Making time for strategy: using the Eisenhower Matrix

Using the Eisenhower Matrix

One of the most common reasons why organisations fail to reach strategic goals, is that they don’t spend enough time working on their strategic plan.

Easier said than done, though. “I barely have enough time to do my regular work, I’m already stressed!” is what we usually hear from managers.

How do you make time for strategy? How much time is enough? And what is the best way to spend it? Those are common questions for managers. Let’s take a look at how we can incorporate more strategy in your everyday work.

This page is part of a series on the core competencies of strategy execution. Learn more about our Strategic Execution Maturity Scan in our blog: The 7 symptoms of strategic immaturity: how to improve the strategic change capabilities of your organization.

The Eisenhower quadrants explained

  1. The urgent & important
    Whatever Eisenhower said, there are often tasks that are both urgent and important. Usually, a lot of work that directly impacts your client (or primary stakeholders) falls in this category. For example, if you don’t deliver a project in time, your organisation won’t get paid, or you will incur reputational damage. For managers, this category also contains everything to do with helping your team succeed. If one of your team members falls sick, you’ll need to find a way to still get the work done. Logically, the ‘urgent and important’ category is our first priority.

  2. Urgent but not important
    This category will encompass a diverse range of tasks. Basically, anything that has a deadline, but no real consequences attached to it. As a manager, you’ll probably have to deal with a number of these tasks: organizing your team’s annual Christmas drinks, submitting certain types of reports to your boss, showing up to a client’s monthly meeting (because you promised, not because it’s useful). You’ll want to delegate or automate these tasks as much as possible, so that they don’t take precious time away from the important stuff.

  3. Not urgent, but important
    Strategy tends to fall squarely in this category. There is rarely any immediate urgency to strategy: no client is going to complain, and it won’t cost you a single dollar to put it off until tomorrow. However, it is consequential. Organisations that fail to execute their strategies are significantly less competitive: they often stagnate in a mindset of ‘business as usual’ until circumstances force them to change, and by then, it is often too late. We recommend that all leaders in an organisation spend about a day a week, or 20% of their time, on strategic planning, review, and execution. If you want to read more about how to execute your strategy effectively, see here

  4. Not urgent, not important
    Finally, there are these tasks that are simply, when it comes down to it, a bit of a waste of time. “But I definitely don’t have those!” I hear you say. Unfortunately, we don’t believe you. Most companies do too much stuff. And almost every company has a couple of hobby horse projects that don’t yield strategic results or that cannot hope to become competitive. It’s not always within an individual’s power to kill them off – but it’s essential that you identify the things on your agenda that really don’t help your organisation forward, and aggressively minimize the amount of time you spend on these.

How much time should I spend on strategy?

Short and simple: Anyone with a management or Board position in a company, should aim to spend about 20% of their time on strategy. This includes strategic planning, strategy reviews, progress tracking, and making the necessary adjustments as you go.

20%: that’s one day a week. And that means you should probably spend more time on strategy than you currently are!

However, note that there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Some business units will have a more important strategic dimension than others. It also depends on how many people are involved with the strategy and how skilled they are. And, of course, the more successful a strategy is, the less time you will need to spend on changing it.

Eisenhower Matrix

How do I make time for strategy?

Many organisations have a very hectic, disorganised culture. In those organisations, management tends to be very reactive, and strategic planning and priorities are often sidelined in favor of ‘firefighting’ urgent matters and problems that leaders feel compelled to fix immediately.

If that sounds like your situation, changing this is crucial to enable effective strategy execution.

A popular tool to categorize tasks and manage your time effectively is the Eisenhower matrix. This method was named after the former American president, who is supposed to have said:
“I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”

Eisenhower Matrix

How do I run a strategy meeting?

One important way to make time for strategy is to ensure that strategy design, execution, and review are organised effectively and efficiently. Spending an entire day putting post-its on a whiteboard with 40 colleagues while having endless debates about wording is generally not the way to do it.

Here’s some of our time-saving tips for strategy meetings:

  1. Have a clear agenda
    It should be announced beforehand what exactly is going to be discussed, and the person leading the meeting should strictly keep all participants to this topic. If preparatory reading is required, make sure it is distributed in a timely fashion; and make sure everybody has some time specifically freed up to read the preparatory material. A clear agenda and good preparation helps ensure that everybody goes in with a goal-oriented mindset and massively improves the quality of your strategy meetings.

  2. Don’t be too ambitious
    Don’t try to design your strategic plan from the ground up in a single day. Don’t try to review every strategy and project within a time frame of two hours. When it comes to strategy, it requires fundamental analytical thinking and careful consideration of wording, and this will tend to take longer than you think. So make sure you set clear priorities and that your meeting goals are reachable within the time frame set.

  3. Start and end the meeting on time
    This may sound obvious, but a lot of organisations have messy meetings. People drop in 10 minutes after starting time and interrupt the flow; people have to leave halfway through; etc. Running an efficient meeting means starting in a timely fashion and staying on course. If anybody is late, don’t start over or interrupt your discussion for them to introduce themselves. If somebody needs to leave, make sure everyone knows before the meeting starts, so that they don’t have to announce their departure during the meeting. We advise ending meetings at 5 minutes before the (half-)hour, e.g. at 14:25 or 14:55 instead of 14:30 or 15:00. That way, participants will have 5 minutes to make it to their next meeting without being late.

  4. Invite selectively
    People rarely consider this, but when you think about it, large meetings are expensive! If 10 people attend a two-hour strategy meeting, that’s 20 hours of time the organisation needs to pay for –– and that’s excluding preparation! Additionally, larger meetings are typically less efficient: the discussion tends to be less focused, and the risk of fruitless interruptions rises with each participant. While it is a very good idea to involve people throughout the organisation in strategy, it is better to avoid big meetings. A preferred alternative is to organise smaller meetings and brief one-on-one discussions about issues that are specifically relevant for each team member.

Your annual, monthly and weekly meeting cycles in OGSM Software

If you’re interested in improving your meetings, OGSM Software has a dedicated Meetings module, offering an easy way to link your meeting to specific elements of your strategic plan, set an agenda, send invites, share notes, and more!

The image below shows you what strategy meetings you should plan throughout your annual, monthly, and weekly cycles. You’ll see that your Objective and Strategies should only be reviewed once or twice a year. Your Goals and Dashboard Measures should be checked monthly, while operational progress on Actions (subdivided into steps/tasks) should be evaluated in weekly sprint meetings or daily stand-ups.
This planning cycle itself should also be part of your annual review meeting: how efficient is your annual planning cycle? Tip: OGSM Software can show your annual cycles in a timeline and determine set frequencies and agendas for all meeting types through the OGSM Software meeting module. Let us know if you’d like to receive an example of an annual calendar or some meeting agendas!

What else should my organisation do to facilitate strategy?

There are several other things your organisation can do to facilitate efficient and effective strategy execution. For example:

  1. Use a strategy framework and tooling
    Many organisations have difficulty with strategy because they don’t use a clear model or tooling to communicate and monitor the strategy. Dedicated digital tools, such as OGSM Software, can make your strategy execution far more efficient by streamlining your processes and providing a logically structured format for your plan.

  2. Appoint a strategy coordinator in each business unit
    In most organisations, middle management has too much on their plate. To make things run smoothly, we believe all teams should have a trained strategy coordinator. This is someone who hunts down relevant data ahead of meetings, who knows how to ask the right questions, who regularly consults with the customer or end user, and who understands the intricacies of what makes a good KPI or how to define a project.

  3. Strategic leadership
    If leadership does not embrace the need for change or isn’t able to communicate the urgency to the organisation, a strategy is likely to fail. Embracing the need for change goes beyond an annual presentation – leadership must be on the ball and personally carry the torch for the strategy. If the leaders of an organisation don’t lead the strategic transformation, others aren’t going to follow. Because the implicit message will be: “this isn’t really that important for us.” It is crucial that leadership shows the right example and that their priorities visibly align with the plan!

  4. Invest in a strategy-driven culture
    Many organizations are very reactive, and strategic planning and priorities are often sidelined in favor of ‘firefighting’ urgent matters and problems that leaders feel compelled to fix immediately. A strong strategy-driven culture is disciplined at making time for strategy; open to constructive criticism; celebrates successes; and focuses on learning from mistakes rather than punishing them. Leadership should set the example to help a strategy-driven culture take root throughout their organisation.

Invest in your organization's strategic competencies!

Getting better at strategy takes developing new skills in your organisation, and thus requires an investment of time and energy. The good news: you don’t need to do it alone! Give us a call or send us an e-mail and we can help you design a strategy training programme with OGSM that suits the needs of your organisation.

Do you need some help designing a strategy training programme with OGSM?