Surviving Your Tribe: Communicating the Matrix

Chances are you’ve heard about the Eisenhower Matrix, a time management tool popularised by Steven Covey’s book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  The method involves prioritising tasks using two sets of binary criteria:

a)     important or not important

b)     urgent or not urgent

Importance corresponds to how critical or necessary a task is.  Urgency corresponds to the immediacy in which it must be done.  Categorising a task as important/not important and urgent/not urgent effectively places it in one of the four quadrants that make up the 2 x 2 Eisenhower Matrix.  Each quadrant has a recommended action for its tasks; do, schedule, delegate or delete.  For more information on the Eisenhower Matrix visit .

But why not take an already effective and widely-used tool to the next level? Use the Eisenhower Matrix not just for prioritising tasks but as a framework to effectively and efficiently communicate within the workplace.  When we can speak to our colleagues in a shared language we enjoy prompt mutual understanding and greater fulfilment of everyone’s needs. Before you go talking quadrants, here are some tips to communicating Matrix-style to your colleagues:

1) Explain why a task is important and/or urgent
Sometimes the importance or urgency of a task is self-explanatory.  Other times a colleague prefers to just be told what to do without wanting any other details.  However, as a general rule explaining the reasoning behind a need or decision is valuable to getting others on board.  Communications expert Colin James asserts relevance, value and purpose are key to engaging others and capturing their commitment (The Colin James Method, 2014).

Try: “It’s important because _______ but it’s not urgent since _______.  For that reason I suggest we schedule it for next month.”

2) Hold equal respect for your and your colleagues’ priorities
Assertiveness is being able to express your thoughts, feelings, beliefs and opinions in a way that doesn’t violate the rights of others (Michel & Fursland 2008).  In contrast to passive or aggressive behaviour, assertiveness involves holding equal respect for both your own needs and the needs of others.  Be confident in the importance of your workplace needs, willing to speak up or say “no” where necessary, yet also remain mindful that your colleagues likewise have their own equally valid important and urgent priorities.

3) Be judicious
Urgent and important are subjective terms.  As an upstanding workplace citizen it pays to be thoughtful and judicious in the way you use them.  Forbes entrepreneurship writer Megan Casserly examines obnoxious communication behaviours including overuse of the email priority flag, capital letters and “URGENT” “READ ME”, “IMPORTANT”, “ACTION ITEM” subject lines.  She discusses how this overuse often comes across as arrogant, self-important and conveys disregard for others’ priorities.

Similarly, habitually overstating the importance or urgency of your needs puts you at risk of losing rapport and credibility amongst your colleagues. We eventually become desensitised to those who always cry wolf, ironically becoming less, not more, likely to prioritise their requests.  Be judicious and not only will your colleagues appreciate your courtesy, they’ll be far more inclined to take you seriously when you call “code red”.

If in doubt of how to communicate a task refer back to the “why”.  If you can easily justify why a task is important chances are it is.  Struggling to articulate why it’s important?  Then it’s worth reconsidering how you have classified it.

4) Cultivate a culture of communication
Do your part to develop a workplace culture where there is a shared understanding of importance and urgency, where explanations and judicious language is used and where assertiveness and mutual respect is encouraged.  The more openly and transparently we can communicate and the more respectfully we can hold our and other’s needs, the more effective and mentally healthy our workplaces will be.

For more resources on workplace communication and one-on-one coaching contact Mindpod at

 Author: Katherine Pascual                                                                                                              

Casserly, M 2011, ‘10 Emails That Could Cost You Your Job’, Forbes, viewed 28 February 2018, <> 

The Colin James Method 2014 ‘How to Create Interest and Capture Commitment’ The Colin James Method, blog post, 24 June, viewed 28 February 2018, <>

Covey, SR 2012, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Simon & Schuster, New York.

Introducing the Eisenhower Matrix 2017, viewed 6 March 2018, <>.

Michel, F & Fursland, A 2008, Assert Yourself, Centre for Clinical Interventions, Perth.