The Eisenhower Decision Matrix: How to Distinguish Between Urgent and Important Tasks

It’s easy to justify taking an unnecessary break or switching projects when you have a lot of work on your plate. But sometimes, these seemingly small decisions can be the difference between success and failure in your life and career. With this guide, you’ll learn how to figure out what tasks are important—and which ones aren’t worth

The “eisenhower decision matrix” is a tool that allows you to distinguish between urgent and important tasks. The matrix was created by Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States.

Dwight Ike Eisenhower in military uniform looking at watch.

Do you ever feel like you’re spending all of your time dealing with crises? That your whole existence consists of putting out one fire after another?

Do you feel fully depleted and drained of energy at the end of the day, yet you can’t think of anything significant you accomplished?


Then you’re probably conflating the urgent with the important, my buddy.

We’ve already discussed the various leadership principles that may be learned from Dwight D. Eisenhower’s life. Today, we’ll discuss another – a philosophy that guided him throughout his illustrious career as a military and president:

“What is significant is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is rarely important,” says the author.

We’ll look at how the “Eisenhower Decision Principle” might help you become the man you want to be, as well as the distinctions that ol’ Ike drew between those two very different things.

What’s the Difference Between Important and Urgent?

A work that is urgent demands prompt attention. These are the tasks that scream, “Do it now!” Urgent duties force us into a reactionary mode, which is characterized by a defensive, negative, rushed, and narrowly focused attitude.

Important tasks are those that help us achieve our long-term purpose, values, and objectives. Important duties are sometimes urgent, but they aren’t always. When we concentrate on critical tasks, we are in a responsive state, which allows us to be calm, reasonable, and open to new possibilities.

Although this is a very obvious difference, most of us fall into the trap of thinking that all urgent tasks are likewise essential. This proclivity is likely rooted in our evolutionary past, as our forefathers focused on immediate problems rather than long-term strategy, since responding to quick cues (such a charging saber-toothed cat) may mean the difference between life and death.

Modern technologies that continually bombard us with information (24-hour news, Twitter, Facebook, text messaging) have further exacerbated this deeply ingrained worldview. All information is treated as equally urgent and pressing by our stimulus-generating technology. Miley Cyrus’ Twerk-gate is accorded equal weight in Washington, D.C. policy debates.

We are suffering from “present shock,” according to author Douglas Rushkoff, a condition in which “we live in a continuous, always-on ‘now’” and lose our sense of long-term story and direction. It’s easy to lose sight of the difference between the actually vital and the simply urgent in such a situation.

Priority blindness has both personal and social ramifications. Burnout and stagnation plague our personal lives, and our society as a whole is unable to address the most pressing issues of our day.

The Decision Matrix of Dwight D. Eisenhower

In his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, business thinker Stephen Covey popularized Eisenhower’s Decision Principle. Covey devised a choice matrix in that book to assist people distinguish between what’s essential and what’s not important, as well as what’s urgent and what’s not urgent. The matrix is made up of four quadrants, each labeled 1) Urgent/Important, 2) Not Urgent/Important, 3) Urgent/Not Important, and 4) Not Urgent/Not Important:


Eisenhower decision matrix urgent important.

We go through each quadrant in depth below, including which one we should spend the most of our time in if we want to be our best and make the most of our life.

Quadrant 1: Critical and Timely Tasks

Quadrant 1 jobs are both critical and time-sensitive. They’re duties that demand our immediate attention while also contributing to our long-term life objectives and missions.

Crises, challenges, and deadlines are common Quadrant 1 tasks.

A few concrete instances of Urgent and Important jobs are as follows:

  • a few emails (could be a job offer, an email for a new business opportunity that requires immediate action, etc.)
  • The deadline for term papers has passed.
  • The time for filing taxes has passed.
  • Wife is in the hospital.
  • The car’s engine fails.
  • jobs around the house
  • You have a heart attack and are admitted to the hospital.
  • Your child’s principal calls and asks you to come in for a discussion concerning his conduct.

Many Q1 duties may be made more efficient or even avoided entirely with a little forethought and organization. Instead than putting off working on a term paper until the last minute (and therefore making it an urgent chore), you may plan your time such that you finish it a week ahead of time. Alternatively, rather of waiting for anything in your home to break down and need repair, you may maintain it on a regular basis.

While we’ll never be able to totally remove urgent and critical jobs, by being proactive and spending more time in Quadrant 2, we can drastically lessen them.

Which, of course, leads us to…

Quadrant 2: Important but not urgent tasks

Quadrant 2 chores are those that don’t have a set date but nonetheless assist you reach your key personal, school, and career objectives, as well as your overall purpose as a man.

The majority of Q2 chores are on establishing relationships, making plans for the future, and improving yourself.

Here are some instances of Important but Not Urgent Tasks:

  • Planning for the week
  • Long-term strategy
  • Exercising
  • Spending time with your family
  • Reading books that will enhance your life
  • Journaling
  • Taking a class to develop a skill is a good idea.
  • Spending time on a pleasurable pastime
  • Studying
  • Meditating
  • Service
  • Vehicle and house upkeep
  • Evening with the wife
  • Making a budget and a savings strategy

We should spend the majority of our time on Q2 activities, according to Covey, since they offer us with long-term satisfaction, contentment, and success. Unfortunately, there are a few of major roadblocks preventing us from devoting adequate time and effort to Q2 tasks:

  • You have no idea what matters most to you. If you don’t know what values and objectives are most important to you, you won’t know what you should be doing with your time to achieve those goals! Instead, you’ll focus on whichever sensations and tasks are most pressing at the time. If you don’t have a life purpose or aren’t sure what your core values are, I strongly advise you to read our articles on creating a life plan and identifying your core values.
  • Present skepticism As previously said, we all have a tendency to concentrate on whatever is most important at the time. This is our default setting. When there isn’t a deadline hovering over our heads, it’s difficult to be inspired to accomplish anything. It requires effort and self-discipline to break free from this default posture — traits that don’t come naturally and must be deliberately fostered and displayed.

We generally put Q2 tasks on the backburner of our life because they aren’t urgent, and we convince ourselves, “I’ll attend to those things’someday’ after I’ve taken care of this important stuff.” We even put off finding out what’s most essential in life, which only serves to prolong a loop in which we only focus on the most pressing items on our to-do list.


But “someday” will never happen; if you’re waiting for your calendar to clear up a bit before doing the crucial things, believe me when I say it won’t. You’ll always feel as though you’re as busy as you are today, and life only gets busier as you grow older (at least until you retire).

We must spend our lives consciously and aggressively to overcome our innate present-bias, which stops us from concentrating on Quadrant 2 tasks. You can’t go through life in automatic mode. You must intentionally determine, “Hell or high water, I’m going to create time for these things.”

Quadrant 3: Critical and Non-Critical Tasks

Quadrant 3 jobs are those that demand our immediate attention (urgent), but do not assist us in achieving our objectives or fulfilling our purpose (not important). The majority of Q3 jobs are interruptions from other people, and they often include assisting others in achieving their own objectives and achieving their own priorities.

Here are some particular Quadrant 3 activities to consider:

  • Calls are made
  • Messages through text
  • The majority of emails (some emails could be urgent and important)
  • a coworker who stops by your desk during peak working hours to ask for a favor
  • Request from a former employee to write a letter of recommendation for him (it’s certainly important to him, but let’s be honest, it’s probably not essential to you)
  • Mom shows up unexpectedly and asks for your assistance with a duty.

Many individuals, according to Covey, spend the majority of their time on Q3 chores while claiming to be working in Q1. Q3 jobs have a strong sense of importance since they assist others. Plus, they’re generally practical chores that offer you the sensation of accomplishment that comes with crossing things off your to-do list.

However, although Q3 chores are essential to others, they aren’t to you. They aren’t always terrible, but they must be balanced with your Q2 activities. Otherwise, you’ll get the impression that you’re doing a lot on a daily basis, only to discover that you’re not making any progress toward your long-term objectives. This is a formula for self animosity and resentment of others.

Men who spend the majority of their time focusing on Urgent but Insignificant Tasks are prone to “Nice Guy Syndrome,” in which they seek to satisfy others at the cost of their own satisfaction.

If this describes you, the answer is straightforward: Become more aggressive and start saying no to most requests firmly (but gently).

Quadrant 4: Non-essential and non-urgent tasks

Quadrant 4 actions aren’t vital or urgent. They’re what I like to refer to as “doing nothing” activities. Q4 tasks aren’t urgent, and they won’t help you reach long-term objectives or carry out your manly purpose. They’re mostly intended to be a source of diversion.

The following are some instances of Not Urgent and Not Important Tasks:

  • Observing television
  • Surfing the web mindlessly
  • Participating in video games
  • Scrolling through social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram
  • Gambling
  • Buying sprees

I believe that most of us would discover that we spend an excessive amount of time on Q4 activities if we ran a time audit on ourselves. I’m sure we’ve all had those “I’m wasting my life” moments after spending hours on the internet and realizing we might have utilized that time to pursue more noble life objectives. No? Is it just me? Dang.


As a pragmatic, I don’t believe you should completely exclude Q4 activities from your life. After a particularly stressful and busy day, a half-hour of aimless internet surfing or watching a favorite TV program is just what my brain needs to unwind.

Rather of attempting to fully eliminate Not Urgent and Not Important jobs, try to devote just a little amount of time to them. A excellent objective is to sleep for 5% of your awake hours or less.

Spend more time on important tasks, like Ike did.

The capacity to filter the signal from the noise, or to discriminate between what’s urgent and what’s genuinely important, is a necessary talent in today’s world of shock.

This week, my challenge to you is to use the Eisenhower Decision Matrix in as many facets of your life as possible. Stop and question yourself, “Am I doing this because it’s important or am I doing it because it’s urgent?” when presented with a choice.

I guarantee you’ll experience a restored feeling of peace, control, and composure in your life as you spend the majority of your time focusing on Not Urgent but Important things. You’ll get the impression that you’re making substantial progress. You may avoid and remove many of the crises and difficulties of Q1 by spending your time in Q2’s planning/organizing tasks, balance the demands of Q3 with your personal needs, and fully enjoy the veg-outs of Q4 knowing that you’ve earned the rest. You’ll have the mental, emotional, and physical resources to respond constructively rather than defensively if you make Q2 duties your top priority, regardless of the urgency, inconvenience, or deadline you’re faced with.

Tools to Assist You

We recommend using the following tools to help you use the Eisenhower Decision Matrix.

App. Eisenhower This is an iPhone application that helps you manage your tasks using the Eisenhower Decision Matrix. I got a chance to experiment with it and was impressed with what I observed. I haven’t seen anything comparable for Android.

Worksheet on the Eisenhower Decision Matrix is available to download. The Eisenhower Decision Matrix has been turned into a slick little PDF that you can download for free. Make a copy and set aside 30 minutes for personal contemplation tonight. Make a note of the jobs that take up the majority of your time and allocate them to a quadrant in the matrix. This will give you an approximate indication of how much time you’re wasting on tasks that are genuinely vital.

After that, consider strategies to lower the amount of time you spend on Q1, Q3, and Q4 duties while increasing your time spent on Q2 activities.



The “difference between urgent and important examples” is a decision matrix that can help users to distinguish between tasks that are urgent and important.

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