Prioritization Matrix – A simple tool for daily work scheduling

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All of us tends to focus more on things that we need to do than the things we have already done. Our mind is always filled with tasks, responsibilities, and records that we think we should focus on. This is called “Zeigarnik effect”, named after Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik. Our mind does not follow a hierarchy or mark tasks with importance, making it difficult for us to actually focus on what is urgent.

The simplest way to deal with this is to prepare a to-do-list that almost all of us practice. But even after creating a to-do-list we need to have a clear priority for each task. It sounds simple, but in practice we must keep a track of many aspects such as calculating cost against value, effort against time and it also involves many stakeholders when comes to a business scenario. A simple tool that can come handy here is using a Prioritization Matrix.

What is a prioritization matrix?

A prioritization matrix is a management or project management tool to objectively compare choices/tasks and thus determining,

  • Which tasks are urgent and critical
  • Which tax brings most value to the organization
  • Which has a best chance of success

It can be used a simple tool for personal or business use and can also be used to accommodate large projects in its complex form. When used properly the Prioritization matrix can be a trustworthy tool to help you focus on the most effective task.

In this article I will discuss a simple 2 by 2 matrix that can easily be used by individuals and small organisation to prioritize their tasks or projects.

2×2 matrix or Eisenhower Matrix or Urgent-Importance Matrix

The 2 by 2 Prioritization matrix is also known as the Eisenhower Matrix. This simple grid consists contains two axes and four quadrants, as illustrated below. The X-axis (horizontal axis) represents urgency, while the Y-axis (vertical axis) represents importance. It is also called as urgent-importance matrix.

Prioritization Matrix

How Prioritization Matrix evolved ?

Dwight D. Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States from 1953 until 1961 and was also WW II hero and NATOs Supreme Commander. Eisenhower had to make tough decisions continuously about which of the many tasks he should focus on each day which finally led him to invent the world-famous Eisenhower principle, which today helps us prioritize by urgency and importance.

Further the concept of a prioritization matrix was popularized by authors Michael Brassard (The Memory Jogger 2) and David Allen (Getting Things Done).

How to use Prioritization matrix ?

The first task to use the prioritization matrix is to create a to-do-list. Try to include everything that you want to do in a day or at work. Then create grid as below to map urgency and importance of the task.

Urgent-Important Grid

Now you can place tasks in their respective quadrants as you have pretty much already have an idea of what to prioritize,

  • Schedule It (important but not urgent): These are the tasks that are critical but have a later deadline. You must be careful while putting tasks in this quadrant as these tasks can easy be moved soon to the “Do it Now” quadrant. Example can be process development, research, etc.
  • Do it Now (important and urgent): This are the most important tasks that need to be completed by you and by today. These tasks have greater risks of failure or success to a business situation like hard deadlines, budgeting, crisis, etc. You should always work not to have any tasks in this quadrant.
  • Drop It (not urgent and not important): These are the tasks that do not have any importance or urgency and are usually time-wasters like taking long break, having a launch or dinner, social media surfing, or researching on things that do not have any importance or relevance.
  • Delegate It (urgent but not important): These are the tasks that might not be important to you, but its result can be critical to business and dealt with urgency. You need to delegate them to your team or other members. Examples can be sending customer proposals, helping a new joiner, responding to emails and calls, etc.

Things to keep in mind

  1. Always create to-do-list and use the urgency-importance grid to find what is worth doing first
  2. Do not have more that 8 tasks in each quadrant. Always finish a task before adding a new one.
  3. Always maintain a single list for business and personal tasks which will give you a perfect work life balance.
  4. Always plan yourself in the morning and complete the tasks as necessary as per the grid.
  5. Do not over burden yourself and force on completing all the tasks. Do it as per the prioritization grid and if anything is left you can rework on your list for the next day.

Using such tools not only help you to have a peach of mind that nothing important is missed, but also makes your daily work easier. The Prioritization matrix can be used in many ways with its many variations depending on the complexity of the business or project. You can read more about different ways to use the prioritization matrix on the below links.

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