What is the Eisenhower Matrix?
The Urgent-Important Matrix, more commonly known as The Eisenhower Matrix, is a simple but highly-effective time management tool using only 4 quadrants to prioritize tasks and increase productivity. The 4 quadrants of the Eisenhower Matrix facilitate the decision-making process by highlighting the most important and urgent tasks. In a hurry? Download a Free Eisenhower Urgent-Important Matrix Template for Excel or Google Sheets here.
Table of Contents
- 1 What is the Eisenhower Matrix?
- 2 What are the Benefits of Using an Eisenhower Matrix?
- 3 What are the Risks of Using an Eisenhower Matrix as a Decision-making Tool?
- 4 How to use an Eisenhower Matrix?
- 5 How to Define Important Projects or Tasks with an Eisenhower Matrix?
- 6 What are the Limitations of the Eisenhower Matrix?
- 7 How to Mitigate the Limitations of the Eisenhower Matrix?
- 8 What is an Ideal Eisenhower Matrix?
- 9 How the Eisenhower Matrix and Pareto Analysis are related?
- 10 How the Eisenhower Matrix and Parkinson’s Law are related?
- 11 Download an Eisenhower Matrix Template for Excel or Google Sheets
The Eisenhower Matrix: an Effective Task Prioritization Tool
What are the Benefits of Using an Eisenhower Matrix?
When used objectively, the Eisenhower Matrix provides prioritization guidelines that benefit all stakeholders at different levels: employees, contractors, freelancers working for a company, and the company’s shareholders.
Prioritizing a company’s projects with an Eisenhower Matrix benefits all these stakeholders as it provides an optimal allocation of resources (human and financial capital) at the company level.
A rigorous application of the Eisenhower Method means that each project’s importance (value) is assed with proper capital budgeting techniques at the macro level. In detail, each project’s task is also executed with the same mindset of finding the optimal return on time and money spent. In short, applying the Eisenhower Prioritization method brings an optimal return on time and money spent.
What are the Risks of Using an Eisenhower Matrix as a Decision-making Tool?
When using an Eisenhower Matrix, people may, unfortunately, tend to:
- Due to personal preferences, prioritize some projects unfairly: the so-called “pet projects.” Unfortunately for the company’s shareholders, this bias tends to be common among influential decision-makers that face no or little opposition. They will overestimate the urgency or the impact of a task or project because they are keen to put it on top of the to-do list regardless of the value-added to the company.
“A pet-project is a project, activity or goal pursued as a personal favorite, rather than because it is generally accepted as necessary or important.”
Typical examples are Chief Marketing Officers who suddenly claim that rebranding the company is an urgent and essential project without backing up their assertion with factual data or, more importantly, without providing an approximation of the return on budgeted capital of such project and the sensitivity of such return to the project planning. Why is it urgent? Rebranding a company may improve sales via an improved brand image; it is hard to believe that such a project is urgent. Such a project should not be in the “important but not urgent” category of the Eisenhower Matrix.
- When the most urgent and important tasks are completed, people will likely prioritize the urgent tasks because of the stress induced by the planning pressure, even if they are not that important. As a result, non-urgent but valuable projects may never get done. This downside of the Eisenhower Matrix decision tool is more prevalent than usual if the urgent tasks are easy to be completed. This ‘easy task first’ bias is described by the Laborit’s Law.
Laborit’s Law also called the Law of Least Effort or Principle of least Effort suggests that humans prefer to carry out simple tasks that give immediate satisfaction to avoid stress or inconvenience. As a result, we postpone the most tedious activities in favor of the most straightforward ones, or worst, we procrastinate.
How to use an Eisenhower Matrix?
Start by classifying each task or project into the relevant Eisenhower Matrix quadrant depending on how they are urgent and important.
Then, handle the urgent and important tasks first. At the same time, delegate or automate urgent tasks that are not important. If this is not possible to delegate or get these tasks automated, handle these tasks secondly. Please do not fall into the urgency trap by qualifying tasks as urgent only because it makes you feel better to have them completed as soon as possible (see the risk of using the Eisenhower Matrix)
Thirdly, take some time to work on the important tasks which are not urgent. Even if these tasks are not urgent, it is essential to schedule some time to work on them. The goal is not to see them moving into the “urgent and important” category due to a lack of planning or execution. Finally, avoid spending resources on non-urgent and non-important tasks. Tasks in this category should be handled only if a change in circumstances makes them essential, or if a due date is approaching. In such a case, these tasks would move into a different Eisenhower quadrant and would be handled accordingly.
How to use the Eisenhower Matrix: video
How to Define Important Projects or Tasks with an Eisenhower Matrix?
A project or task’s importance is assessed with a relative perspective: it is important if its impact is larger than most others. To find out, establish a ranking that quantifies the impact of each task or project. The ranking criterion varies depending on the project context (monetary amount, degree of customer satisfaction, impact on the brand image, etc.). Once this ranking is established, select the most impact tasks or projects with a simple “top 5” of the most valuable project or better Pareto Analysis.
It is vital to split your projects into manageable tasks to prevent Hofstadter’s Law from becoming true. When filling the Eisenhower Matrix, keep in mind that your tasks or so-called projects should be manageable pieces of work that are part of a bigger project or vision. If not, you may end up having big and complex tasks that will lead to inevitable delays and frustrations due to the planning fallacy phenomenon. So for your success, it makes sense to have several Eisenhower Matrixes: one to visualize the big picture of your portfolio of projects; one or more Eisenhower Boxes containing and prioritizing the details of each project.
What are the Limitations of the Eisenhower Matrix?
The Eisenhower Matrix uses only two factors, urgency, and importance, to prioritize tasks. As a result, the Eisenhow Matrix prioritization method fails to account for the complexity, effort, and resources required to accomplish a task or project. Such a limitation can be exhibited with an urgent and important task that is postponed, for example, due to a lack of resources.
How to Mitigate the Limitations of the Eisenhower Matrix?
- The project complexity via a discount rate adjusted accordingly; the more complex, the higher the discount rate
- The quantity and availability of resources via the appropriate budgeted amounts and respective timing of the project expenditures in the project’s business plan.
What is an Ideal Eisenhower Matrix?
Relevant planning and good execution should prevent critical tasks or projects from becoming urgent. In this perfect context, resources are solely dedicated to essential projects or urgent tasks but none of the non-urgent and non-important ones. As a result, an ideal Eisenhower Matrix should have an empty “urgent and important” quadrant.
The Eisenhower Matrix and the Pareto Principle remind us that since the relationship between inputs and outputs is not balanced, the resources should be allocated first to what drives the most important results. Therefore, no time and money should be wasted on low-impact tasks or projects. In short, both are decision-making tools aiming to get the most of limited resources such as time and money.
Knowing how important is something is a prerequisite to classifying the projects or tasks into the relevant Eisenhower Matrix’s quadrant. A Pareto Analysis can be a rational and valuable technique to establish how important a project or task is. However, unlike a Pareto Analysis that focuses solely on how important a project or task is, the urgency factor is an additional dimension taken into account with the Eisenhower Matrix.
Discrimination based on the project urgency is a key differentiating factor between the Pareto Analysis and the Eisenhower approaches. For example, a Pareto Analysis performed on a project portfolio would highlight the most important projects based on relevant criteria such as project net present value. Assuming that the project’s net present value is calculated “from the date at which the project could start on the earliest” and that these dates may differ between the projects due to specific constraints, these project starting dates introduce a planning component and a notion of urgency.
Setting short deadlines to force ourselves to focus on the most important things is the takeaway of Parkinson’s Law. It makes sense when looking at Eisenhower’s Urgent-Important Matrix: non-essential tasks should be handled only if they become urgent to avoid wasting precious resources on these non-value-added tasks, even if they are easy to execute. Parkinson’s Law suggests that most people are more productive when slightly under pressure. With a good sense of urgency, the worker has a low but appropriate stress level that forces him to focus on yielding the best outcome within the allotted time to handle the urgent but unimportant tasks. On the contrary, important and urgent tasks should get full attention resource-wise, and important but non-urgent ones should be taken care of regularly via a task schedule.
Prioritize your tasks and projects the right way in a spreadsheet! Whether you use Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets, there is a Free Einsehower Matrix Prioritization Template to download via the links below. No payment is required, and templates are not password-protected!
Download this simple but highly effective Free Dynamic Microsoft Excel Eisenhower Matrix Template via the link below:
How to use the Eisenhower Matrix in Microsoft Excel?
Here is the video summary of how to use the Eisenhower Matrix in Microsoft Excel:
Download this simple but highly effective Free Dynamic Google Sheets Eisenhower Matrix Template via the link below:
How to use the Eisenhower Matrix in Google Sheets?
Here is the video summary of how to use the Eisenhower Matrix in Google Sheets: