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Resolving the “Mere Urgency Effect”

When there is time to focus on highly impactful tasks, people generally deviate towards less impactful, urgent tasks. This phenomenon of prioritizing urgent tasks over important ones is known as the "mere urgency effect.” This effect demonstrates a psychological bias towards tackling urgent tasks first, often at the expense of more significant, important tasks (Zhu, 2018). The American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education publication "The Illusion of Urgency" corroborates this, suggesting that task complexity, potential loss of opportunities, and the allure of immediate results contribute to this behavior (Kennedy, 2022). What's more, the pressure of impending deadlines can skew focus towards urgent tasks, regardless of their lesser importance, as completing them provides immediate relief from discomfort (Kennedy, 2022).

Furthermore, a report on workplace productivity found that managers self-rate their ability to shield their teams from distractions at a mere 5.3 out of 10. In terms of actual productive work, individual contributors (ICs) average only about 2.24 hours per day, or 11.19 hours weekly. The report also highlights that ICs spend about 24.5% of a standard work week on unproductive activities (Task Management Trends Report: +200 Stats on Managers vs. Individual Contributors).

Given this inclination to focus on less critical, urgent tasks and a great deal of time wasted on unproductive activities, it becomes crucial to find strategies to improve time management for the workforce. This article examines the effectiveness of the "Eisenhower Matrix" as a tool to help individuals focus on tasks that truly contribute to career growth and those that are mere distractions.

The Eisenhower Matrix

The Eisenhower Matrix, renowned for its straightforward approach in task prioritization, categorizes tasks by their level of urgency and significance. This method has gained widespread acclaim for its versatility and ease of use, making it an ideal tool for both individual and organizational planning across diverse contexts. The method's adoption and popularity were significantly boosted by Stephen Covey's "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People." As such, the Eisenhower Matrix stands out as a highly regarded and commonly utilized framework for organizing and prioritizing tasks.

How the Eisenhower Matrix works

The Eisenhower Matrix draws its principles from the management approach of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. This framework is designed to classify tasks based on their levels of urgency and significance. It organizes tasks into four distinct categories: 1) Tasks that are both urgent and important, requiring immediate action due to their significant consequences; 2) Tasks that are important but not urgent, essential for long-term objectives like career development or strategic initiatives; 3) Tasks that are urgent but not important, typically quick to accomplish but with minimal overall impact; and 4) Tasks that are neither urgent nor important, usually contributing little value and lacking pressing deadlines. The Eisenhower Matrix serves as an effective tool for prioritizing tasks, ensuring focus on what truly matters (Kennedy, 2022).

An important consideration about emotions

Emotional responses can sometimes give rise to an illusion of urgency in various scenarios. High emotional states can prompt an immediate desire for solutions, primarily to alleviate discomfort, which can exaggerate the actual urgency of the situation. Giving emotions time to subside often paves the way for more reasoned and considered reactions. The role of emotional intelligence here is vital—being conscious of and comprehending the influence of one’s own emotions is key in differentiating actual urgency from a false sense of urgency influenced by emotional reactions (Kennedy, 2022).

Integrating the Eisenhower Matrix into the workplace

Integrating the Eisenhower Matrix into your work can be highly effective for prioritizing tasks and managing your time more efficiently. The Eisenhower Matrix helps distinguish between tasks that are important, urgent, both, or neither. Here's a step-by-step guide to integrate it into your workflow:

Daily Task Assessment

At the start of your day or the previous night, list all the tasks you need to accomplish.

Categorize each task into one of the four quadrants of the Eisenhower Matrix.

Prioritize and Plan

Focus on completing 'Urgent and Important' tasks first.

Schedule 'Important, Not Urgent' tasks for later in the day or week.

Identify tasks that can be delegated and assign them appropriately.

Eliminate or set aside tasks that are neither urgent nor important.

Weekly Review

At the end of the week, review your accomplishments and the tasks that were left undone.

Reflect on why certain tasks were not completed and how you can improve your prioritization.

Time Management

Allocate specific time blocks for each quadrant, especially for 'Important, Not Urgent' tasks to ensure they are not neglected.

Use tools like digital calendars, to-do list apps, or traditional planners to keep track of your tasks and deadlines.

Flexibility and Adaptability

Be prepared to reassess and re-categorize tasks as situations change.

Maintain flexibility in your schedule to accommodate unforeseen urgent tasks.

Minimize Distractions

Identify and eliminate common distractions that hinder your productivity, especially when working on important tasks.


Regularly evaluate if your time is being spent on activities that align with your goals.

Adjust your priorities and approach as needed based on these reflections.

By consistently applying the Eisenhower Matrix, you’ll develop a more strategic approach to managing your tasks and time, leading to improved productivity and goal achievement. Remember, the key is not just to be busy, but to be busy with the right things.



Kennedy, D. R., & Porter, A. L. (2022). The Illusion of Urgency. American journal of pharmaceutical education, 86(7), 8914.

Task Management Trends Report: +200 Stats on Managers vs. Individual Contributors. (2022, March 29).

Zhu, M., Yang, Y., & Hsee, C. K. (2018). The Mere Urgency Effect. Journal of Consumer Research, 45(3).

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