant most at risk of being ignored. It’s important to schedule time on your calendar to do these activities. Otherwise, these items may simply get overlooked for the less important but more time-sensitive tasks in quadrant 3.

Urgent and less important (delegate)

There are tasks that need to get done soon, but are less important to you. These should be delegated. If you try to do these tasks yourself, the time spent in this quadrant takes away from the time spent working on important tasks.

Some examples of urgent and less important tasks are:

  • Activities: Managing a paid advertising campaign. Data entry. Writing a blog post.
  • Meetings: Attending meetings that don’t have a clear purpose. Scheduling meetings. Investing time in transactional relationships.
  • Interruptions: Answering certain emails as they come in. Answering some inbound phone calls. Meaningless reports.

Delegating these tasks to capable people helps free up your time to focus on priorities that are more important.

Less urgent and less important (eliminate)

The tasks to eliminate in your day are less urgent and less important. If you don’t delegate or do these tasks, then nothing significant will happen to your business or career as a result. Often, the tasks in this last quadrant are excuses we create to avoid the important tasks in the first and second quadrants.

Here are some examples of less urgent and less important tasks.

  • Time wasters: Browsing websites for non-work-related reasons. Excessive social media usage. Reading and replying to junk email.
  • Busy work: Analysis paralysis. Procrastinating on a big project. Adjusting equipment.
  • Toxic activities: Gossiping. Replying to social media trolls.

These are the types of tasks that can stand in the way of maximizing your day. Take a moment to reflect upon your top time wasters during a typical day and write them down. Then be vigilant about minimizing the time you spend on these activities.

Benefits of using the Eisenhower Matrix

The Eisenhower Matrix is an effective time management grid. Each quadrant has a different work strategy. When used, this framework can help you achieve the things that are important for your life, career, and business.

What are some other benefits of using a time management grid like the Eisenhower Matrix? What can you expect if you utilize a framework that supports the prioritization of tasks?

Generally speaking, the top benefits small business owners and professionals realize are:

  • Work delivered on time: An effective time management grid enables work to be delivered on time as due dates recategorize tasks into important and urgent quadrants.
  • Better quality of work: When you eliminate or delegate tasks, you have more time to devote to what’s important. Work tends to be better quality when you can put more into it.
  • Increased productivity: Do you ever spend all day (and overtime) trying to be productive and still leave work feeling like you didn’t accomplish anything? That’s because your big priorities weren’t addressed or met. Focusing on what matters increases productivity in both tangible and intangible ways.
  • Improved satisfaction: In a business, you have to satisfy clients, employees, and yourself. When high-quality work is delivered on time, satisfaction rates improve.
  • Reduced stress: There’s only so much you can do during a day. Doing less work and accomplishing more relieves some of the anxiety and stress you may be feeling as a small business owner and professional.

What next?

Your time management is a big contributor to the success you have with your business and career. Just like a good email marketing campaign, your time needs to be optimized for conversions. Get to know your to-do list so you can mark each task as urgent or important. Minimize unnecessary distractions and daily disruptions as they come. Maximize your focus on quadrant 1. Make progress on quadrant 2. Delegate quadrant 3, and eliminate tasks in quadrant 4 to maximize your time.

Written by Brett Farmiloe for Mailchimp and Markitors, an official Mailchimp partner. Learn more about Markitors + Mailchimp in our Experts Directory.

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