Eisenhower Matrix is the most frequent name for this time management tool that helps to organize based on importance and urgency; however, it is not absolutely certain if President Eisenhower created this matrix or just used it. There are several theories around. Regardless, it is a very useful tool to structure priorities.
The matrix has 4 quadrants that are organized by two factors: importance and urgency. Despite being two concepts that have nothing in common it is frequent to meet people that are mixing them when using this matrix, and therefore classifying a task wrongly.
A task will increase in importance as the consequences to yourself or others have a greater impact. For example, for students, a paper that represents 35% of the final grade would be of greater importance than an exam that is only 10%. Importance usually does not change over time.
It is the amount of time from now until the deadline. It has two components first the objective time (in minutes, hours, or days) and a subjective perspective that is related to the ratio between the amount of time to perform the task and the time for completion. For example, a task that is due in 3 days is more urgent than another due in 2 weeks. However, a task that requires 3 months to complete will scream as urgent when there are only 2 months to deliver. Unless the task is completed urgency will increase. Seldom it might be reduced as a postponement of the deadline.
“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” Planning is the prerequisite of business success, but success is not guaranteed by planning.
To clarify the difference paying taxes is important (you face fines or jail if you do not abide) but is not urgent until the week before or even the day before the deadline. The importance does not change, while urgency will increase. If you paid your taxes 3 weeks ahead of time urgency will not be a problem. Delivering your thesis is important but having only 10 pages written (of the 100 required) the week before delivery will make it urgent, extremely urgent.
When I was in School those classmates that used to arrive late were those that live closer. How is this possible? Easy. I needed more or less 15 minutes to arrive, therefore, I used to plan to leave home around 20 minutes ahead to cover for any unexpected issue. Meaning that I had 5 minutes of buffer and 2 or 3 additional minutes if I rushed. Those classmates that lived 2 minutes away, used to plan for a 2 minutes trip. Obviously, they had no buffer and any inconvenience resulted in arriving late.
Everybody instinctively agrees that those tasks that are both important and urgent should be done right away. The problem arises when deciding on doing important but not so urgent tasks or urgent but not so important tasks. Usually, most students tend to go for urgency, which is a mistake. Remember if it is not important no matter how urgent you feel (or are told so) it is not important, therefore, if you don’t do it the consequences are not severe. To understand this better I strongly recommend reading “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey. He devotes a full habit and an appendix to explain this masterfully.
Studeam and the Eisenhower Matrix
When we were creating the criteria of STUDEAM we took this matrix into consideration. We are considering every task equally important as the first step, therefore the planning is basically done with an urgency criterion. However, exam preparation is considered more important but less urgent (has to be done as close to the exam as possible) therefore we place exam preparation tasks with preference over any other.
Only when you have not done everything as planned, overflows will arise, and this would require you to decide on the importance between two different tasks to decide which one is properly done and which you consider that dropping that ball is reasonable. Studeam informs you ahead so you can make decisions as early as possible to minimize the impact.
I hope that this post has helped you to understand how to apply the Eisenhower Matrix and the differences between importance and urgency for students. You can find more time management techniques here.