Triage Problems to Better Deal with Emergencies

When you need help deciding where to focus your attention, this tool is the answer.

In the best of times, there’s always plenty to do. In emergencies, the number of things you need to do can become overwhelming. In either case, the Eisenhower Matrix, popularized by Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People can be a great help to you.

I usually talk about the tool to make a case for focusing more energy on activities that are important, but not urgent. Examples would include process improvement, leadership development, and R&D.

This is necessary because far too much of our time is consumed with urgent/important activities.

With the COVID-19 virus sweeping the world and creating unprecedented interruptions into business operations, not to mention the rest of our lives, one could easily argue everything is suddenly urgent and important.

It’s true that there’s a heightened sense of urgency right now. Still, the problems and challenges aren’t all equally important. You can and must make distinctions. There’s only so much of you to go around.

Let’s use the matrix and think through how you might use this tool in today’s circumstances.


When it’s urgent and important, it’s time to devote your time and energy to that endeavor. Some work examples that come to mind right now include:

  • An employee who became ill at work 3 days ago and went home, just sent an email to let you know they’ve tested positive for COVID-19.
  • A major supplier closed their operations until further notice.
  • The schools have just closed, and a large percentage of your employees have young children and don’t have viable daycare options.

Not getting on any of these right now, could lead to significant consequences. These are all-hands-on-deck (including yours) problems.


When it doesn’t seem urgent, but it’s important, you should be thinking about planning for it. Consider these scenarios as really good reasons to set aside some time for planning:

  • Everyone who works for you is low risk. You don’t have much of a plan for dealing with COVID-19 should things take a turn for the worse.
  • You can imagine customers cutting way back on their purchases which would lead to a major cash flow crunch as soon as 60 days from now.
  • You have an idea for a service that could be a tremendous help in combating the epidemic.


There are plenty of times when something needs attention, but it doesn’t need your attention. Sure, maybe you can do it faster and/or better, but as they say, there are much bigger fish to fry and you need time for them. Who can you get working on these problems?

  • There are a lot of technical details that need to be sorted out that will help your employees work from home.
  • Your customers are jittery and someone needs to call to reassure them.
  • Employees want to know what will happen if they or a family member get sick and are out of PTO.


Looking at things to eliminate because they just don’t add enough value to justify the effort required to continue doing them.

In challenging times, these activities usually become fairly obvious. I can’t tell you what they might be for your operation, but am certain you can recognize them when you evaluate them using this framework.

Your goal as leader is to scratch these off your to-do list and help your employees do the same so that you can free up their time to be redeployed to more important tasks.

Finally, when things eventually settle down, resist the urge to allow these kinds of activities to find their way back into your work plan.

By Tom LaForce

Tom LaForce is a speaker, consultant, writer, facilitator and coach. Since 1996 he's helped workplace teams improve performance.