Life hacks in old age: we too can prioritise activities with the Urgent Important Matrix

Scissors cutting a 4-quadrant Urgent Important Matrix from a larger table printed on paper .
Work tools like the Eisenhower Urgent Important Matrix are useful in old age too.

Woke up after a day off wondering what was on my to-do list today. Nothing seemed urgent or important except a visit this afternoon from a friend temporarily in town. My most urgent “work” job was on hold, waiting for a software problem to be sorted out. In the meantime, I had so many options for useful or necessary or entertaining activities! Which one to choose?

At work many use this handy tool, easy to find on the internet: the Urgent Important Matrix, which President Eisenhower was known to use and Stephen Covey made popular. Most jobs are either urgent or not urgent, and important or not important. What could be simpler than a 4-cell table? (Heaps, akshilly.)

screenshot of results page after googling "urgent important chart". Keywords "four quadrants" :grid" "7 habits" "priority" plus 3 examples.
Google “urgent important chart” images for an instant overview of the urgent-important matrix

The world of business coaching and time management is the natural habitat of the Eisenhower urgent-important matrix. But today it helped me, a little old lady poet wondering how to organise her day.

Strangely, the matrix can do your head in if you let it. I went to the trouble of creating a table that made each quadrant of the grid very clear and left room for me to write my tasks in the squares. It’s all cool.

What a nerd am I! And proud of it. I get pleasure from such little life hacks. And now: off to buy watermelon and canele for my darling friend. That’s both important and urgent—which is obvious, of course.

Do some of your days have that messy feeling? The urgent-important matrix just might help you too.

update: What a fraud am I! The matrix was not-important, not-urgent

I published this post yesterday. Now I realise that I spent an hour or so yesterday morning doing something with zero importance and zero urgency: making a printable table for myself (fiddle fiddle fiddle), using it and sticking it into my diary. I made myself sound rather efficient, true? But the truth is, my desk diary looks like this:

But hey! Works for me. And I will use the table again… if I can find it.

14 thoughts on “Life hacks in old age: we too can prioritise activities with the Urgent Important Matrix

  1. I may try this. Breathe – Important and urgent. Eat – Important, not urgent. Sleep – Important, not urgent. Wake up – Important, not urgent. Get up – Neither important, nor urgent. That should do it for today!

    1. srbottch says:

      I’d like to try your approach but let me pass it by my wife first…on second thought, I’ll just let her organize my day where everything is important and urgent.

      1. Rachel McAlpine says:

        Lucky you 🙂

      2. srbottch says:

        I hadn’t quite looked at it as ‘lucky’. But, if you say so😂

      3. That’s an important point!

  2. srbottch says:

    Rachel, I love this kind of stuff. Of course, I never stay disciplined long enough to make it work for me. Remember the Franklin Planner? I had to have one and I made a list of what to do. When I didn’t complete one task, I’d move it to the ne today. Before too long, I had a list that covered the whole section for tasks. I still have the planner but I don’t plan much. I just do things. However, I’m still going to look up the Ike thing, if no no other reason than curiosity.

  3. Alan Ralph says:

    I’ve started early (at age 52) by setting myself reminders that show up on all my devices (computer, tablet, phone). They act as prompts to do daily things that help me stay fit, plus reminders of weekly and monthly things that need doing. Not only do I expect to get as much use out of those devices, but I also expect them to earn their keep! 🙂

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Awesome work! Getting those habits to solidify before you need reminding. Good point: exploit those devices to the max.

  4. Nerds rock! I love the chart because sometimes I get lost in trivial busywork.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Yes, this has the potential to restore a sense of perspective 🙂

  5. LA says:

    Love any kind of organizing thing

  6. Elizabeth says:

    What does Ursula’s matrix look like?

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Hm. I imagine it goes 1: Me 2: nothing 3: nothing 4: you.

      1. Elizabeth says:


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