On a good workday, the tasks at hand are straightforward. We know exactly what we’re doing and what order we’re going to do it in. We know how much time to allot and we finish each task within its given time frame. Our completed list brings a sense of accomplishment. Everything we’ve done was worthwhile, and it contributed directly to the organizational vision.
These happy workdays aren’t an accident. In fact, we can create more of them with the right planning. That’s why the Whiteboards app offers the Eisenhower Matrix template.
The Eisenhower Matrix — also known as the “priority matrix” and “urgent/important matrix” — is the longstanding secret weapon of highly effective time managers. Just identify your tasks and start prioritizing them. And the Whiteboards app takes this template to the next level with our unique two-way Jira integration. Whiteboards users import Jira tasks for sorting directly on the Eisenhower Matrix template. They sort these tasks, identify priorities, and update due dates. All changes appear instantly in Jira.
Using the Eisenhower Matrix template in Whiteboards means even your time management is more efficient. Cut out extra steps with native two-way Jira integration and get more done.
Try Whiteboards for free and start using the Eisenhower Matrix template today. Keep reading for more background and tips on using the template more effectively. Learn how you and your team can get the most out of this classic time management tool.
Why is it called an Eisenhower Matrix?
Meet the tried-and-true template of effective time managers.
I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.
U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower made these words famous in a 1954 speech at Northwestern University. He ascribed them to an unidentified former Northwestern president. They are commonly cited as the guiding concept behind Eisenhower’s own highly effective career. This “urgent vs. important” distinction would come to be known as the “Eisenhower Principle.”
Stephen Covey would later adapt this principle for his 1989 bestseller 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The third habit of highly effective people, according to Covey, is that they “put first things first.” Covey created a simple diagram to help his readers do this. The diagram sorts tasks into four categories according to urgency and importance. Covey’s popular time management tool became known as the Eisenhower Matrix.
Over 30 years later, the Eisenhower Matrix is still going strong. This is because Eisenhower and Covey made the same crucial observation. Without realizing we’re doing it, most of us tend to sacrifice the important to the urgent. This fuels a cycle of fixing critical issues rather than preventing them. We break this cycle by focusing on what’s important in the long term. “Important” projects and tasks are those that directly support our team’s overall vision. “Urgent” tasks are those we can’t avoid in the short term without serious consequences. Too many urgent tasks keep us busy but short-sighted.
Minimizing urgency over the long run keeps your team effective. Prioritizing your tasks on an Eisenhower Matrix can help you get a handle on this important process.
What are the benefits of the Eisenhower Matrix?
This tool is for anyone who could use a little help with time management.
For most of us, to-do lists are the front line of time management. A concrete list assures us that we won’t miss anything. Checking off tasks lets us visualize our progress. The completed list reassures us that we’ve been productive.
But sometimes we stare at our completed list in dismay. We’ve been busy, but were we effective? Did we make real progress or just check boxes? What do we do when our to-do lists themselves create stress?
Often, to-do lists pull us in several directions at once. There are the tasks we dislike and tend to put off. But they also make us anxious until they’re accomplished. Then there are the problems we feel we need to address immediately. But we know half the day will be spent just taking care of these tasks. There are also all the urgent tasks we agreed to take on ourselves. Maybe we worry other people won’t do them right. Or we’re afraid that delegating them means not pulling our weight.
Adding tasks we think we can handle can have us running in circles before we’ve even finished our morning coffee. If this feels relatable, the Eisenhower Matrix is there to help. Sort your to-do list on this template before you start work each day. Invest 10-15 minutes prioritizing your day’s tasks. Commit to this process for a full workweek. It will become faster and easier as you practice.
The Eisenhower Matrix prioritizes tasks according to urgency and importance. This gives you a clear path forward for the workday. But it also clues you in to root causes of stress and overwhelm.
How do I use an Eisenhower Matrix template?
Follow our simple guide to get the most out of this valuable tool.
The Eisenhower Matrix is simple and adaptable. You can use it to prioritize tasks in any area of life. Follow this 4-step process to help you get the most out of the Matrix. Adapt these steps to fit your individual situation.
1. Do a quick pre-sort of your to-do list.
If your to-do list is long and jumbled, sort it before you start. You may want to use one template or more, depending on how this goes:
- Individual vs. team: Consider your work tasks. Which are individual tasks, and which require close collaboration? Are any of your or your team’s tasks dependent on others to finish something first? Sort the individual tasks on a personal Eisenhower Matrix for your own reference. Sort collaborative tasks on a matrix with your team.
- Broad vs. narrow: A casual to-do list can be a collection of projects and tasks. Your list may include projects like “fix the homepage on Client X’s website.” Where possible, break bigger projects down into component tasks before you map them on the template.
Once you’ve narrowed down your list, you can add your tasks to the whiteboard using virtual sticky notes. Jira users can also take advantage of Whiteboards’ unique two-way Jira integration to import tasks directly from Jira. Using Whiteboards’ import zone tool, bring in your personal backlog of tasks. For any task not currently in Jira, create a virtual sticky note with a brief task description. In the next step, you’ll convert these sticky notes to tasks that sync automatically in Jira.
2. Sort your tasks on the Eisenhower Matrix to plan out your day.
Your individual work tasks are now in front of you on the whiteboard. You’re ready to organize them on the template. Do this in whatever order works best for you. You can go through and find the “Eliminate” tasks first. Or start with the easily-sorted tasks, then circle back to the more difficult ones. The important thing is that all your tasks make it into the diagram. Here’s how to sort them:
- Do urgent and important tasks.
These are the tasks that need to be finished today. If they aren’t, there could be consequences. They are also the tasks that are important for you to do yourself. Add anything that feels urgent and can’t be delegated.
- Schedule important but not urgent tasks.
These are long-term work items that contribute directly to the organization’s success. You don’t need to do them today or even this week, necessarily. But they do need to get done. When scheduled out strategically, they don’t pile up in the “Do” field later on.
- Delegate urgent but not important tasks.
“Not important” in this case means “not important for me to do.” The point of working in a team is not to do everything yourself. In fact, there are many things you shouldn’t do yourself. Ask what urgent tasks someone else could do and place them here.
- Eliminate unimportant and non-urgent tasks.
Some things just aren’t worth doing. You may have pet projects, or find yourself tasked with other people’s pet projects. Some of these are just distractions. They don’t move the team forward at this time. Add them to a personal project wishlist, if you like. Just keep them off your tasks list!
Once all your tasks have been added to the matrix, you have a map of your next steps. If your organization uses Jira, you’re ready to create any necessary tasks. Addressing “Do” and “Delegate,” turn any sticky notes into Jira tasks and assign them. These appear instantly in Jira for all relevant users. Now make any necessary updates to the tasks you imported from your backlog. These updates also sync automatically in Jira. Native Jira integration allows you to update Jira issues straight from the template in a couple of clicks. There’s no need to flip between windows or print your template out. Automatic Jira sync makes the Eisenhower Matrix an even more efficient time management tool.
But sorting and assigning your tasks isn’t all you get out of the template. The real value of the Eisenhower Matrix template goes beyond organizing your to-do list on a given day.
3. Use the completed template to reflect on your typical day at work.
Your Eisenhower Matrix is finished and your tasks are prioritized and delegated. Now, your completed template has more to tell you. Time management isn’t just about daily task sorting. Treat the matrix as a valuable snapshot of a day in your work life.
How does this snapshot make you feel? What percentage of your day will be spent doing the tasks in the “Do” field? As a rule of thumb, having most tasks in the “Not urgent” column is a good sign. This means you aren’t managing pressing concerns all day. You and your team are thinking ahead and keeping the big picture well organized. If this is the case, congratulations!
Of course, for any number of reasons, this is often not the case. If your “Schedule” field is losing out to the “Urgent” column, take another look. Consider these scenarios and what they mean for your situation:
- Your “Do” list is overloaded. This could mean a number of things. Maybe your sense of urgency has taken over. Is there anything that can move to the “Schedule” list? If not, perhaps you’ve procrastinated or over-committed. Or maybe there are wider organizational reasons so much is piling up here. Start asking hard questions. Why are you, and possibly your team, spending so much time in crisis mode?
- Your “Delegate” list is sparse. If your “Do” list is long and all items are truly important, why is this the case? Ask yourself if team processes have left you with too many tasks. Even if you’re the best person to do a given thing, there’s only so much time in a day. And other people may not realize you’re overloaded unless you speak up. They have their own to-do lists to get through.
- Your “Eliminate” list is empty. Double-check your other categories. Are there tasks in the “Do” field you said yes to even though they weren’t important? Maybe you can’t get out of them today, since you already agreed. Can you politely say “no” next time?
During the workday, record the hours you spend on your “urgent” column items. How long did it take to do or delegate these? Did they spill over into the afternoon, or the next day? Did they end up pushing back items in the “Schedule” field?
Of course, today may not be a typical workday. Try this routine for a whole workweek. On Friday, analyze your five completed templates and the time you spent on urgent tasks. What are the trends? Try it for a month. Were you able to shift the balance away from the “Do” list by changing your work habits? If not, it may be time to implement broader strategies with your team.
4. Troubleshoot time management problems with your team.
You may be dismayed to realize how much of your day you spend on urgent tasks. You’re not alone. That’s why so many project management tools exist. Your team members may even be struggling with the same issues. Use your Eisenhower Matrix experiment as a springboard for better project management.
Flexible, strategic long-term planning is central to the Eisenhower Principle. It is also key to Agile team success. Try out these templates to keep your daily tasks better aligned with the bigger picture (a.k.a. Eisenhower’s “important” things):
- For current projects, use the Value Effort Matrix template to prioritize issues in your backlog. Optimize limited resources by eliminating tasks where the value isn’t worth the effort. Clear out the waste to get unwieldy projects back on track.
- For future projects, try the Project Planning template. Define your goals and do a cost-benefit analysis. Discover which tasks are both important and feasible. Allocate resources strategically before the project begins. Prevent waste of valuable time and effort at the outset.
- Before you start a project, anticipate possible roadblocks using the Risk Analysis template. Proactively address known or likely issues before they become urgent problems. Create contingency plans for the less likely ones.
- After a major project, run a slow-paced retrospective session with the Learning Matrix Retrospective template. Give all stakeholders a chance to reflect on what went well and what didn’t. Take your learnings into the next project. Optimize everyone’s to-do lists to eliminate unnecessary delays next time.
These are just a few suggestions to get you started. Explore the Whiteboard templates library for other powerful tools to streamline your work processes. All Whiteboards templates live on an infinite-plane whiteboard with robust Jira integration. Import, update, and create tasks just as you did on the Eisenhower Matrix template. All changes appear immediately in Jira. Practice good time management by having all tasks in front of their users by the end of each whiteboarding session.
Try Whiteboards for free today. Experience how Whiteboards saves you valuable time and sets your team up for long-term success. Watch our quick introductory demo to see two-way Jira integration in action.