Harald Schirmer - es kommt nicht nur darauf an, was wir tun, sondern WIE wir es tun!

The Risk with Eisenhowers Matrix

With this post, I want to put a light on the famous Eisenhower Matrix and some challenges coming with it.

No doubt, the president of a big nation needs to have very efficient workflows and effective filters, to „get the right things done“ – in the end, even they only have a limited amount of hours to work every day. Why not learn from them?

A very famous one is the Eisenhower Matrix – it looks so simple, yet is quite challenging to follow every day. Over the last decade I could observe many managers and leaders using it, including myself… and, there are some things to be aware of!

What really is urgent and important?

The method asks to rate topics by only two measures: urgency and importance. To figure out, what topic is „urgent & important“ seems quite simple, or?

The classical three questions to find out are:

  1. Does this need to be done at all?
  2. Does this really need to be done immediately?
  3. Does this need to be done immediately by me?

But let’s face it, we have so many tasks, this is not completely helpful, since seem to have more and more urgent topics – coming from different directions.

So the really urgent topics are…

  • the one with the highest risk to fail/escalate if you don’t act now?
  • the one with the shortest due time?
  • the one which the highest rank (boss, board member) demands?
  • the one where the „customer“ screams the loudest?
  • the one with the biggest loss risk?
  • the one, which others (lobby?) tell you is top urgent?
  • the one being marked from a person/tool as „urgent“ or with „alert“?

Those options not enough, what about more than one boss, or participation in more than one project in parallel – it is challenging. This is why people like this matrix so much, as it promises at least to offer a „filter“ for all the other things, which are NOT urgent .. or important, right?

If we ask our Artificial Intelligence ChatPTG service we get the following:

Hmm. So it needs to be important including some time pressure. That might work fine for short term topics like cooking (boil water for main dish more important than cutting fruits for dessert) or maybe for some simple mid-term projects (get to know customers real problem, before investing in any solution) but how about long term „urgencies“ like climate change, or a bit smaller changing our „handling“ of waste, resources, energy consumption, investing a decent amount of time and effort into learning and practicing (VR, AI, Agile, BigData…)?

Some peoples vacation planning has been more urgent than Corona which seemed more urgent than Ukraine war, while both seem so much more urgent than climate change, an exponential – non stoppable/not reversible problem for humanity. All of them have a due date, and even so the vacation planning or Corona infection for sure has a shorter time to impact, we might also have to take into consideration:

How fast can we do something about an urgent topic?

Vacation planning can be solved individually in 30 Minutes, „not getting infected“ takes quite some more planning and action for individuals AND others. Stopping Ukraine war (and rebuilding things) might take years – while many are dying.

Stopping – reversing the ClimateCrisis takes consequent actions from us ALL for decades!

But also much smaller topics like Artificial Intelligence might not seem that „near“ urgent. It takes a long time to learn, understand latest technology – and if not done, your whole business might go down in no time, or you (we all) have to deal with the results of some tech-hot-shots strange mindset built into the algorithms and systems for a very long time.

Is an urgent topic,
only something, we suffer from
in short term?

Consider the impact of a too short focused application:

applying the Eisenhower Matrix too strick, might lead to a toxic atmosphere!

Things become urgent,
if we don’t take care in time!

Doing only, whats important & urgent, conditions your team to make everything urgent and important, resulting in constant stress > creating an AlertCulture.

Eisenhower Matrix
DO things that are urgent and important

I know quite some managers, who are even proud to only work on the „DO“ quadrant and call themselves very efficient. In urgent/important work mode, we rush in mistakes as we are under constant time pressure. It is very unlikely that we are able to respect diverse perspectives, needs, cultures, starting points or life phases – where people in – we tend to simplify problems to yes/no – right/wrong – good/bad. It also is unlikely to be emotional positive or appreciative once we are in this pressured battleMode.

People observe,
how we handle tasks
and will change their behavior

If they only get answers, if you see their topic as urgent… they will try to rise urgency. If you take time to understand their issues (even so they are not – yet – urgent to you), those topics might never become urgent – and are done with better quality and less stress.

Some people still might love to work in this alert-mode, as they perform better under pressure, or would lack self discipline, to do things in time, or fall into procrastination.

An important comment of a good friend – I also fully agree on:

„What is urgent and important (for you as a person) stays stressful if you don’t get it from your to-do list. Getting it from your list quickly allows you to focus on important topics and enables you to live a learning culture.“

Rainer Gimbel

Recommendation on handling urgent topics:

As always it is important to find a balance on getting those urgent/important topics off our lists AND ensure, that less and lesser get into that stage. My recommendations are transparency and participation very early on. Enterprise Social Networking (working with scalable digital collaboration networks) is a key leverage for that. Specially for getting many perspectives very fast, finding solutions together and also as an early warning system for you and others (pressure building up, things not on your radar, impact on others resulting in urgencies for them – and you)

Demotivation by delegation:

Delegation is a great way to get stuff done from either better experts or people working for/with you. The further down in the hierarchy you go, the harder it gets to find someone to delegate it too (in the end, there is no one). In this part I want to create awareness on „how we delegate“ and possible impacts:

Eisenhower Matrix
Delegate what is urgent but not important

Only delegating unimportant topics:
Do you want to work for a manager, who only does, what’s urgent & important, delegating all other stuff to you? This becomes specially demotivating, if the manager has (expressed) a classical, tayloristic, hierarchical attitude* (they can’t do it, I am better than they are, I don’t trust them) – which unfortunately is not so uncommon.

„This hierachical attitude is based on the idea that managers have a superior knowledge and expertise, and therefore they should be responsible for making decisions and directing the work of the workers. This approach to work and management is often referred to as „Taylorism.““

Besides the lack of eye-level of that work-mode, what if you need help with your „un-important/not urgent“ topics from him/her? You need to get help/answers from elsewhere, as your boss already showed you – it is not urgent/important to him/her.
I understand that what’s not important to one hierarchy level, can be very important for the next, it is about self-esteem and demotivation. If you perfectly do something not so important, it is unlikely to get a reasonable appreciation or visibility.

Leaders should create leaders: Humans want to feel relevant and do important things – that fuels self-esteem – only taking care of the boring stuff demotivates. Ask yourself: do you prefer bringing out the trash, or doing something to be proud of?


Nothing is wrong with delegation – just make sure the person does not get the feeling, that what you delegate is not important for you. It should be important to you, to get great results in time – and by asking and appreciating the results, you can rise motivation… and while trust builds on both sides, you might also…

try delegating urgent/important topics

…it’s a wonderful people development measure! … creating future leaders

Scheduling or just postponing?

Only scheduling whats not urgent, as I have described in the first chapter, might kill learning, practicing, informal exchange, long time planning, reviews and feedback cycles as well as people development … in short it is a harm for your own and teams future but why?

We tend to only see the urgent need of acting, if we can feel the breath of the tiger in our face… that is not very smart, but very short sighted. Intelligent life forms start running, once they see birds suddenly taking off a distant tree.

Don’t wait until you stand in a flood, have no energy or resources or down in information overflow!
Eisenhower Matrix
Schedule what is important but not urgent

All my evaluations on learning or also long term investments (e.g. transformation) show a pretty clear picture:

– people across all companies say learning, upskilling and transformation has priority (so it is important)
– but they do not have it in their calendar (they do not schedule it).
– But even if there are time blockers, still the majority does not defend such time blockers against „short term daily urgencies“.

In the end, everything else is more urgent than learning or bigger long term topics (climate, future education, circular economy, digital maturity, disruptive technology, social/ecological responsibility…)

If it is not in your calendar
(and defended)
it will not happen!

Almost all organization I have talked to in the past years, have an issue on educating specially their management. I guess it is also human, that at the end of a long, intense day, the last thing happening is fruitful learning or future planning.

An URGENT solution 😉

Taking care of „not urgent“ topics in time
reduces them from becoming urgent

Blocking time to evaluate topics – specially in the not (yet) urgent and not (yet) important areas will save time and effort, reduces stress and shows your strategic abilities in long term.

Things become urgent since we don’t take care in time – or is circularEconomy or zeroCO2 really urgent and important for you personally?)

Final thought:

For some people our climate situation, but also the need of learning is not urgent and not important, so they „eliminate“ it out of their mind. It leaves me a bit helpless asking for something to change that. A stronger focus on our education systems could be helpful, to enable our people to seek for and understand bigger pictures and long term effects, exponential growth (and their unfortunately very slow and harmless starts) and our individual responsibility and possible impact.

This article (triggered from this Linkedin post) is a mix of various topics and perspectives too. I would love to make it as concrete as possible while taking a helicopter view and relating it to relevant topics. Maybe too much to digest – still hope, for some it is valuable to follow my thoughts like that.

Thank you!




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