Using the Eisenhower Matrix to improve your team


Urgent Not Urgent
Important Quadrant I — Do/Reduce


Deadline Work

Pressing Problems

Quadrant II — Schedule

Long Term Planning, Strategic Work

Relationship Building

Personal Growth

Not Important Quadrant III — Delegate




Quadrant IV — Delete/Eliminate

Trivial, Busy Work

Meetings without agendas


In a 1954 speech, President Dwight D. Eisenhower said: “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” In his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, Stephen Covey took this sentiment and created the “Eisenhower Matrix” as a tool to help leaders shift their focus to what is most important. 

What if everything on my list is both urgent and important?

It is true, school leaders spend a lot of their days (and nights) in Quadrant I — responding to crises, putting out metaphorical fires, and dealing with the tasks immediately in front of the line. In fact, this is a particularly human response. Studies have shown that humans are more drawn toward completing what they perceive to be time-sensitive tasks, even if a less urgent task might offer a greater long-term reward. We are more likely to complete a task with a clear deadline, particularly if we can “cross it off our list,” than a task that might in fact be more important but feel less pressing.

It is important that school leaders set the tone in helping their team determine the difference between work that is “urgent-important” (Quadrant I) and work that is “urgent-not important” (Quadrant III). If school leaders can help to situate their administrative teams and faculty toward delineating this difference, it can free up time that can be scheduled to the “important-not urgent” work of Quadrant II.

How does this work?

Responding to email (internal to the community and external) is one of the biggest “takers” of time in the urgent column. School leaders can model and share expectations around email to help their community (both parents and faculty) manage this communication tool more effectively. 

One way to do this? School leaders can state and re-state that email will be responded to within 24 hours (during the week) and 48 hours (on the weekend). They can model this in the emails they write and in the responses they expect from their team and faculty. They can reiterate this to parents to calm anxiety about email responses from advisors and teachers. School leaders can model and set expectations that certain hours are “no email sent or received” hours (evenings and early mornings). They can remind people that when something urgent, truly urgent, arises that there is always a phone call or text. 

As people in the school community draft an email to send, they could be prompted to ask two internal questions: “Is this email necessary? Is this email urgent?” If it is necessary but not urgent, they should press send. If it is urgent, they should delete the message and type a text instead. If it is not necessary but could be replaced with a short “office stop in” or other means of communication, they should also delete the email. While these changes take time to have their effects shown, school leaders can lead the way in helping their communities build a healthier relationship with email, and therefore address some of the “blockage” in the urgent column.

There are studies to support the idea that asking internal questions of our tasks helps us to make better choices. When people are asked not simply to select a task (which is when they more often choose the urgent, time-sensitive, but less important one) but to reflect before selecting a task, they make different choices. In fact, if asked to consider the consequences of their choices before they select a way to spend their time, people are most often drawn to the important, and less urgent, task. It’s a habit to build, but relationships to email and other urgent, not-important tasks, can be shifted!

Building in the time:

Quadrant II is the most important work for the long term health of the school and its people. The strategic work that contributes to the growth of the community, and to an individual’s professional growth, happens when the time is scheduled to make the work happen. It is essential that schools BUILD IN THE TIME for the work of Quadrant II.

How does this work?

The work of building in time is a deliberate one that needs to be modeled from the Head of School. People on the administrative team (including the Head) should be encouraged to block out time each week for “Meetings with Self” — time when they are not to be interrupted (except by a true emergency). Members of the administrative team should be encouraged not to consider this “flex time” that could be used for other tasks. In fact, the agenda for a “Meeting with Self” can be whatever important, not urgent, work that might be top of mind. Perhaps it is a time to read through a backlog of research on different models of instruction to determine what professional growth opportunities might be offered to faculty to support pedagogy. Perhaps the time might be spent considering coaching paradigms and drafting ways to support faculty coaches in supporting their peers. Perhaps the time might be spent considering feedback and growth for the members of the team.

Heads of School can help to hold their teams accountable for the “Meetings with Self” by incorporating regular check in times during one-on-one meetings. Ask: What is your agenda for this month’s “Meetings with Self”? What did you learn last month that might be valuable to share with the whole team? The Head of School can share what she did during her “Meetings with Self” to make this work visible.

Of course, “Meetings with Self” are only one way to build in time. It is essential that teams take time together to do important, long-term, strategic planning work. It is essential that faculty be encouraged to protect time for reflection and to consider professional growth. It is essential that all members of the team preserve time for self-care and wellness in order to be healthy enough to give so much of themselves to their work.

Folio: The Work of Quadrant II

The school’s effective and strategic use of myFolio falls in Quadrant II: work that can happen when people deliberately build in the time. Folio Leads should set aside regular Folio time to tend to their faculty, and to find ways to give them what it is they need. The Folio time set aside on a school leader’s calendar might be used to check a roll call on a recent milestone, to follow up with faculty who have not hit specific marks, to meet with a teacher about their goals, to observe a class, and to otherwise make the professional growth of the faculty a priority in this block of time.

At the school level, it is important that the Folio Supervisory team have regularly scheduled time together to check in. The calendaring of these meetings should be set before the school year begins. The Folio Supervisory team meeting should happen before each major milestone to allow for alignment for the entire group. This would include a time to meet before the year begins to set themes, discuss how themes will influence their work, develop sample goals for faculty, and determine how goals will be shared with the faculty. After the goals meetings in the fall, the Supervisory team can regroup to discuss trends and patterns they have heard from faculty and use these to develop a plan for support for the year — perhaps a trend or pattern will highlight an opportunity to bring in a specific speaker for a planned PD day? The Supervisory team should plan to meet again in the spring after a mid-cycle check in to look toward the end of the year, and meet once more at the end of the year to recap and begin to plan for the next cycle. Here is a Spotlight on one Folio member school that highlights the importance of these scheduled team meetings.

So, what’s next? What can our faculty/administrative team do next?

Simply talking about, and sharing, the Eisenhower Matrix can actually help to shift mindsets and spark conversation about the boundaries between urgent and important work. However, there are some specific conversations that school leaders and teams can have to push these conversations even further.

Using the graphic at the top of this article and a calendar from a preceding week, ask people on your team to color in how (and in which quadrant) they have spent their time. Give people a blank calendar and ask them to color in how they would spend their time in a more ideal world. Take time individually to reflect on how the reality of their days does not necessarily reflect the ideal of their vision. Invite conversation about the tension points that people see. Ask some of the following questions:

  • When is the Quadrant II time happening?
  • What specific Quadrant II activities did you do in the past week?
  • What specific Quadrant II activities would you rather have done, if you had the time?
  • What kinds of Quadrant I activities take up the majority of your time?
  • Are they all truly urgent and important?
  • What Quadrant IV activities could we all agree to stop doing now?
  • What Quadrant III activities take up our time when they pretend to be Quadrant I activities?
  • What boundaries and guidelines can we, as a team, establish to help each other recognize the difference between Quadrant III and Quadrant I?
  • What will be our agendas for our first “Meetings with Self”?
  • How will we hold each other accountable for protecting this time?
  • What can we all agree about email? What boundaries, parameters, and guidelines do we need? Can we model? 

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