Eisenhower decision matrix
Reducing stress by terminating urgent and important to-dos is most project managers’ desire. The Eisenhower Decision Matrix is a valuable tool for project managers looking to prioritise tasks, manage their time and resources effectively, and achieve their business goals .
This article aims to describe in-depth and provide an application-oriented guide with instructions on how to utilise the technique. Starting with basic information and progressing to explain the theory into practice, facilitated with the help of principles such as navigating complexity . By scheduling and giving a deadline for completion to critical but not pressing matters, project managers efficiently allocate their time and resources. According to PRINCE2, Quadrant 3 from the matrix is closely related to resource management and its quality and quantity assignment. However, it is a primary limitation of the tool that it doesn’t recognise the resources available to complete a task. Thus, an extended version (The Sung diagram) has been created to include an agent, to whom the duty is delegated. Other constraints could be the focus on short-term goals at the expense of long-term objectives, interdependent tasks which create a ripple effect, and unsuitability for teams whose individuals’ perceptions of what is urgent and important vary distinctly. Lastly, building quality into processes and deliverables and embracing adaptability and resilience are two essential principles that should be considered while using the matrix that could together with other project management approaches result in all project aspects being viewed and tasks being prioritised in an optimal way.
The Eisenhower Decision Matrix, also known as the Urgency - Importance Matrix, is a tool used in project management to prioritise tasks based on urgency and importance. It was developed by former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who once said:
- “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”
Today, the world-famous Eisenhower method is widely used by project managers to manage time and resources effectively. The tool is also utilised to identify areas where improvements could be made like delegating or outsourcing less crucial tasks to find time for more pivotal ones. 
The Eisenhower Decision Matrix is a 2x2 matrix that categorises tasks into four quadrants based on their urgency and importance. This prioritisation tool measures tasks on two axes and splits them according to the following structure:
- Quadrant 1 - Do First
Urgent and Important: These tasks require immediate attention and are critical to the success of the project. In a real case scenario, they need to be carried on the day or the day after the latest. It is even suggested to use a timer and address as many as possible.
- Quadrant 2 - Plan
Importance, but Not Urgent: These tasks are crucial to the project’s long-term success but can be scheduled for later. A simple example would be to input them into a calendar. Experienced time managers plan a significant part of their activities, meaning most of their work ends up here in Quadrant 2 with reasonable deadlines.
- Quadrant 3 - Delegate
Urgent, but Not Important: These tasks could be delegated or outsourced due to less importance compared to others yet urgent. On that note, progress follow-ups are essential to check the status of the work assigned to the individuals. In real life, managers get contacted to carry out many tasks, however, it is a key practice to share knowledge, raise awareness and ask them to carry it out themselves, suggesting they learn by doing, thus, no additional tasks are taken.
- Quadrant 4 - Delete
Not Urgent and Not Important: These tasks can be eliminated as they do not contribute to the project’s goals. This quadrant helps to leave out things, unnecessary to do. The contributions in this group are usually used as an excuse to delay and/or reduce the quality of the tasks addressed in the first two groups - Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2.
The Eisenhower Decision Matrix aligns well with the principles of project management outlined in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide). Those principles are the basics for establishing a strategy, decision making and problem-solving. There are many professional standards and prioritisation methodologies developed from principles to guide the behaviour of all parties working together on a project, program, or portfolio. PMBOK Guide defines the importance of effective time management, including the need to prioritise tasks and make the best use of available resources.
Applying theory (the principles) in practice (application) showcases how the Eisenhower Decision Matrix could be applied to address a wide range of project, program, and portfolio management tasks, which ensure deliverables are completed on time, within budget, and to the satisfaction of stakeholders. Below, several aspects have been discussed that benefit from the application of the Eisenhower Decision Matrix:
By using the matrix to prioritise tasks, project managers can ensure they are focusing on the most important and urgent tasks, which need to be completed as soon as possible. Matters that are not immediate but crucial should be scheduled and given a deadline for completion. Tasks to be carried out immediately but not crucial can be outsourced to other team members. While not urgent and not important tasks can be postponed or straight away eliminated, meaning assigned to the fourth quadrant.
- Navigating Complexity - a PMBOK Guide principle 
The above-mentioned application of the matrix could essentially navigate the project’s complexity that has arisen at any point in the project life cycle due to individual elements forming as a whole. One way to navigate complexity would be to be vigilant about its indicators. However, to tackle and break it down, a manager should divide and conquer based on a priority system with assigned tasks, roles, and approaches. Thus, the disrupted matters would turn into effective project deliveries.
The matrix can help project managers to efficiently allocate their time and resources by identifying the tasks requiring immediate action and scheduling time for critical but not pressing tasks. Prioritising them based on those two parameters, managers can guarantee their focus is entirely placed on important and urgent matters, meaning Quadrant 1.
- Schedule Management - an ISO Standards 2021 management practice
According to ISO Standards 2021 , schedule management assigns a task with a duration of time for completion to minimise any slippage. Progress monitoring and comparison to the established baseline ensure punctual delivery within the schedule constraints and targets. Activities within a project, program or portfolio schedule are logically sequenced and presented interdependently to present critical paths. Thus, in case of more tasks being identified, the manager would be able in a timely matter to categorise them accordingly to the 4 quadrants of the Eisenhower Matrix and based on their co-dependency.
The matrix can be used to identify and prioritise risks to the project, allowing project managers to take action to mitigate or eliminate those risks. Analysing immediate and crucial risks provides project managers with proper ideas and actions to manage them and avoid potential negative consequences to the project/program/portfolio.
- Risk Management - an ISO Standards 2021 management practice
The main aim of this practice is to boost the probability of the project goals. Although the matrix is suggested to be used by the manager for the purposes of danger recognition, it is the responsibility of all members to determine potential issues and scale their impact on the grand scheme . Additionally, that is when treating labels are assigned and if a closer look is paid at the Urgency-Importance Matrix, a correlation could be considered:
an AVOID risk as Quadrant 1 Do First –> something to bypass at all costs;
a TRANSFER risk as Quadrant 2 Plan –> something to be fixed but not currently;
an ENHANCE risk as Quadrant 3 Delegate –> something to be looked into but not necessarily by the manager;
an ACCEPT risk as Quadrant 4 Eliminate –> something we tolerate and won’t investigate for resolution.
The matrix can help project managers to identify tasks that can be delegated to other team members, allowing them to focus on more important tasks. By doing that, managers can free up their time and dedicate it to significant assignments, requiring solely their attention.
- Assigning resources – a PRINCE2 activity
Broadly speaking, managers oversee the distribution of various resources like staff, equipment and materials to activities and individuals, based on their criticality, affordability and availability i.e., performing trade-offs of the best cost-benefit solutions. Moreover, according to National Standards, resource management shall include planning, managing, and controlling resources to ensure quality, quantity, and any needed optimisation to reach the set targets.
In relation to the US President’s method, assigning tasks would be identical as their availability, urgency, proposed schedule, and importance are assessed. A general rule for many leaders is to allocate resources/tasks to actions that have zero slack to ensure consistent progress and no overlooking of duties.
The matrix can be used to make informed decisions by weighing the urgency and importance of different options. Determining those various opportunities for the requirements leads to project managers making decisions with a significant impact on the project’s success, addressing the most critical issues first.
- Reduced stress – a general concept
Nowadays, individuals feel overwhelmed due to the number of or the complexity of tasks to be carried out by them. When breaking down into segments, ways out could be more distinctly detected and applied. Following this concept, Dwight’s tool of appointing activities to quadrants is believed to decrease stress exponentially while building up productivity promptly, which essentially facilitates a better decision-making process.
While the Eisenhower Decision Matrix can be an effective tool for prioritising tasks, it is not without its limitations.
One of the main limitations of the matrix is that it does not take into account the resources available to complete the tasks. For example, a task may be important and urgent, but it may require a significant amount of resources, which are not currently available. In such a case, it may not be possible to complete the task within the desired timeframe, and alternative solutions may need to be explored.
Another limitation of the matrix is that it does not consider the interdependencies between tasks. Previously we have discussed scheduling with co-dependent activities but essentially, within the matrix, the connections cannot be presented. Some tasks may be dependent on the completion of others, and delaying an important but not urgent task may have a ripple effect on other tasks and the project as a whole.
Additionally, the model may not be suitable for complex projects, which involve a large number of stakeholders or require a significant amount of coordination between teams. In those cases, a more comprehensive project management approach may be required, such as the PRINCE2 methodology  or ISO Standards 2017 , which takes into account the full project lifecycle and provides a framework for managing risks, resources, and stakeholder engagement. AXELOS says
- “A PRINCE2 plan must describe not only timescales but also what will be delivered, how and by whom. Poorly planned projects cause frustration, waste and rework. It is therefore essential to allocate sufficient time for planning to take place.” 
However, the Urgency – Important Matrix explores planning very vaguely by mentioning it for Quadrant 2, proving it is a prioritization tool rather than a planning one.
Another potential limitation of the matrix is that it may lead to a focus on short-term goals at the expense of long-term objectives. When prioritising urgent and important tasks, it is equally essential to consider the long-term implications of decisions and ensure they align with the overall project goals.
Lastly, the matrix may not be suitable for all individuals or teams, as different people may have different perceptions of what is urgent and important. Some individuals may be more reactive and prioritise urgent tasks, while others may be more proactive and focus on the important ones. Individual preferences and working styles should be considered when using the matrix to guarantee it is effective for all team members.
In summary, while the Eisenhower Decision Matrix can be a useful tool for scaling the importance of tasks, it is pivotal to be aware of its limitations and use it in conjunction with other project, program and portfolio management approaches to ensure that all aspects of the project are considered.
To have the best result from a task prioritisation tool like the Eisenhower Decision Matrix means two specific PMBOK principles should be referred to at all times. They are highlighted and briefly outlined below:
1. Building quality into processes and deliverables aka Efficiency
Quality management and assurance practices ensure the delivery of the desired outcomes of a project’s target, aligned with the relevant stakeholders’ requirements, expectations, and acceptance criteria. Furthermore, it secures an end-product with minimal/no defects, a timely and éclat delivery, less rework, and a continuous process for improvement.
2. Embracing adaptability and resilience
Being able to respond adequately and promptly to changing conditions as well as to accept and recover rapidly from negative repercussions are crucial characteristics for successful people delivering complex projects, programs and/or portfolios. Therefore, often inspections, opportunity huts, diversified teams willing to share experiences and innovative working approaches are key ingredients to success even in the presence of unforeseen events and other matters. The industry presents this principle as a useful trick to recover from time, cost, or benefit setbacks. Nonetheless, those positive traits are favourable for the work environment and the people within as it keeps the staff motivated toward delivering value.
To put things into perspective on what is the best practice, 4 time management hits which secure a lucrative Eisenhower Matrix aftermath are presented below and illustrated in Figure 2 on the right.
- Finish Not Collect. Each quadrant shall include no more than 8 tasks and accept new ones only if space has been freed up, meaning tasks have been completed.
- One and Only. There should be only one generated matrix at a time. Some even suggest that it should combine both business and private tasks, however, this statement requires further research.
- Your Matrix, Your Priority. Defining the priorities and assigning tasks should be one’s own responsibility. Other people should not input or manipulate data within the quadrants.
- Act Now. Procrastination is fatal to many deliverables and end-products, thus, avoidance of over-managing one’s to-dos should be practised.
Applying those tips separately brings the quality of work to a significantly higher level. However, if combined all together, they result in a distinct and eloquent analysis of priorities and order of action to tackle all tasks. This practice would be gainful for the people in the function of promoting the organisation’s vision, aims and hopes to the project team as well as the wider community of stakeholders and any other interested parties. Being connectors between all relevant groups, they are highly responsible for the alignment of business objectives, de-escalating problems and risks, and overcoming challenges, shortages or thought deadlines, and such a distinct separation and prioritised tackling management method ensures the realisation of set targets and desired end products .
An Extension of the Method
According to Bratterud  US President Dwight Eisenhower’s graphical diagram for task strategy and planning experiences a gap related to the implementer of the delegated task, the so-called fit. If this addition of a third binary variable is applied, the initial matrix could be reworked and presented as the Sung diagram.
The extended version now consists of Important, Urgent and Fit circles that respectively cover the profound effect on success, the immediate action and the agent completing the task. The last component should address two aspects:
- the capability of the agent to carry out the task alone and not delegate to another individual
- the ipseity of the agent to feel fulfilment of the task’ completion .
The outcome is having seven rather than four quadrants. Do Next and Delegate Next are introduced where the former is following the agent is free again as it hasn’t been important while the latter is urgent but not essential or having the right agent currently. The final new piece is derived from the division of Plan from Schedule based on the idea the second has the right fit for the task, compared to the first which has no available individual to handle it and simply needs to be planned .
Below is outlined the useful literature behind this article that addresses the prioritisation method - The Eisenhower Matrix, related to projects, programs and portfolios.
A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) 6th ed.
The PMBOK Guide is an essential resource for project managers, regardless of their level of experience or industry. It provides a common language and framework for project management that enables effective communication and collaboration among team members, stakeholders, and other project participants. In relevance to the Urgency-Importance Matrix, the principles that the paper describes are the backbone, meaning significantly important for the correct understanding and most beneficial prioritising of matters within the 4 quadrants available from the management tool.
Project, Programme and Portfolio Management – Context and Concepts (Danish Standard) 2021
DS/ISO 21502:2020 is a Danish standard, which looks into the organisational context and underlying concept for carrying out the project, program and/or portfolio management. The paper is created to assist any product, most organisations both private and public. It is divided into eight chapters: an overview of management and the standard itself; an outline of general principles and concepts; project management processes like initiation, planning, execution, monitoring, control, and closure; integration and coordination for deliverables on time, within budget and to the expected quality standards; defining and managing project scope; scheduling and its development and maintenance; cost estimating; and risk management. For the current article, attention has mainly been paid to the last chapter.
Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2 (AXELOS, The Stationery Office Ltd) 2017 ed.
Published by AXELOS, this guidebook provides a structured framework for project management based on PRINCE2 principles. It is divided into four parts: an overview with key concepts and benefits; a description of the seven PRINCE2 principles for successful management; an in-depth outline of the seven themes throughout the project; and an explanation of the seven processes providing a step-by-step approach from the start through initiation to the closing of a project. As it provides a common language and framework for project management with a focus on consistency and standardisation across different projects and organisations, it is precisely addressing this very limitation of the Eisenhower Matrix.
The Sung Diagram: Revitalizing the Eisenhower Matrix (Bratterud H., Burgess M., Fasy B. T.) 2021
This paper is a common work of a fair amount of respected authors, gathered to access the insufficiency of US President Dwight Eisenhower’s graphic tool for task management based on two points - urgency and importance. The gap has been identified and closed with the implementation of a third pillar, being fit. The article further develops the concept, presenting a new graphical tool and three new outcomes. The authors have made their findings interactive as they provide the opportunity to use their application, enter the details as instructed and receive a personal Sung diagram.
Further research is recommended and a proposed book No More Muddling Through by Züst R. and Troxler P.  who has potentially found a resemblance between the Eisenhower Matrix and the idea behind the classification of elements as active, passive, critical and inert on a dominance vs receptivity matrix.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 EISENHOWER, URL: https://www.eisenhower.me/eisenhower-matrix/, accessed 9 May 2023
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 Project Management Institute. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) 6th ed. 2017. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute, Inc.
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 International Organisation for Standardisation. ISO 21502:2021 Project, Programme and Portfolio Management – Context and Concepts. 2021
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 AXELOS, Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2 2017 ed., The Stationery Office Ltd, 2017. ProQuest Ebook Central, URL: https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/dtudk/detail.action?docID=4863041, accessed 9 May 2023
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Bratterud H., Burgess M., Fasy B. T. The Sung Diagram: Revitalizing the Eisenhower Matrix 2021 URL: https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-030-54249-8_43
- ↑ Züst R. and Troxler P. No More Muddling Through Mastering Complex Projects in Engineering and Management. no date