How To Increase Your Productivity By Using the Eisenhower Principle

Great time management means being effective as well as efficient. In the modern, fast paced workplace it can be hard to distinguish between what’s important and urgent. We often fall in the trap of believing all urgent tasks are also important, even if that’s seldom the case. In fact, most stuff trying to get our brain’s attention are usually trivial, non-important tasks, with a high sense of urgency.

The Eisenhower Principle 

The Eisenhower Principle originates from a quote attributed to the former U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower:

“I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” 

The principle is pretty simple. You evaluate your task in terms of urgency and importance, and then place them in different quadrants of the Eisenhower Matrix, which gives you a visual overview of how to prioritize your tasks.

Urgent vs Important

Let’s start by defining what constitutes an important task and an urgent task.

A task defined as urgent requires immediate action or attention.  Examples:

  • Crises
  • Pressing problems
  • Projects with deadlines
  • Interruptions (calls, meetings, emails)
A task defined as important often relates to long-term goals. Examples:

  • Planning, research, design, testing
  • Capability improvements
  • Relationship building
  • Developing change, direction and strategy

The Eisenhower Matrix 

The Eisenhower Matrix consists of four different quadrants, based on urgency and importance. The quadrants are as follows:


1. Urgent and Important: DO

If a task is both urgent and important, do it right away.

2. Not Urgent, but Important: DECIDE

If a task is important, but not urgent, set a due date and do it later.

3. Urgent, but not Important: DELEGATE

If a task is urgent, but not important, the best thing is to delegate it to someone else.

4. Not Urgent and Not Important: DELETE

If a task is neither important nor urgent, it should not be prioritized. Drop it or do it when you have some extra time.

Obviously, what you need to tackle first are tasks that are BOTH urgent and important. It’s also easy to see that tasks that neither urgent nor important should be the last priority. However, it can be difficult to decide what to focus on when it comes to tasks that are “not urgent and important” or “urgent and not important”. This is where it’s important to remember that if you focus all your time on urgent tasks, the important tasks will never get done. Urgent does not equal important.

By using the Eisenhower Matrix you get a better picture of how to prioritize your tasks. Start by doing what’s important, ranked by urgency. If you have capacity do to some of the non-important tasks, do them after you finished all important tasks – or delegate/drop them depending on urgency.

Create Your Own Eisenhower Matrix in Upwave

Upwave supports both columns, rows and colorcoding of cards, which makes it a perfect tool to create your Eisenhower Matrix. Start by creating two columns, “Urgent” and “Not urgent”. Then turn on rows, and create a row for “Important” and “Not important”. Now, you have the structure.

Upwave - Eisenhower matrix - mountainCreate the colors you want to use for the 4 different categories; Do, Decide, Delegate, Delete. We have used red (Do), green (Decide), yellow (Delegate) and blue (Delete), but there are no rules – use the colors you prefer! When you’re all set up, start adding your tasks in each quadrant.

1. Do right away
Important:urgent 2
2. Decide when to do it
Important:not urgent 2
 3. Delegate to someone else
Urgent:not important
4. Delete/Drop
not urgent:not important
In this case, the red tasks would be done right away. For the green tasks, you would set a deadline for each (which is very easy in Upwave!) and then get started on them after the red tasks. The yellow tasks should be delegated to someone else (if possible), while the blue tasks should be dropped.

Key takeaways

  • Urgent does not equal important: What is important is seldom urgent and vice verca
  • The Eisenhower Matrix: Helps your categorize your tasks, so you can get your priorities straight!
  • If a task is important and urgent: Get it done right away – no procrastination.
  • If a task is important, but not urgent: Set a deadline and get it done by then. Make sure you do it!
  • If a task is urgent, but not important: Then it’s just a distraction, so delegate it to someone else.
  • If a task is neither urgent nor important: Well, then you don’t prioritize it at all. Drop it!


Baer, Drake. (2014). “Dwight Eisenhower Nailed A Major Insight About Productivity”. Business Insider

Dwight D. Eisenhower (1954). “Address at the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches, Evanston, Illinois”. The American Presidency Project

McKay; Brett; Kate (2013). “The Eisenhower Decision Matrix: How to Distinguish Between Urgent and Important Tasks and Make Real Progress in Your Life”. The Art of Manliness.

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