Time management matrix

The Eisenhower Matrix. What makes it so special?

What is the Eisenhower matrix?

The Eisenhower matrix, also known as the Eisenhower model, Eisenhower scheme or Eisenhower quadrant, is a widely used model within time management. On the one hand, it puts urgency and on the other hand the importance of tasks and assignments against each other in the light, and it helps to set priorities.

The Eisenhower matrix was designed by Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th president of the United States. General Eisenhower was also commander-in-chief of NATO during the Second World War and later on.

During his career he had to make many difficult decisions often; everything was urgent and important. He wondered what the urgency was and came to the conclusion that if it did not have to be done today, there would be no urgency. Urgent matters take precedence, but if they can wait until tomorrow, it is no longer urgent. Besides, he had to deal with tasks that were all equally important. Here, too, he asked himself whether it was important for him to complete the task himself or for someone else to do it just as well. In the latter case, he no longer saw the task as ‘important.' The statement “urgent matters are rarely important and important matters are rarely urgent” indicates how Eisenhower thought about them.

Eisenhower matrix: four quadrants

The Eisenhower matrix consists of four quadrants; important / urgent, important / not urgent, not important / urgent and not important / not urgent. By considering whether a task or assignment belongs within one of these quadrants, it is easier to set priorities, transfer or delegate tasks to another or include it in planning.

At first glance, it seems that most tasks have to be carried out immediately, but by looking closely at the classification of the quadrants, one finds out that nothing could be further from the truth. The Eisenhower matrix helps to distinguish between tasks that need to be performed immediately and tasks that may also be addressed at a later stage or may not even need to be performed at all.

The Eisenhower matrix, also known as the Eisenhower model, Eisenhower scheme or Eisenhower quadrant, is a widely used model within time management. On the one hand, it puts urgency and on the other hand the importance of tasks and assignments against each other in the light, and it helps to set priorities.

Eisenhower quadrant: explanation and example

Quadrant 1 – Important / Urgent

This quadrant within the Eisenhower matrix is also called the stress quadrant. All the tasks that are included in this can lead to stress. However, tasks from quadrants 2 and three may also shift to this first quadrant as a result of poor delegation or poor planning, which in turn results in time constraints and stress. The tasks in this quadrant today must be completed as soon as possible.

In this quadrant, you wonder if the task should be carried out by yourself. Is it important that you do it, are you ultimately responsible and are there sanctions in place if you do not implement them? If the answer is a resounding yes, then the task is important. You then ask whether the task indeed should be performed today within a few hours or whether a postponement is possible and a postponement of the task to tomorrow or later in the week. If the task has to be carried out within a few hours, then that is a ‘yes,' and it is an urgent task.

For example, we take a regional hospital. This hospital regularly receives urgent patients, who are transported by ambulance. When an emergency comes in with a patient with acute appendicitis, the urgency to operate him is very high. The hospital has operating theatres, and a surgical team is also present. Without a doubt, the operation must be carried out in the (very) short term, and it is a task that belongs in quadrant 1.

Quadrant 2 – Important / not Urgent

Also in this quadrant of the Eisenhower matrix, you ask the question again whether the task can only be performed by yourself. There is no difference between this and quadrant 1. The urgent issue is once again whether the task is to be completed today and within hours. If it turns out that postponement is possible, then a timetable will follow, and it would be very unwise to devote attention to it today. If you do, you will be in trouble with tasks and assignments that can already be found in quadrant 1.

In this example, the hospital is the same as in quadrant 1. This hospital has a specialist plastic surgical team that performs, among other things, eyelid corrections. The hospital has invested in this team, and things are going well because there are many registrations for this small surgical operation. Often it is patients who experience it as very tiring to have heavy eyelids and therefore want to be operated on. Is it important for the hospital to carry out these operations itself? The answer is ‘yes.' But should it be done today? The answer to this urgent question is ‘no.' Tasks in quadrant two must be included in planning. Patients are put on a waiting list and will not be on their turn until a few days or weeks later.
There is a danger around the corner with quadrant 2. When planning has been made, which nobody adheres to, it is doomed to fail. Planning is not a postponement; it is an agreement you make with yourself and your environment to perform tasks in order of priority.

Quadrant 3 – not Important / Urgent

In this quadrant of the Eisenhower matrix, you again ask the question whether the task that needs to be carried out is your responsibility. If it can also be carried out by others, then the task is not important to you. If it turns out that the task cannot be completed until tomorrow, but must be completed within a few hours, then the urgency is high.

In this example, we stay at the regional hospital. There is another situation in which a patient with acute appendicitis enters as an emergency. There is no doubt that this is an urgent matter, however, and the hospital does not currently have a single operating room available. So that there are busy calls and consultations with neighboring hospitals, which the patient can operate directly. In this case, the task is therefore transferred (delegated) to another party.

Even when someone is doing a big job that needs to be done today, it is impossible to split into two by ‘taking in' another urgent job. By looking for someone else who can carry out the assignment regarding time, there is a possibility that the assignment will be dealt with and executed with urgency. Within time management, this is often the most difficult quadrant. It comes down to assertiveness. To what extent is someone able to say ‘no,' not to be led by the ‘need' of others and to look for alternative solutions? By explaining well that you are short of time and perhaps leaving it to the other person to choose which of his or her tasks to carry out, it becomes clear that time cannot be extended.

Eisenhower quadrant: explanation and example

Quadrant 1 – Important / Urgent

This quadrant within the Eisenhower matrix is also called the stress quadrant. All the tasks that are included in this can lead to stress. However, tasks from quadrants 2 and three may also shift to this first quadrant as a result of poor delegation or poor planning, which in turn results in time constraints and stress. The tasks in this quadrant today must be completed as soon as possible.

In this quadrant, you wonder if the task should be carried out by yourself. Is it regarding that you do it, are you ultimately responsible and are there sanctions in place if you do not implement them? If the answer is a resounding yes, then the task is can. You then ask whether the task really should be performed today within a few hours or whether a postponement is possible and a postponement of the task to tomorrow or later in the week. If the task has to be carried out within a few hours, then that is a ‘yes,' and it is an urgent task.

For example, we take a regional hospital. This hospital regularly receives urgent patients, who are transported by ambulance. When an emergency comes in with a patient with acute appendicitis, the urgency to operate him is very high. The hospital has operating theatres, and a surgical team is also present. Without a doubt, the operation must be carried out in the (very) short-term, and it is a task that belongs in quadrant 1.

Quadrant 2 – Important / not Urgent

Also in this quadrant of the Eisenhower matrix, you ask the question again whether the task can only be performed by yourself. There is no difference between this and quadrant 1. The urgent issue is once again whether the task is to be completed today and within hours. If it turns out that postponement is possible, then a timetable will follow, and it would be very unwise to devote attention to it today. If you do, you will be in trouble with tasks and assignments that can already be found in quadrant 1.

In this example, the hospital is the same as in quadrant 1. This hospital has a specialist plastic surgical team that performs, among other things, eyelid corrections. The hospital has invested in this team, and things are going well because there are many registrations for this small surgical operation. Often it is patients who experience it as very tiring to have heavy eyelids and therefore want to be operated on. Is it important for the hospital to carry out these operations itself? The answer is ‘yes.' But should it be done today? The answer to this urgent question is ‘no.' Tasks in quadrant two must be included in planning. Patients are put on a waiting list and will not be on their turn until a few days or weeks later.
There is a danger around the corner with quadrant 2. When planning has been made, which nobody adheres to, it is doomed to fail. Planning is not a postponement; it is an agreement you make with yourself and your environment to perform tasks in order of priority.

Quadrant 3 – not Important / Urgent

In this quadrant of the Eisenhower matrix, you again ask the question whether the task that needs to be carried out is your responsibility. If it can also be carried out by others, then the task is not important to you. If it turns out that the task cannot be completed until tomorrow, but must be completed within a few hours, then the urgency is high.

In this example, we stay at the regional hospital. There is another situation in which a patient with acute appendicitis enters as an emergency. There is no doubt that this is an urgent matter, however, and the hospital does not currently have a single operating room available. So that there are busy calls and consultations with neighboring hospitals, which the patient can operate directly. In this case, the task is therefore transferred (delegated) to another party.

Even when someone is doing a big job that needs to be done today, it is impossible to split into two by ‘taking in' another urgent job. By looking for someone else who is able to carry out the assignment in terms of time, there is a possibility that the assignment will be dealt with and executed with urgency. Within time management, this is often the most difficult quadrant. It comes down to assertiveness. To what extent is someone able to say ‘no', not to be led by the ‘need' of others and to look for alternative solutions? By explaining well that you are short of time and perhaps leaving it to the other person to choose which of his or her tasks to carry out, it becomes clear that time cannot be extended.

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