Key Learning Outcomes

  • Learn about this time management tool that is particularly useful in today’s fast paced business world.
  • Understand the theory behind the tool and the purpose of each of the four quadrants in the matrix.
  • Complete our template to analyse where your time is being spent.
  • Develop procedures that ensure you spend most of your time focused on important activities.


“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important” – President Dwight Eisenhower.

The urgent/important matrix is an excellent tool for sorting and prioritising your tasks. If you have ever found yourself with a long list of things to do, but no idea where to start, or have reached the end of a busy day but don’t feel you have achieved a lot, then this learning module is essential for you.

This simple but highly effective time management tool has been attributed to both President Eisenhower and Dr Steven Covey. Eisenhower apparently designed the original tool; however, it was Covey who developed and popularised the theory. Regardless of who gets the ultimate credit, it is an invaluable tool for anyone who finds themselves caught in the trap of dealing with urgent tasks on a daily basis, while never getting to those things that are actually important. The model can be used to either sort through what needs to be done and gain some focus, or can be an excellent tool to reflect on and analyse where your time is being spent.[wlm_ismember]

The simple 2 x 2 matrix allows you to break tasks into four quadrants: “Urgent and important”, “Not urgent but important”, “Urgent but not important”, and “Not urgent and not important” as shown in the table below.


The reality is most of us spend our time on the urgent side of the matrix regardless of how important the task is. Ideally, we should be spending our time in the top half of the matrix with the majority of time spent in quadrant 2 which are tasks that focus on improvement. When you think of great business leaders, they spend a great deal of their time in this quadrant working on ways to improve or expand their business, that is, working ON rather than IN the business. In the introduction to the time management article we note that we all have the same time resource every day; the key to success is maximising it.

Quadrant 1 – Urgent and important

The tasks that fit into this quadrant are not planned activities, as they tend to be emergencies and crises. For example, it may be a medical emergency, a problem with a client or a deadline for a job that has no flexibility. These things cannot be put off and have to be done; however, the thing to think about is that often these quadrant 1 issues may not have arisen if a little more time was spent in quadrant 2.

For example, a new staff member makes a mistake with a client because they were unaware of a key issue. More time spent in training and preparing the new staff member before they dealt with the client would likely have prevented the crisis.

It is unrealistic to think that we will never spend time in this quadrant; however, the key is to try and get to those important issues before they become urgent. The problem with spending all your time in quadrant 1 is that it can become very stressful for you, your team, your clients and your family and friends.

Quadrant 2 – Important and not urgent 

This is where most of your time should be spent. The activities in this quadrant include things such as planning, training and education, relationship-building and prevention. Time spent working ON the business rather than IN the business is allocated in this quadrant. Activities such as business planning, analysing your market, training your team and looking for new opportunities are all examples of very important but non- urgent tasks. It is vital to remember that while these tasks and activities may not be urgent today, they will become urgent or the consequences of not doing them will impact the business unless adequate time is spent on them.

Activities to ensure your out-of-work life remains healthy should also be included in this quadrant. Time spent with family, planning for special events, and exercise and diet are all important but not necessarily urgent activities. However, if you ignore diet and exercise for an extended period of time or keep forgetting your partner’s birthday or your anniversary, it is likely that you will face a crisis or emergency at some time in the future.

Quadrant 3 – Urgent and not important 

With ever-advancing modes of communication, it is more likely most of us spend too much time in this quadrant unless we are vigilant. In the past it might just have been a ringing phone that required urgent attention; now we are faced with emails, several phones and of course social media. Additionally, as technology has advanced, patience levels have reduced. Where a client might have been happy to wait 24 hours or longer for you to call them back 10 years ago, they now expect a much speedier response. It is more important than ever that we manage distractions effectively.

Because activities in this quadrant are urgent, it is essential to ask yourself a few questions to ensure you are working efficiently and effectively, rather than ending a busy day without really achieving anything because you have been caught up doing things that were not really important.

Quadrant 4 – Not urgent and not important 

You should spend minimal time in this quadrant. Activities such as surfing the web, Facebook and watching too much TV are all in here. That is not to say that we don’t all have to switch off now and again. The important thing is to recognise it and be aware that this time is not productive time.

This is a simple but excellent tool to be used in conjunction with most of our other time management articles such as the activity log, effective to-do lists and ideal week.[/wlm_ismember]

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