What Is The Eisenhower Box? (What is the Difference Between Important and Urgent Tasks?)

Every day we have a lot of things to do on our list, so it might be difficult to decide which tasks to complete first. When you need to decide which tasks need to be done first, and which one can wait, one of the most used strategies is the Eisenhower box as a powerful tool for time management and better efficiency.  

What is the Eisenhower Box? Eisenhower box or Urgent-Important Matrix helps in identifying which of the tasks should be prioritized upon their importance and urgency, and which tasks can be delegated or not do them at all. Eisenhower Box is a simple tool for decision making and increasing productivity.

The name of this box comes from its inventor Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was the 34th President of the USA. Before becoming a president, during World War II, he was Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, and later on, Supreme Commander of NATO. 

Throughout his career, he needed to make many tough decisions that were important and urgent. So he wondered on which of the tasks to focus for the day. 

If he was faced with equally important tasks, he asked himself, if certain tasks need his personal touch or can be done by someone else. If the latter was the case, then he considered that the task is no longer important. Also, if pressing matters can wait until the following day, then they are no longer urgent.

This method of time management has been considered as an effective tool for increasing daily productivity. 

How to Use the Eisenhower Box?

The Eisenhower Box consists of four quadrants Do First (Important/Urgent), Schedule (Important- Not Urgent), Delegate (Not Important – Urgent), and Eliminate (Not Important – Not Urgent). 

At first glance, it might seem that every task can be done within the same day, but when you determine which task belongs to which quadrant, it will be a lot easier to define the priority tasks, the tasks that can be scheduled, delegated or ignored completely.

First Quadrant – Do First

The first quadrant contains tasks that are critical for your career and personal life and need to be finished as soon as possible. These tasks are important and urgent. Also, this quadrant is called “the stress quadrant”, since all of the tasks here are important and can lead to stress. 

Ideally, you should spend most of your time in the day dealing with tasks in this quadrant.

Here you need to ask yourself if the task needs to be done by you personally, are you going to be responsible and are there going to be some sanctions if you don’t carry out the task. If the answer to these questions is “Yes”, then the task is important.

Next, you need to check if the task can be postponed to tomorrow or in the following days. If the task needs to be done today or within a few hours, then the task is urgent. 

The tasks in this quadrant need to be managed properly as well as the taken actions need to be efficient and quick in order to avoid negative consequences. As an example of tasks that need to be in the first quadrant are responding to time-sensitive email from your manager or a client, or reviewing an important document.

It would be best if you have some free time in your schedule so you can handle some crisis or issues that come up at the last minute. Of course, there will always be some activities that you can’t foresee. 

Also, in this quadrant are the activities that are left until last minute depending on their nature or because of poor planning or poor delegating. These activities can be eliminated by proper planning ahead of time. You can schedule them in the second quadrant to make sure they don’t become urgent.

Second Quadrant – Schedule

The second Quadrant called Schedule contains the tasks that are important and not urgent. Here are the tasks that should be put in your calendar and help you in achieving your long term goals. This is the part where you should invest most of your time. 

With managing the tasks properly in the second quadrant, it reduces the stress by preventing certain tasks to become urgent, thus completing important and urgent tasks in a reasonable time in the near future. Always leave sometime in your schedule available in case some unforeseen events occur. 

Same as in the first quadrant, you need to ask yourself if the task needs to be done by you. If “Yes”, the task is important. Next, if the task can be postponed for the following days, you should schedule it and not waste your time on a task that is not urgent. Because you won’t be able to complete the tasks that are already in the first quadrant.

However, people need to be very careful with scheduling tasks and sticking to that schedule. If nobody sticks to the schedule, the Eisenhower box won’t be of any help. The scheduling process is not postponing, but a plan for carrying tasks according to their priority. 

As an example of tasks that need to be included in this quadrant are deciding when to do your exercising, meeting your family, or obtaining some kind of certificate and degree. All of these tasks are important personally and for your career, but can be aligned with your schedule. 

Just because the activities in the second quadrant are not urgent doesn’t mean that they aren’t important. The association that urgent matters are important, is not true every time. If your long term goals are constant, everything that will benefit those goals needs to be in this quadrant. 

Third quadrant – Delegate

As the name says, this quadrant is referring to the tasks that can be delegated to other people since these tasks are usually less important to you than to the others but still are urgent. You need to learn how to properly delegate certain activities. You can easily keep track of the tasks that you have delegated by telephone, email, or a meeting to check on the progress of the activities. 

In this quadrant, you need to ask yourself if the task must be done by you, or can be handled by another person. If the answer to this question is that the task can be done by another person than this task is not very important to you. Also, whether the task is urgent and needs to be completed by the end of the day, or it can wait. If the completion of the task can wait until tomorrow than the level of urgency is pretty high. 

Another important question you need to ask yourself is whether the task you are asked to do benefits you directly or helps you in getting closer to your goals.

As an example of tasks that should be in this quadrant are when someone is calling you to help them on certain matters, request for stepping in a meeting, asking you for a favor that is urgent, etc. All of these tasks can be delegated to someone else that would be a better person for the task or by giving helpful information, that will help the caller to handle the situation by themselves. 

The activities in this quadrant, most of the time are distractions such as answering phone calls, responding to urgent emails from colleagues and family, etc. Sometimes these activities may seem like activities from the second quadrant when in reality they aren’t. They will only keep you from making a real progress. 

This quadrat is often the most challenging one in terms of time management. You need to be able to say no to certain tasks and look for an alternative solution. If you are already working on an important project, you can’t split yourself in two just because some task is urgent and can be carried out by someone else. 

Fourth Quadrant – Eliminate

The last quadrant is called “Eliminate” because it’s consisted of activities that you shouldn’t be doing since they are not helping you in fulfilling your long-term goals – because of their time-wasting nature. Usually, these tasks can be scheduled later in the month or quartal, and are not under the direct responsibility of one person. Also, these tasks usually solve by themselves. 

You need to identify all of these activities and eliminate them, so you can have the much needed time for important and urgent tasks. We often spend a lot of our time on these activities. 

Few examples of this type of activities are checking social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Twitter, etc.), web browsing during working hours, playing video games, than reading emails where you are cc’d, etc. 

These types of emails usually are a way to create evidence and don’t need to be actually read. So it is a waste of valuable time whether by following up on emails that are intended for another recipient or checking the social media’s news feed. 

All of these activities can lead to not being able to complete important tasks in the first and second quadrant on time. 

However having some downtime will help you in regaining your energy, so try to use your break to re-energize and not procrastinate. 

Tips for Creating the Eisenhower Box Properly

  • – Having a to-do list will help you in feeling less stressed. But while creating the list you should always ask yourself which of the tasks need to be completed first. 

  • – Try not to put more than 8 tasks per quadrant. You need to remember that using this matrix is not about dividing the tasks only, bur for finishing them on time. Before adding a new task to the box, make sure to finish the most important one in the list. 

  • – Make sure to include tasks from your personal and business life in the list. This way you will be able to finish not just the business tasks, but also do some activities for yourself and your family.

  • – You need to set up your priorities by yourself. Do not let others dictate your day or distract you. Plan your day upfront in the morning and at the end of the day, enjoy the feeling of successfully finished tasks.

  • – Most importantly, try not to procrastinate much.

Procrastination and Eisenhower Box

For example, if your manager asks you to create an important document for the next board meeting, and you have only a few days to write it while having several important tasks at your hands, can cause you additional stress, you won’t be able to concentrate and you will be more prone to procrastination.

Time stressors are the number one factor of causing stress at the workplace. When being stressed is very usual to spend most of your time on tasks that seem important and urgent in the moment, although those tasks belong in the third and fourth quadrant. So you will end up procrastinating.

So, how to beat these time stressors, and start working on tasks that really matter?

Start by doing a one-week assessment to see how much time you are spending on each quadrant each day. This will help you in evaluating the time spent and will give you an idea if there is a need to reorganize your day.

Another option is to take advantage of the “2-minute rule” as a great way to avoid procrastination and get all of the tasks done. The first part of this rule is: if you can do the task in less than 2 minutes, such as sending an update to you manager or answering an email, don’t add the task in your to-do list, or schedule it for later. Simply do it. 

The second part is if you need more than 2 minutes for a certain task, start it. By working on the task for 2 minutes, you will get things going and you will break the procrastination. For example, if you need to write 1.000 words essay, start by writing as much as you can in 2 minutes.

What is the Difference Between Important and Urgent Tasks?

Great time management requires being efficient and effective at the same time. To not waste our time, we should focus not only on activities that are urgent but are important as well. To minimize all the stress of having too many tasks at our hands and even more tight deadlines, we need to understand the difference between important and urgent tasks:

  • – Important activities are the ones that help us achieve our long-term goals, no matter if they are personal or professional. These activities will help you in being more productive and proactive, which will lead to making better decisions, and avoiding decisions that will not benefit your career or personal life.

  • – Urgent activities are time-sensitive and demand immediate attention. Usually, these are the activities that are causing most of the people to be stressed and anxious, because the results of not being able to deal with them will be immediate. 

Once we separate the important from urgent activities, we will be able to focus on the activities that are essential for our goals, and not waste our time on unimportant urgent tasks. 

What Does Planning Mean in the Eisenhower Box?

Planning is a pretty important process when creating the second quadrant. The task list needs to be clear with the correct time indication. Do not fool yourself by thinking that certain tasks that will take 3 hours of your time, can be done in an hour. This way you will only confuse yourself and cause additional stress. 

Try dividing the larger jobs in a few smaller ones, so it would be easier to complete them and meet all of the deadlines. It can be quite motivating to know that the to-do list for the day is successfully completed at the end of the day. 

This will boost your motivation to start the following day with more courage. By dividing your tasks into the quadrants of the Eisenhower Box, it will be a lot easier to prioritize and know exactly when some tasks need to be eliminated or delegated. 

How Does the Eisenhower Box help in Accomplishing Your Goals?

First of all, you need to set your goals, otherwise, you won’t be able to eliminate tasks that are time-wasting and time-consuming. You need to ask yourself: What are the values that drive my personal and professional life? And what do I want to accomplish?

The answers to these questions will help you in deciding which activities to do and which activities to eliminate. When you are sure about what you want to accomplish it is a lot easier to define which tasks are important to you. 

The Eisenhower Box is a useful tool for proper decision making and with that proper time management, which will result in increasing your overall productivity and eliminate all the behaviors that will lead you into wasting time and not towards your goals.

Steve Todd

Steve Todd, founder of Open Sourced Workplace and is a recognized thought leader in workplace strategy and the future of work. With a passion for work from anywhere, Steve has successfully implemented transformative strategies that enhance productivity and employee satisfaction. Through Open Sourced Workplace, he fosters collaboration among HR, facilities management, technology, and real estate professionals, providing valuable insights and resources. As a speaker and contributor to various publications, Steve remains dedicated to staying at the forefront of workplace innovation, helping organizations thrive in today's dynamic work environment.

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