How To Use The Eisenhower Matrix To Save Time In Your Small Business

There are only so many hours in the day, but a small business owner’s to-do list often seems never-ending. Between managing your team, keeping up with inventory, and tackling daily customer fires, the days fill up.

Maybe you dream of having more time to work on big-picture goals but find important tasks get buried under a sea of busywork. But without making the time for strategic work, like marketing and customer research, you’ll miss out on key opportunities to deliver new offerings and grow your business.

The good news is, it’s possible to break the cycle and prioritize the most important goals for you and your team using the Eisenhower matrix.

Learn how to use the Eisenhower matrix for time management and take back control of your schedule. This article will guide you through the framework step by step, so you can keep your focus on high-impact tasks that will take your small business to the next level.

What is the Eisenhower matrix?

The Eisenhower matrix, also known as the Urgent-Important matrix, was created by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to help him make better decisions about time management. As you can imagine, the President had a lot on his plate and needed a structured way to decide which tasks and projects to prioritize.

This matrix breaks down tasks into different categories based on two criteria:

  1. Urgency — whether a task requires immediate attention
  2. Importance — whether a task aligns with your major business goals and has a lasting impact

You can then use these categories to divide your to-do list into four categories or quadrants:

  • Urgent + Important: These tasks require your immediate attention and are critical to achieving goals. Think: resolving an unhappy customer’s complaint as soon as possible, before they leave a bad review.

You should prioritize these tasks above all else, as they’re both time-pressing and key to achieving your objectives. 

  • Not Urgent + Important: These are activities aligned with your goals that don’t need immediate attention — for example, researching ways to improve how you manage your inventory.

Make sure you set aside time to do this type of non-urgent, high-impact work, as this sets the stage for business success.

  • Urgent + Not Important: These are tasks that demand your attention but don’t align with your goals. Things like immediate but unscheduled phone calls from vendors fall into this box. 

Where you can, delegate or minimize time spent on these tasks — they’re not helping to move the needle forward for your business in any meaningful way.  

  • Not Urgent + Not Important: These tasks are neither time sensitive or key to achieving your goals. In short, they’re time sinks, like browsing social media or casually rearranging your storefront without any real purpose or need. 

Look to eliminate as many of these tasks as possible, as they divert time and energy from more pressing activities that will make a real difference to your company. 

For a restaurant, urgent and important tasks might be doing food prep before the dinner rush or dealing with no-show staff who need to be replaced as soon as possible. These go in Quadrant 1. 

Work that is not urgent but important goes in Quadrant 2. These could include strategising next season’s menu or stock, or planning staff rosters in advance for the upcoming months. 

Urgent but not important tasks may be things like stocking an unscheduled delivery or handling last-minute time-off requests from your team. These go in Quadrant 3. 

Non-urgent, non-important activities might include overcleaning when not busy, having unnecessary meetings, or spending tons of time manually doing HR admin. 

The key is to maximize time in Quadrants 1 and 2 so you’re spending time on the most vital operations and strategy — and minimize time wasted in Quadrants 3 and 4. 

Small businesses can use the Eisenhower matrix to align their priorities and make the most of their schedules, focusing on the tasks that matter most.

A 7-step guide to use the Eisenhower matrix for effective time management 

Now that you understand how the Eisenhower matrix can help, let’s look at how to put it into practice. 

Step 1: Evaluate your current time use

Monitor how you and your team currently spend your time for 1-2 weeks. 

You can do this manually by making a spreadsheet with columns for the task, time spent, urgency and importance, or streamline the process with easy-to-use time tracking tools for small businesses.

For best results, log small time increments — every 30 minutes, for example — and make notes so you can see where interruptions and distractions happen. This process will give you a clear sense of where your time is currently going and show you where you’re losing productivity — you might be surprised! 

For instance, you may see that yourself or your team are devoting hours every week to managing payroll. Recognizing this will help you to pinpoint work you could delegate or processes you could improve to free up time. 

Step 2: Outline key responsibilities and goals

List out key responsibilities necessary to keep the business going, like customer service, marketing, and managing orders and teams.

Then decide on your most important strategic goals: this could be growing your revenue, cutting down costs, or gaining a wider customer base by offering new products and services. 

Mapping out your business-critical tasks will help you to know how much importance to assign to different types of work on your Eisenhower grid. 

Step 3: Plot out tasks on an Eisenhower matrix

Take the information you’ve gathered from the first two steps and start categorizing all the tasks on your to-do list. 

Use a basic Eisenhower matrix time management template on Word or Excel to get you started. It’s also a good idea to display a large-format version at your workplace so everyone can see it — you may want to print it out, draw it on a whiteboard, or pin different tasks onto different quadrants using sticky notes.

Take your time. When you first try it, you may want to create an “Unsure” category so you can park tasks you’re not certain about, and return later to put them in the appropriate quadrant. 

Step 4: Block out time in your calendar for important work

Tasks that are important but not urgent are easily overlooked amidst the hustle and bustle. 

Blocking out recurring time blocks every week can help you make sure activities like marketing, hiring, or financial planning get done. 

It’s especially important for business owners and managers to set time in their schedule for deep or strategic work — but you should encourage your whole team to prioritize their most important tasks. That might mean using downtime to prepare for busy times in your store, salon, or restaurant. Your floor workers could block out time for inventory checks, restocking, proactively maintaining coffee machines or other equipment, or doing training that will make them better at their jobs. 

Step 5: Limit time sinks

Use your Eisenhower matrix to identify and cut down on non-important, non-urgent activities that waste time and resources.

Maybe your meetings are running overtime because managers are spending a lot of time updating the team on logistical changes. You’ll want to consider setting a clear time limit for meetings or using more effective communications to share updates and information.

Step 6: Delegate where you can

If the Urgent-Important matrix shows that you or your managers are pressed for time because you’re getting sucked into busywork, you’ll need to offload some of your tasks.

Delegate tasks that match with team members’ expertise and experience. If you find yourself spending too much time managing your business social media account, for example, you could spread out the workload by asking employees with a strong online presence to create a few posts a week. 

Step 7: Review and update your priorities 

Each week, revisit your matrix to reassign tasks as your priorities shift. Move newly urgent items into Quadrant 1 and downshift past tasks that are no longer so important. 

It’s natural for your priorities to shift as circumstances change. Imagine you’re a salon owner, and you initially plotted employee training on a new treatment technique as important, but not urgent. If lots of customers book in for the treatment, you’ll want to move that training up the priority list to Q1, as it’s now both important and urgent to your business needs.

Continue to track time across your business as you use the Eisenhower matrix, to see how much it’s helping. You can then make further adjustments. If you find you’re still not getting enough focused time to strategize and plan, for example, you might need to outsource or delegate more tasks. 

5 tips for using the Eisenhower matrix time management model

Getting the hang of using the Eisenhower matrix can be a real learning curve. You’ll need patience, dedication, and a shift in mindset to make it work. Use these tips to stay the course and prioritize your tasks as effectively as possible. 

1. Assign clear deadlines 

Knowing exactly when a task must get done makes it easier to decide how urgent it is. 

Once you’ve built your matrix, you’ll also want to avoid leaving tasks floating aimlessly in their quadrants. The diagram is just an aid — your ultimate goal isn’t to categorize your tasks, it’s to get the important ones done. 

Anchor your priorities by assigning every task a clear due date on the Eisenhower grid and then adding them to your calendar and shared team agenda.

2. Batch similar tasks together 

Trying to jump between different tasks breaks your focus and wastes time and energy. 

Group related work together to reduce the mental load of switching between activities. That might mean setting aside longer chunks of time to manage appointments, handle inventory, or work on your marketing plan, rather than spreading tasks out across the day or week. Chunking similar tasks together builds momentum and helps you power through efficiently. 

3. Don’t overload quadrants 

The strength of the Eisenhower matrix lies in its simplicity. Resist the urge to crowd any single quadrant with too many tasks. 

Though it’s important to do high-urgency, high-important tasks, giving yourself ten of them to do every day is a recipe for overwhelm. 

Limit each quadrant to 3–5 daily tasks and weekly goals. If you find one quadrant consistently heavy, it might be time to reassess and possibly delegate or reconsider some tasks. 

4. Save the label “urgent” for truly urgent tasks

If everything is urgent, then nothing is urgent — and looking at a list full of ‘urgent’ to-dos can be stressful and demotivating. 

Only label truly immediate, can’t-wait activities as urgent. Ask yourself: “Will there be a significant negative impact if I don’t address this within 24-48 hours?” If not, it shouldn’t be included in the “urgent” category. 

5. Start and end the day with important work 

Use your Eisenhower matrix to determine your high-priority tasks for the day — and schedule them in first thing. 

It’s a good idea to tackle important, challenging projects first thing, when you’re most focused and least likely to be interrupted. 

End the day on a strong note by finishing with some high-importance work. This will give you a sense of accomplishment and help you start the next day with purpose.

Make the most of every minute with Homebase

Implementing the Eisenhower matrix takes some effort at first, but improving your time management pays major dividends through improved productivity and time savings for your company. 

Yet often, when small business owners start mapping out their time, they realize they’re losing hours on repetitive tasks like monitoring employee clock-ins and clock-outs, calculating overtime, and organizing payroll. These tasks have to be done, but they’re not helping your business grow and thrive. 

Work smarter, not harder, by outsourcing your admin to trusted tools.

Homebase helps you simplify and automate routine tasks — while improving your overall efficiency. 

Time clock features means you won’t have to manually log and track hours, and you’ll be able to review detailed clock-in and time tracking reports to see where time’s being lost. 

Payroll solutions will automatically convert timesheets, including overtime, so you can feel confident your people are being paid properly — without spending hours poring over spreadsheets. 

Scheduling software makes it easy to set, share, and update schedules — and identify scheduling gaps and lighter periods so you can maximize every moment.  
With our all-in-one SMB time management tool behind you, you can make sure the urgent and important tasks get done — and see the difference in your business.

FAQs about the Eisenhower matrix

What is the Eisenhower principle?

The Eisenhower principle is a foundational time management philosophy that emphasizes the importance of understanding the difference between important and urgent tasks. The concept originates from Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States, who once said: “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”

The Eisenhower principle encourages individuals and businesses to categorize tasks based on their genuine significance and potential impact (importance) versus the perceived need for immediate attention (urgency). 

By doing so, companies and business owners can make more informed decisions about which tasks to tackle first, which to schedule for later, which to delegate, and which to eliminate altogether.

Small businesses can use a tool called the Eisenhower matrix to put the Eisenhower principle into action. This matrix sorts tasks into four quadrants based on their importance and urgency, making it easy to prioritize the work that matters.

How do I know if a task is truly “urgent” for the Eisenhower matrix?

Determining what’s truly urgent is crucial so you don’t dilute your priorities. 

Ask yourself these key questions:

  • What’s the impact if I don’t do this task immediately? Will it create a crisis or catastrophe if not addressed today?
  • Is the deadline within the next 24-48 hours?
  • Is this a high-priority dependency blocking other important work from starting?
  • Does this task require my specialized skills and expertise to resolve? Can someone else handle it?

If the answers indicate it won’t severely derail your operations in the very near term, it likely isn’t urgent. Reserve that label for dire emergencies requiring swift action. For less immediate but still pressing items this week, label them “ASAP” instead of urgent. And take a hard look at tasks marked urgent to ensure they warrant that designation.

How can I implement the Eisenhower matrix across my whole team?

Understanding what’s important and urgent for a small business isn’t a one-person job — it’s crucial for the whole team.

But getting teams on the same page about important and urgent priorities is a challenge. Not everyone sees tasks the same way, and what seems urgent for one might not be for another.

The best ways to implement the Eisenhower matrix across your whole team are: 

  • Talking about why it’s helpful with your team before starting. 
  • Creating a big, shared matrix on a board or paper so there’s a visual reminder everyone can check.
  • Encouraging team members to make their own individual Eisenhower matrix and connect it with the team version. 
  • Setting times to go over the list and see what’s changed or what needs changing.
  • Listening to feedback from your team on what’s challenging for them about prioritizing tasks and finding time for important work. 
  • Celebrating the wins, by recognizing when your team is managing their time well and getting the most important work done.

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