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Important but not Urgent: Using the Eisenhower Matrix in Marketing

Updated: Sep 26, 2023

Working as both a marketing leader and an investor, a constant challenge has been to prioritise among the myriad ways that I could spend my time. As Elton so wisely sang in Disney’s Lion King; there’s ‘more to do than can ever be done’.


Among the many tools I've used to help me prioritise tasks, one that has proven to be invaluable is the Eisenhower Matrix, also known as the Urgent-Important matrix. This decision-making tool traces its origins to Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th U.S. President, who was revered for his exceptional organisational skills. Quoting an unknown academic, he said once "I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent." This principle was further refined by Stephen Covey in his book ‘The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People’ into the matrix we know today.


I think this has specific utility for marketing leaders such as Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) given the variety of different activities they can be pulled into during daily business.


Important - urgent matrix for marketing

The Eisenhower Matrix can break down your to-do list into four quadrants:


1. Urgent and Important

2. Urgent but not Important

3. Not Urgent and Not Important

4. Important but not Urgent


We’ll dive a bit deeper into each quadrant and I'll share some practical examples from my own experience as a marketing leader.


Quadrant 1: Urgent and Important


In this quadrant, we encounter tasks that require immediate attention and contribute significantly to our marketing goals. They often arise unexpectedly, leaving us little time to prepare. One instance from my own experience was when we had to manage a PR crisis that threatened to tarnish our brand's reputation significantly. It was all hands on deck, with our team working around the clock to navigate the crisis and mitigate potential damage.

Similarly, launching a time-sensitive email campaign for a promotional event is another example of a task that falls into this quadrant. I remember when we would run our January sale at CarTrawler, this would become all-consuming for a week or so beforehand as we worked to make sure we had great content visible across the site.


Quadrant 2: Urgent but not Important


This quadrant is filled with tasks that demand immediate attention but don't substantially contribute to our overall marketing objectives. These are often routine tasks that, while necessary, can be time-consuming and divert attention from strategic goals.

For instance, managing a barrage of non-critical emails that keep pinging throughout the day, or handling ad-hoc requests from other departments that could be addressed by someone else. One of my regular battles is with my overflowing inbox. While it's essential to stay connected, spending excessive time on non-essential correspondence can derail my focus from more important tasks. I try to manage this by dealing with emails at set times in the day, as well as delegating specific responsibilities where appropriate (such as representing the marketing team at cross-departmental meetings).


Quadrant 3: Not Urgent and Not Important


This quadrant comprises activities that neither require immediate attention nor contribute significantly to your marketing goals. These are tasks that tend to serve as distractions rather than value-adds.


For instance, compiling reviews of competitor content without a specific question you are trying to answer, attending partner events with little return on investment, or getting stuck in unproductive internal meetings. It's a quadrant filled with tasks that create an illusion of busyness without contributing much to our goals.


And finally, the quadrant that holds the most significance for me:


Quadrant 4: Important but not Urgent


These are tasks that, while not requiring immediate action, are critical for long-term success. It's often a strategic domain where the foundation for the future is laid.


Consider planning and implementing your organic search/SEO strategy, for instance. This involves conducting market research, identifying emerging search trends and your Search Headroom, technical analysis of your site, and mapping out execution timelines. It's a process that doesn't scream for immediate attention on any given day but holds the key to future growth for many businesses.


Significant analytical projects can also end up in the this quadrant - for example, measuring and increasing customer lifetime value isn't going to boost today's or this month's numbers; but almost certainly can influence performance over a multi-year time horizon.


Innovation also often sits in this quadrant – running a test in a new channel, conducting an overhaul of your ad copy or creatives, developing new customer journeys. These tasks are easy to put off for a day but leave them for a year and you will start to lag your competitors and the needs of your target customers.


Another task I've often placed here is nurturing relationships with key stakeholders. This includes clients, partners, and even team members. It involves regular check-ins, feedback sessions, and brainstorming collaborations—activities that contribute immensely to the team's growth and the brand's reputation in the long run.


Understanding and cultivating the "Important but not Urgent" quadrant is a pivotal part of my role as a CMO. It's here that we prepare for the future, innovate, and build the backbone of your business’s longevity. This quadrant isn't about putting out fires; it's about fire prevention.


Implementing the Eisenhower Matrix in the cadence of your marketing function offers more than just a structured to-do list; it provides a strategic roadmap that aligns your tasks with your long-term objectives. It serves as a reminder that effective leadership isn't born from merely reacting to problems but from proactive planning and focus on long-term goals. So next time you're overwhelmed with a list of tasks, pause, and categorise them in the Eisenhower Matrix. Remember, the 'Important but not Urgent' quadrant might seem quiet, but it's often where the seeds of your future success are sown.

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