What's Important? Using the Eisenhower Matrix

So much to do. Case work, follow-up calls, your coworker's going-away party, your mother's birthday gift. How can you keep it all straight?

If you're in the market for a new organization system, give the Eisenhower Matrix a try. This simple, 2x2 grid helps your prioritize, delegate, and monitor how you spend your time.


As you can see, the grid is divided by what’s important vs not important and urgent vs not urgent. If it's urgent, it needs to be done quickly. If it's important, it requires your attention and can't be delegated.

  • Urgent / Important: tasks you must do today or tomorrow and should be completed first.
  • Not Urgent / Important: can be deferred, schedule them on your calendar for a later date.
  • Urgent / Not Important: let someone else can take care of this, but keep track of it by email, phone, post completion feedback.
  • Not Urgent / Not Important: Such as checking instagram. Better save those tasks for your leisure time or ignore them completely.

You can use the Eisenhower Matrix for your own tasks, or with a team. If your team is feeling overwhelmed, have them write out everything they need to do or are thinking about, then work together to place each task on the Eisenhower Matrix. This activity provides valuable perspective and is much more productive than the usual "we have so much to do!" vent.

As a note, this matrix does in fact get its name from Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States. Mr. Eisenhower was a very busy and accomplished man who used this tool to delegate and keep on task.

The things that are urgent are seldom important and the things that are important are seldom urgent.
— Dwight D. Eisenhower

You can also use the Eisenhower Matrix as a tool for personal improvement. In Stephen R. Covey's famous book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he suggests keeping a blank matrix by your site and periodically noting which quadrant you are in throughout the day. It was shocking to me to see how often I lingered in the Not Important and Not Urgent areas.

Give the Eisenhower Matrix a try and see if it helps you prioritize and manage your workload!

A note for SAM users:

You can use the principles of the Eisenhower Matrix while implementing or improving your program workflow in SAM. Here are some suggestions based of the task category:

  • Urgent / Important: Past due AR. Build a SAM report for AR past their due date to quickly see what is outstanding. From there, send a bulk email reminding clients about your payment policy.
  • Not Urgent / Important: Home Study or Licensing Expiration. Don't let these sneak up on you! Instead, set an auto action to email you or the responsible staff member when the expiration date is a month or more in the future. 
  • Urgent / Not Important: Annual fundraising event. Create an event in SAM for RSVP's and tickets and an auto action to send email reminders to all attendees. Another team member can monitor RSVPs with a report.
  • Not Urgent / Not Important: Donation recognition, birthdays, volunteer appreciation. These are important, but you can automate with personalized email templates and auto actions... that way you have more time for Facebook ;)